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Edge Computing Is Driving Connectivity in a Remote-First World

In this special guest feature, Jason Andersen, Vice President of Business Line Management at Stratus Technologies, discusses how edge computing helps companies compute and share data across their supply chains and succeed in a disrupted, hybrid-first world. Jason is responsible for setting the product roadmaps and go-to-market strategies for Stratus Products and Services. He has a deep understanding of both on-premise and cloud-based infrastructure and has been responsible for the successful market delivery of products and services for almost 20 years.

The seismic changes in the workplace over the last two years have finally started to subside, but the manufacturing industry remains a laggard in provisioning for the remote workforce. 

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, nearly three-quarters of employees worked from home all or most of the time. By contrast, just 41 percent of manufacturing employees were able to telework, and only 46 percent of the industry had enabled remote monitoring processes to ensure visibility of production when away from the plant. 

Even as people return to offices, it’s clear that the disruption isn’t going anywhere, so companies need to be strategic and think about how they provide workers wherever they are with access to data and make it actionable. Edge computing helps companies compute and share data across their supply chains and succeed in a disrupted, hybrid-first world. 

Moving Forward 

As employees in the industrial center return to work, they don’t know what to expect because there’s no playbook for bouncing back from a global pandemic. The last two years of uncertainty and working remotely may have impacted how companies perform maintenance, manage and report operations, and with whom and how they partner with external companies. Leaders at industrial companies must determine if they go back to how they operated pre-pandemic, continue with the band-aid tactics that got them through the pandemic or evaluate the best path for future success and where automation plays a role. 

For remote work to be successful long-term in an industrial setting, it will need more than some of the makeshift solutions that were created with urgency during the pandemic. Manufacturers will need to: 

  1. Establish secure connectivity to the outside world. Remote workers can’t work without remote technology – and Edge computing is. It’s a good way to enable applications to work remotely once secure connectivity is established.
  2. Enable processes across sites. Assuming that resources are now untethered to a specific spot, workers can take advantage of cross-site data and analytics opportunities.
  3. Enable the capture and analysis of more data. – Fewer people on-site may mean new data needs to be collected – or it may need to be processed in new ways. Edge computing can really help with that since you are processing the data closer to where it is collected.

Like other enable remote work technologies – cloud computing comes instantly to mind – Edge computing can make remote workers more efficient and productive and do so without any additional security risk to the business. 

The benefits of edge computing 

Edge computing technology has proved critical in helping employees react to problems more quickly, especially in a remote or hybrid work environment. It enables workers to focus on identifying potential issues no matter where they are, including outside of the plant floor. Edge also enables manufacturers to adhere to safety measures related to the pandemic. One oil and gas exploration service that leverages edge computing was able to reduce required onsite staffing by 66 percent, thanks to the technology’s AI-powered predictive maintenance. 

As manufacturers continue along the path of digital transformation post-pandemic, there are three main benefits.  

  • Prevents downtime with proven high availability. Every manufacturer’s bottom line is dependent on being always on. Downtime leads to lower yields, inferior product quality fines, and ultimately unhappy customers, resulting in considerable financial impact. Edge provides continuous availability and failure prevention – and supports the pressure of high-availability workloads, which are increasing because of remote and hybrid work.
  • Enables remote monitoring and controls. Today’s edge platforms can alert remote workers when something goes wrong – or exceeds a predetermined threshold – so they can act and resolve the issue from anywhere.  
  • Leverages new technologies that support remote work environments. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR): edge computing makes all of them possible because of the processing speed and power it brings to an industrial shop. AR provides a good example of how these new technologies improve the efficiency and productivity of remote workers. Rather than asking employees to put themselves at risk with heavy, outdated technology, AR devices make it easier for technicians to diagnose and solve a problem and eliminate the need for multiple people working in the same space. 

As the industrial sector looks to digitize, it is doing so at the right time: it needs to provide workers with the benefits of other sectors – namely remote/hybrid work opportunities – and the technologies exist and have matured sufficiently to help them succeed. The time is now for manufacturing companies to adopt edge computing, which gives workers – whether on the plant floor or at-home – access to an always-on network that delivers actionable data to diagnose and solve problems. 

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