Evaluating edge opportunities for industrial automation
- Learn how end users, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and system integrators (SIs) are embracing the edge to improve automation systems.
- Understand how edge devices gather information and transmit it efficiently to users.
- Learn where companies can start in their edge journey and understand potential challenges such as data storage, physical limitations and system integration.
Edge computing insights
- Edge computing and devices are giving manufacturers more flexibility in gathering data and how they set up operations.
- Third-party experts, such as system integrators (SIs), can help companies find the right approach to their operations, and this is made easier by companies integrating complete hardware and software portfolios.
It is no secret technological advances applied within manufacturing and processing industries have long been perceived as behind compared to those developed for consumer products. This pattern was largely by design because the mission-critical proven automation and controls performance required by industrial applications trumps the convenience and capability prioritized by typical consumers. Edge computing and other advanced automation capabilities applied at the edge are adding capabilities to manufacturers’ digital transformation.
In recent years, users are more aware of the expanding variety of automation hardware and software available. While evolving technologies and more flexible architectures are generally making it easier for designers to apply digital transformation to existing and new operational technology (OT) control and monitoring systems, the multitude of choices can fog up the path regarding the best options to adopt, sometimes leading to one-off, non-repeatable implementations.
End users, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and the systems integrators (SIs) supporting them are exploring edge opportunities for manufacturing sites and equipment, and generating questions such as:
What do edge technologies and the industrial internet of things (IIoT) mean for practical benefits?
How can companies begin updating legacy systems and rolling out new projects, while ensuring the preservation of investments and the future-readiness of the work?
Considering the amount of information technology (IT) connectivity necessary, what is the best way to address cybersecurity concerns?
Understanding what one can accomplish with edge automation and developing sensible approaches to digital transformation are the first steps toward answering these questions.
Benefits from industrial edge computing to cloud computing
Industrial edge applications are becoming more prevalent not because they are fashionable, but because they are necessary to access data. Users are recognizing the quantity – and value – of data within their automation systems, which may be stranded due to physical isolation, lack of integration and non-digitalization.
Edge technologies provide avenues to liberate this data by accessing it, providing insights on-premises, or transporting it within the site or into the cloud for more extensive analysis leading to additional actionable insights. Capturing the data is not enough. Analytics are essential for extracting significant understanding of how to improve efficiency, safety and uptime (Figure 1).
Industrial edge device types extend past edge computing
Many different devices make up the edge, including (Figure 2):
Intelligent sensors and smarter networked field devices.
Gateways and other small compute options installed on top of legacy and existing systems.
PLCs for deterministic control with modern connectivity.
Edge controllers providing deterministic control combined with edge analytics.
Industrial PCs that can perform more extensive communications and analytical computation close to the edge.
On-site and remote/mobile human-machine interfaces (HMIs).
Software platforms to connect the edge within the manufacturing plant and up to the cloud, and everything in between.
It can be challenging for automation designers to select technologies that meet current and future needs because there are so many options.
Industrial automation: Fit for purpose, future-ready
An industrial automation designer’s primary goal is delivering safe and effective equipment. However, it is becoming equally important to access and act upon the wealth of information contained within equipment, which means designers must look beyond traditional automation elements.
Some users may not be ready to fully dive into edge implementations. However, it is important and pragmatic to add-on or build-in scalable edge technologies from the beginning, so systems are ready to deliver IIoT advantages as soon as users are ready. As developers investigate options, they’ll find many suppliers, some providing commercial-grade as opposed to industrial-grade edge technologies.
Unfortunately, assembling hardware and software from multiple sources into a cohesive system requires significant research and testing effort, which introduces extra risks. Some of the top concerns with creating custom edge implementations are limited performance, lack of scalability, questionable future support and a lack of cybersecurity.
On the other hand, considering the countless possible use cases for automation and edge implementations, nobody today would reasonably expect to purchase an all-in-one package exactly tailored to specific needs, needing just a few clicks out of the box.
Elements of edge automation platforms
Instead, users are looking to accelerate their efforts by finding comprehensive automation and edge platforms with the following nine features:
Hardware that is integrated and coordinated closely with software.
