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The fourth industrial revolution, better known as Industry 4.0, is happening now — and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and edge computing are at the epicenter of this transition. The adoption of IIOT has steadily increased globally, in part accelerated by the pandemic; manufacturers realized the importance of digital transformation in the face of supply chain issues and workforce shortages.
Harnessing machine learning (ML), AI and big data, IIoT’s potential to bolster global production, support remote operations and optimize manufacturing and analytics are well understood. In fact, The global IIoT market size was $263.52 billion in 2021 and is expected to realize a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.1% between 2022 and 2030.
How do the two connect and why do enterprises need to act now or risk getting left behind? Organizations of all kinds are beginning to understand the real value generated by IIOT: expanding capabilities and providing a critical competitive advantage.
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From accelerated innovation and better efficiency to increased uptime and reduced operating costs, IIOT technology is revolutionizing sectors like manufacturing, aerospace, retail and healthcare. Implementing the right IoT technology can increase production, reduce waste, and improve safety. It has been found to improve business growth rate by 25%.
The status quo
We are in the nascent stages of radical industrial transformation. Like any revolution, Industry 4.0 will have its winners and its losers. IIoT adoption has become a necessity for manufacturers — but it must be done right. Those without a clear IIoT strategy will lag behind.
Right now, increasingly powerful hardware in combination with recent advances in AI and ML capabilities have accelerated adoption and use cases. These are diverse and drive business value: from IoT sensors monitoring the conditions of an asset (temperature and vibrations) to alerting owners of potential issues to real-time data gathering.
Edge computing is the foundation and enabler for IIOT applications, delivering use cases with more stringent latency, bandwidth and security requirements.
Challenges hindering progress
Today, the IIoT space remains fairly fragmented, and for it to reach its full potential for Industry 4.0, many challenges must be addressed.
One of the greatest challenges facing IIOT adoption is scalability. MIT Technology Review reports that 95% of companies are struggling to use IIoT solutions at scale, and/or use them to generate a competitive advantage. The complexity of IIoT and the sheer scale of operations make operational simplicity a fundamental necessity if IIoT is to reliably and resiliently deliver results.
Chief among the challenges are deep technical and organizational issues. As McKinsey notes, security is front of mind — as computers under management reach into the hundreds of thousands across geographically diverse locations, the threat landscape increases and new attack vectors emerge alongside the technical challenges of maintenance and patching.
The amount of data generated by IIoT devices makes them — and the architecture sitting behind their operation — attractive targets for cybercriminals. Their usage in critical infrastructure makes the consequences of failure significant.
High initial investment costs and the complexity of managing IIoT devices also present hurdles. Even with lightweight versions of Kubernetes facilitating deployment and scale, lack of know-how and tightened budgets are barriers to entry for many enterprises that would see the benefit of IIoT.
How edge computing advances are tackling these challenges
Edge technologies are already solving these issues — and opening room for significant acceleration. Driven by cost savings in computing power, better bandwidth and the ability to provide faster access to automation data, the potential of IIOT is growing every day. At this point, edge is the reliable and cost-effective way to ensure data quality, freshness, accuracy and speed of delivery across many applications that would have traditionally taken place at the heart.
Organizations tackling IIoT value propositions are gaining traction. Some companies have their customers as investors, which indicates IIoT is driving business value for industrial and manufacturing companies. It’s also becoming increasingly more mainstream and topical, which is evident from the recent Linux Foundation event ONE Summit, which focused on Industry 4.0 and edge.
Together, edge and IIoT can be seen as the connective tissue and gateway between the physical world and the computing world. The first step is to pull workloads into a single management system; then, the workload can be split up and containerized as appropriate. This sets an organization up to adopt the key underlying platform technologies and development practices that become foundational for functionality enhancements, cost-effective operations and deployment at scale. This prepares them for AI workloads that are inevitable in closing the control loop that IIoT devices provide access to.
By laying the foundation for edge computing, industry 4.0 use cases have a clear runway for implementation and enhancements. The edge computing foundation will give industry 4.0 the ability to compute at the edge, ensure workloads are containerized, applications are microservices-based, and OS and Kubernetes are hardware Independent and managed centrally. This can ensure that new devices are deployed with minimal onsite expertise when and as needed.
The IIoT space is a key battleground for enterprises and industries pursuing digital transformation. The next 12 months will be crucial for those seeking to optimize operations, enhance their supply chain and gain a competitive advantage. Businesses must seize the opportunity afforded by the latest edge advancements and renew the transition to Industry 4.0 or be left behind.
Keith Basil is edge GM at SUSE.
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