Reaching the far edge
Edge computing capabilities have largely focused on the “near edge” of the supply chain which include the automation of manufacturing processes, or data analytics existing within the walls of a facility. As opposed to the near edge, the “far edge” extends beyond the manufacturing floor to a company’s interactions with other business partners and even end consumers. For example, at the far edge, heavy equipment sellers will be able to analyse and predict when a part may need maintenance or replacement and respond in real-time—so that the end consumer can achieve minimised productivity downtime.
Businesses are now embedding hardware to host service-oriented, cloud-based or fog-based applications at every step in their supply chains. This connectivity presents a new opportunity to improve transportation logistics, in particular. IIoT technology is already bringing a new level of visibility to shipment tracking, allowing businesses new insights needed to optimise their materials handling and logistics.
Edge computing relies on connectivity in order to be effectively integrated. That said, one of the hurdles that 5G has had to overcome to-date is the inaccessibility of remote far edge locations that are more difficult to connect with. Previous edge computing capabilities struggled to provide the bandwidth needed to perform critical operations at those furthest points of the far edge.
This is an important problem that 5G can provide the solution to. With 5G, manufacturers will have access to security and connectivity capabilities that were simply not possible with existing network connectivity barriers. The efficiency of these far edge processes will be improved tenfold, helping supply chain optimisation reach its peak potential.
5G benefits don’t exist only at the far edge—the near edge can benefit as well. Private 5G networks can greatly improve connectivity between machines and systems within a manufacturing plant, helping cut unnecessary costs and optimising manufacture and assembly time. By connecting an entire plant through a unified 5G network, managing and controlling the network becomes much simpler.
Bridging the consumer-manufacturer gap
Another key problem that can be solved with 5G connectivity is the broad gap between manufacturers and the consumers they serve. With distribution networks and after-sales operations growing increasingly complicated and robust, it becomes difficult for manufacturers to assess consumers’ needs. 5G connectivity will provide manufacturers with far edge connection between IoT devices and the manufacturer. This in turn will provide the manufacturer with valuable data that will give them a better understanding of what consumers want and need.
Eventually, 5G will pair with a combination of emerging technologies to fully automate processes across both the near and far edge, creating a seamless connected ecosystem where massive amounts of data is processed in real time.
The 5G edge is near
Despite the hype, 5G is still brand new. However, that hype is justifiable, especially as edge computing is one of the areas where 5G holds the most potential. 5G’s flexibility, security benefits and bandwidth capabilities make it a no-brainer for manufacturers who are primed for exponential growth. The power of these networks, combined with intuitive, accessible edge platforms, will greatly help companies manage supply chain locations without dedicated IT resources. In effect, 5G will become a lynchpin technology for next-gen manufacturing networks that will greatly improve efficiency.
By John Fryeris senior director of industry solutions at Stratus Technologies