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Industry 4.0 – why smart manufacturing is moving closer to the edge

Locally deployed sensors enable critical data analysis in OT environments

Sponsored Feature In the first two of three articles on why and how service providers and enterprises are taking advantage of the edge, we outlined edge market growth, and how open source software plays a key role in delivering the data processing advantages of edge working.

We also outlined edge use cases and laid out how pre-configured and validated configurations of Red Hat software for edge deployments were freely available from the open source software vendor through its Validated Patterns reference architectures.

In this third and final piece, we will take a close look at Industry 4.0, and why smart manufacturing is moving closer to the edge, with the help of key industry partnerships.

But first, let's recap the reasons why enterprises are adopting edge infrastructure in increasing numbers.

For many enterprises, it may be more efficient and cost-effective to process data close to where it is needed, at the edge. Edge computing enables quicker decisions as the data is processed and analyzed where it is generated - ie not in a remote datacenter or in the cloud. Edge installations also mitigate the intermittent connectivity and network latency issues that remote data processing often entails.

Edge deployments also aid operational resiliency and efficiency. For example, the network capacity costs fall as the amount of traffic generated by the organization is reduced. That can be supplemented by improvements in sustainability and overall energy efficiency, both of which can contribute to meeting strategic carbon neutrality targets. And of course, edge computing allows sensitive or proprietary data to remain within the organization, as opposed to traversing to the cloud.

Industry 4.0 at the edge

Open source edge solutions are key to modernizing infrastructure, improving productivity and easing the management of operations, as they better support the integration between services and usually prove to be  more scalable and cost-efficient.

This is no different when it comes to the transformation of operations technology environments that is the hallmark of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, often dubbed Industry 4.0. Advances in manufacturing have been driven by the development of various emerging technologies over the last few years.

With Industry 4.0,  new technologies are being built into the factory to drive increased automation. This all leads to potentially smart factories that can, for instance, benefit from predictive maintenance, as well as improved quality assurance and worker safety.

At the same time, existing data challenges can be overcome. Companies operating across multiple locations often struggle to remove data silos and bring IT and OT (operational technology) together. An edge based on an open hybrid infrastructure can help them do this, as well as solving other problems.

These problems include reducing latency as a result of supporting a horizontal data framework across the organization's entire IT infrastructure, instead of relying on data being funneled through a centralized network that can cause bottlenecks. Edge computing opens hybrid-aligned to cloud services can also reduce the amount of mismatched and inefficient hardware that has gradually built up, and which is located in often tight remote spaces too.

Industry 4.0 edge partners

Mark Wohlfarth, Vertical GTM Strategy, Edge Computing at Red Hat, says: "Industry 4.0 is fundamentally about transforming operational technology environments, delivering cheaper and more effective computing, with improved decision-making from better analytics - all from locally deployed sensors deployed at the edge."

He adds: "But to deliver the potential benefits, you need more than just robust infrastructure, you need the full power of the existing OT ecosystem to support the transformation."

In February 2021, Siemens, IBM and Red Hat came together to deliver an open, flexible and more secure solution for manufacturers and plant operators, which drives real-time value from operational data at the edge. In one month, a single manufacturing site can generate more than 2,200 terabytes of data, according to a report from IBM. Yet most of that data usually goes unanalyzed.

Through the joint initiative, Siemens Digital Industries Software is applying IBM's open hybrid cloud approach, built on Red Hat OpenShift, to extend the deployment flexibility of Siemens' MindSphere, an industrial IoT as-a-service.

Customers use MindSphere to collect and analyze real-time sensor data from products, plants, systems and machines, in order to drive optimization across production assets, manufacturing processes and products along the entire value chain. The partners said they will enable customers to run MindSphere on-premises at the edge to unlock speed and agility benefits in factory and plant operations.

Intel at the edge

In November 2021, Intel and Red Hat collaborated to bring Industry 4.0 transformation  to smart manufacturing and the energy sector. This combined Red Hat's open source software and Intel's hardware architecture and software tool-sets.

The aim, they said, is to improve the management and performance of industrial control systems (ICS). The target areas include private 5G networks; open manufacturing platforms (OMP); software-defined automation and control functions at utilities, to help reduce the number of devices in substations, for instance; and autonomous mobile robotics (AMR), by integrating customer automation software with an edge server.

By coupling Intel Edge Controls for Industrial (Intel ECI) and Intel Edge Insights for Industrial (Intel EII) with Red Hat open hybrid cloud technologies, said the partners, ICS vendors, hardware providers, software developers and solution providers are being offered a "holistic solution". This spans from real-time shop floor control and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) to full IT manageability - through fully integrating OT and IT systems.

Intel has developed a software reference architecture with Intel ECI that creates an open, portable platform to power autonomous operations and support AI/ML models at the edge. This, it says, can be updated "without impacting the reliability or resilience of the organization." Red Hat is helping ICS vendors to integrate Intel ECI into their offerings.

Along with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat OpenShift, Red Hat Advanced Cluster Management for Kubernetes and Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform are bundled with the Intel platforms, to provide the management and automation needed to "drive visibility and consistency across the organization's entire domain", says Red Hat.

Oil and Gas on the edge

In the energy sector, for instance, how do you manage edge computing sensors at scale, moving from many thousands of deployments to perhaps millions of them? And, in the remote environments that have to be managed, how do you know that every edge device is even still there?

Oil and gas companies commonly use temperature, flow rate and pressure sensors to aid upstream exploration and production by monitoring the operational status of rigs and wells used in the drilling and extraction process, for example. Connected plungers and liquid level sensors can also improve efficiency by helping to clear the clogged pipes which impede natural gas production.

These firms also have to work out how to patch device vulnerabilities, as well as efficiently install new applications in the field.

Recently, an oil supermajor needed to determine how an operating system (OS) could provide IT capabilities while also solving field-level issues encountered during exploration and production. The IT team also needed to devise a way to load an OS, designed to run in the datacenter, onto smaller devices that live in the field.

Among other considerations, the team looked at how to perform patching, maintain the security of the OS itself, and ensure recoverability. These, and other challenges, would require new approaches, because IT staff could not just walk to a server as they would in a datacenter.

The company turned to Red Hat for help. The Red Hat team then worked with the energy firm to define the necessary components needed to address its needs and achieve its IoT vision.

Furthermore, the partners said they created a blueprint for these improved edge capabilities for the entire oil and gas industry in an open way.

Here, we have shown why smart manufacturing is moving closer to the edge, and how key industry partnerships are allowing it to happen, through an open hybrid infrastructure that ties all data together - to deliver faster, reliable and more comprehensive business insights.

Sponsored by Red Hat.

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