Scalability and flexibility across levels of control and computing functionality.
Availability of bundled hardware/software solutions for common use cases.
Convenient software modules for essential tasks such as lean manufacturing and energy monitoring.
Consistent development environments that will not require rework as one expands the solution.
Support for a wide variety of protocols and programming languages, with strong library functionality.
Scalability from a single machine to an entire manufacturing plant.
Products that are industrial grade at the software and hardware levels, and not just adaptations of commercial technology.
With widely varying applications and needs, product portfolios proven to provide these capabilities are a great benefit to industrial automation designers and developers. Consider this example from a project to see how this works in practice.
CIP/SIP skid monitoring
Clean-in-place (CIP) and sanitize-in-place (SIP) processes are used throughout food and beverage, life sciences and other manufacturing and production applications. CIP/SIP uses water (often at high temperatures) and chemicals, including caustic and acid, to wash out fixed installations of piping, valves, vessels and equipment to ensure the system is cleaned, sanitized and sterilized. Proper CIP/SIP operations eliminate batch-to-batch cross contamination and maintain regulatory hygiene to uphold product quality and reduce consumer risks.
Even a properly functioning CIP/SIP system can consume large amounts of plant resources. In some cases, almost 30% of the total resources such as water, steam, electricity and chemicals are used. Improperly-handled CIP/SIP operations can run too long and waste these resources. Inefficient designs also can increase labor needs and create production downtime during changeovers.
In other cases, copious manual steps in these procedures can lead to system and human errors. For these reasons and more, many companies are moving away from manual CIP/SIP systems, and toward fully-automated operations taking advantage of industrial rated sensors, analyzers, valves, motor controls, PLCs and HMIs to help ensure smooth operations.
There are even greater benefits to be realized by building CIP/SIP automation systems with edge technologies for full optimization. These include automatic operational reporting, verification of consistent hygienic standards, deviation flagging and pursuing best-case “golden cycles” by analyzing and acting on insights to minimize operating time and utilities usage.
While some CIP/SIP integrators have created their own edge solution from scratch, they can now save time and money by choosing a complete solution from a supplier. These types of solutions are built on portfolios of coordinated edge-ready products, which already accommodate industry needs.
Edge-enabled software, controller reduce water use 30%
A CIP analytics solution can be retrofitted to existing CIP/SIP skids or built into new designs. The solution works with traditional or smart instrumentation such as pressure/flow/temperature transmitters and conductivity analyzers. It also integrates with smart valves and solenoid manifolds to monitor operations and performance.
This solution uses a platform of edge-enabled software. It can run on an edge controller or an industrial PC (IPC) and takes advantage of IT and OT communications standards and protocols. By using a proven and interoperable platform, users benefit from rapid deployment and extensive functionality (Figure 3).
The CIP analytics solution empowers operators and engineers to visualize and monitor performance, execute benchmarking and report on utility consumption. Based on modeling data, it was determined the solution, on average, can enable reduced water consumption by more than 30%, while saving up to 20% of the time formerly spent managing manual and semi-automated systems, optimizing operational performance and efficiency.
Edge as an opportunity to improve automation, data analysis
End users, OEMs and SIs are embracing the edge to improve automation systems with flexible data access and analysis. Edge technologies are essential to enable these capabilities, but there are so many options to consider it can be difficult to authoritatively select among the multitude of choices.
The answer is choosing a proven and coordinated hardware and software platform that allows development effort to focus on the application rather than the integration. This approach delivers a rapid and reliable way of creating overall value.
Users should look for a portfolio that incorporates deterministic control, edge-enabled computing, visualization, analytics and site and cloud connectivity. This foundation lets designers proceed knowing they will minimize design effort, maximize reusability of their work while making industrial applications flexible and future-proof.
Nishita Palkar is director of the PACSystems industrial computing portfolio for Emerson. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, [email protected].
Keywords: edge computing, edge controllers, process safety
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How is your company embracing the edge and what have the benefits been so far?
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