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The Path to Intelligent Insights at the Industrial Edge

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For manufacturers, an advanced factory platform can unify information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) to minimize costly disruptions.

Disruptions in factory operations cost manufacturing companies millions of dollars every day. From reduced capacity utilization to costly production delays, unscheduled downtime is a very real threat to the bottom line of every manufacturer. One of the keys to avoiding disruptions is to converge IT and OT — information technology and operational technology — to gain insights at the edge. These data-driven insights empower factory operators to keep manufacturing lines up and running at an optimal level of performance while mitigating a wide range of risks to operations.

To achieve this higher level of industrial intelligence, manufacturers need to modernize their operations with security in mind. One way to accomplish this goal is to deploy a unified computing platform at the edge that can unlock untapped data from legacy machines and systems and enable the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to create a smarter factory.

The way forward leveraging edge

This path to the digital transformation of the factory floor typically unfolds in three distinct phases.

Phase 1: Consolidate apps and improve reliability

The first step in the process is consolidating applications and improving the reliability of the environment. This modernization effort addresses the challenges that come with siloed, aging, and failure-prone PCs that are running outdated “homegrown” software applications.

Completing this step requires that IT and OT work together to implement an architecture for manufacturing with the capacity to consolidate legacy applications and deploy new ones. This virtualized platform replaces legacy PCs and software running outdated operating systems.

In addition, a fully-featured consolidation architecture includes failover capabilities to enable high availability for each VM. And to further enhance reliability, modern ruggedized PCs with intrinsic security capabilities replace legacy PCs in harsh environments on the factory floor.

The outcomes of this consolidation effort include lower latency between OT devices and the local application server, improved reliability for the overall environment, enablement of remote management, and potentially significant cost savings stemming from reduced unplanned downtime.

Phase 2: Collect edge data, deploy apps, optimize operations

The next phase toward digital transformation focuses on data collection, application deployment, and operational optimization through a proof of concept.

To enable these advances, manufacturers can deploy additional capabilities on the factory edge architecture. These capabilities include simplified, visual-based protocol translation software with out-of-the-box drivers for devices commonly deployed for manufacturing automation. This software normalizes the protocols so that data can be processed through business and IT tools and passed through to cloud providers. The solution also includes standard containerized applications for manufacturing.

With these capabilities, OT and IT personnel gain a holistic view of the factory, which can be enhanced with AI/ML models that enable the visualization of insights through dashboards. This holistic view can enable early anomaly detection, optimized maintenance schedules, and applications that model statistics to predict machine and operation failure.

Phase 3: Orchestrate globally, scale rapidly, optimize profits

After proving the effectiveness of the Phase 2 proof of concept in one site, manufacturers can then set their sights on replicating the solution in their other factories. This next step enables the management of operations from a global level.

Production managers and operators can view the results from machine learning and other artificial intelligence analyses in dashboards from both a factory and a global perspective, providing business optimization insights. Quality defects from one factory can be more easily prevented in twin operations in another factory. And this same global view can support enhanced logistics, including just-in-time production and packing for select customers.

In addition, with a more uniform and transparent view of processes and factory data, operators should need fewer people on the factory floor to physically operate machines, reducing the risk of safety incidents, solving workforce shortages, and freeing available workers for remote jobs optimizing multiple factory processes.

Enabling valuable use cases

Manufacturing is being transformed by modern architectures and platforms that converge IT and OT while running local applications to gain immediate insights from factory floor data. The use cases enable outcomes such as yield optimization, predictive maintenance, production quality control, asset optimization, enhanced logistics, equipment effectiveness, worker productivity, and enhanced safety and security.

For manufacturers, this dedicated factory architecture is more than a good idea. It’s a new imperative for maintaining a competitive advantage in the era of ever-smarter manufacturing.

Jason Nassar

About Jason Nassar

Jason Nassar is a Senior Consultant Product Manager for Dell Technologies with a focus on developing winning strategies and solutions for the edge.  He has over 17 years of technical and product leadership experience over multiple verticals, including aviation, hybrid and electric vehicles, power generation, and manufacturing. Jason has a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a master's degree in Energy Systems Engineering from the University of Michigan.  He works remotely and is located in the Houston, Texas, area.

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