January’s executive order to the Buy American Act is designed to reinvigorate domestic manufacturing. Other countries, including Germany and Japan, are taking a similar tack in the wake of a turbulent year. These policies are expected to impact the construction and manufacturing industries through an increase in orders from federal agencies.
In turn, manufacturers must prepare for a steep increase in new business. To respond to this surge in demand, manufacturers will need to make changes to their infrastructure to support a larger customer base—something that outdated legacy systems will struggle to uphold.
Digital transformation takes center stage
The gradual digital transformation of the manufacturing sector has been ongoing for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly increased its progression as manufacturers scrambled to digitize their facilities to maintain a competitive edge. MIT research found that the digitization of the supply chain can lead to a 20% increase in revenue and a 50% reduction of production costs, indicating that digital transformation is not only important for retaining customers, but is also a highly attractive option for cutting costs.
Similarly, Statista reported that half of manufacturers surveyed in 2019 were already using IIoT devices in their facilities, with an additional 18% planning on implementing these solutions in the next few years. Yet, applications that require low latency, high bandwidth and reliable performance all while meeting regulatory and compliance mandates are not necessarily supported by traditional cloud-based applications and services.
This is where solutions like edge computing come in. With growing datasets and a greater need for efficiency, companies can engage edge computing solutions that improve response times from 21 seconds to 1 second. This type of improvement will make all the difference as companies prepare their supply chains for the resulting new demand.
Gaining a competitive “edge”
This transformation has added complexity for facility managers, systems integrators and others on the manufacturing floor as companies incorporate IIoT devices into non-IT environments. The introduction of digital transformation during the pandemic meant that IT gear needed to be monitored remotely by IT professionals and physical infrastructure had to be managed remotely by OT staff. Operations that require a seamless exchange between fundamental networks to ensure productivity, security, and resiliency have been stumped by the placement of these new technologies and devices that are traditionally managed by IT staff.
These high-tech changes mean that there is an increased need for IT and OT staff to work closely together and that manufacturers must step up to improve integration between these departments. Integration creates reliable operations that can withstand bigger business. While industrial system integrators and IT solution providers can help companies bridge the IT/OT gap, companies need to find a way to form greater connectivity between IT and OT staff for success in the long run.
Fortunately, edge computing not only facilitates digital transformation, but also makes it easier for IT and OT staff to converge. Edge computing allows for the centrally monitored infrastructure that IT teams require while keeping technology on the factory floor, available for OT staff to use. Machinery that was previously operated on-site and was too complex to be operated over the cloud can now be managed at the edge, facilitating seamless collaboration between IT and OT.
Although digital transformation offers both promise and challenges, edge computing serves as a solution that provides the promise of digital transformation and addresses the challenges associated with this transition.
Digital transformation will be a necessity in manufacturing as the lingering pandemic and policies like January’s executive order in the US bring big changes to companies that produce in-demand products. While manufacturers get to work adjusting their supply chains, an environment connected by IoT devices will foster more reliable operations as companies welcome new customers and greater volume from existing ones.
Edge computing can help keep IIoT enabled machinery running more efficiently while simultaneously allowing IT/OT staffs to successfully collaborate. Manufacturers will need to be innovative as they enact digital transformation within their facilities, proactively addressing issues that are bound to spring up as IT and OT staff become more connected and making full use of the edge.
Carsten Baumann is a solution architect with Schneider Electric