COVID-19 May Boost Cloud and Edge Computing

Oct. 6, 2020
Though there is much discussion of “the cloud” in manufacturing, its use is not as widespread as it might appear, though the pandemic may prompt expanded use.

According to a new report by PMMI Business Intelligence, currently 47% of leading CPGs and 46% of SMEs are utilizing cloud computing, and only 20% of leading CPGs and very few SMEs are utilizing edge computing strategies, though the use of both did accelerate due to COVID-19.

Cloud computing enables manufacturers to access production data and controls, remotely and in real time. By continuously uploading data to the cloud, manufacturers can obtain a comprehensive view of their operations, monitoring where products are, controlling what production lines are doing, and analyzing gathered data, without the need to be physically present at the site of production. Edge computing enables many of the same advantages of cloud computing, but without the option of remote access to data.

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The report states that “many manufacturers are uncomfortable with the idea of full remote connectivity into their operations and fear infiltration and potential sabotage from outside sources.” Edge computing was introduced to mitigate cloud security concerns - data is still uploaded to a centralized repository, but one that must be accessed locally. Said one senior manager of engineering at a dry shelf goods operation, “We do not allow online access to the control system; access with OEMs is on a case-by- case basis with multiple levels of approval.”

CPGs indicate the following elements are a “must have” before any discussion of remote connectivity becomes the norm: VPN connection that is walled off from the factory network; In-depth approval from IT; and, Trusted partnership with supplier.

See: How To Broaden Use of Remote Access

However, the advantages of cloud and edge computing may have become more appealing during the COVID-19 pandemic, as working from home becomes increasingly common and manufacturers turn to remote access strategies as a means to reduce the number of employees that are required to be physically present at a manufacturing location. Remote access to both individual machines and the larger enterprise management system can allow at least some of the workforce to avoid the plant floor, while also enabling remote troubleshooting and maintenance from OEMs.

In the June 2020 PMMI Purchasing Managers Index, the four industries listed below reported current remote access usage well above the median baseline. In addition, they also all report expected future expansion of remote access capability, although where they are on the remote access timeline varies a bit by industry.

Beverage: Current remote access usage for the beverage industry is 9.1 points above the average of all industries examined, while future usage is predicted to be 8.8 points above the average.

Food: Current remote access usage for the food industry is 1.1 points below the average of all industries examined, while future usage is predicted to be 1.5 below the average.

Personal Care: Current remote access usage for the personal care industry is 5.3 points below the average of all industries examined, while future usage is predicted to be 0.2 points above the average.

Pharma/Medical Device: Current remote access usage for the pharma/medical device industry is 5 points above the average of all industries examined, while future usage is predicted to be 1.5 points above the average.

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Cloud and edge computing are best deployed by operations that already have fairly comprehensive IIoT integration and that are gathering large amounts of data through their integrated network of sensors. The report suggests that “OEMs and suppliers can assist manufacturers in identifying when the time is right to deploy cloud and edge computing, making these technologies a crucial component in the complex process of upgrading an operation to incorporate widespread automation.”

To access this FREE report and learn more about automation in operations, download below.

To access Trends in Adoption of Remote Access click here.

Source: PMMI Business Intelligence, “Automation Timeline: The Drive Toward 4.0 Connectivity in Packaging and Processing”

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