Digital transformation is a hot topic today. Many manufacturers were blindsided by recent external disruptions to business. Now they are looking to update their systems and processes to become more resilient, more customer-focused, and more profitable.
In a recent survey of manufacturers by Futurum Research, 67% of respondents said their organization had to rethink their entire business model in light of the pandemic. Eighty percent said they do not expect a return to business as usual after the pandemic ends.
Industry must now “create the recently impossible” as they focus on their digital transformation strategies for 2022 and beyond, says Isaac Sacolick, author of Driving Digital and president of Star CIO. “The art of the possible is now a different conversation” than it was just two or three years ago.
“Decisions must be purposeful,” adds Travis Hessman, editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek. Digital transformation today must be about “synthesizing data and making it dance.”
There is a common feeling that applications are cool and the supporting technologies are boring. Yet it is the details of the boring stuff that will make or break even the most sophisticated application environment. “Emerging technologies from two or three years ago are now available,” notes Sacolick. Edge Computing, Artificial Intelligence, 5G data transmission and other technologies allow manufacturers to “rewrite the strategies” of digital transformation. “What must be done now is to de-risk and complete” the transformation, Sacolick adds.
Access to data, collaboration, and latency must be improved from the standards of only a year or two ago. The commercial availability of industrial 5G wireless transmission is perhaps the leading “newcomer” ready for deployment. By using millimeter wave bands and MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) antenna arrays, 5G provides up to 20 gigabits per second. This is fast enough to drive Virtual Reality without nausea-inducing latency. The 1ms latency also offers the possibility of cars communicating with each other in traffic, synchronizing their movements through city streets like a flock of birds.
Years of research into industrial connectivity have also led to the commercial availability of two styles of localized computing, Fog and Edge. Both extend current notions of Cloud computing by allowing direct machine-to-machine (M2M) computation and storage. Estimates of how many M2M connections are currently deployed range from 800 million to 3 billion.
Edge and Fog computing both provide for connecting an enterprise’s periphery to existing IT. Fog computing is the extension of cloud computing to the edge of an enterprise’s network. Intelligence is at the level of the local area network. Data moves from endpoints to a gateway, and from there to processing sources. Edge computing is more decentralized; devices are capable of higher-level computation and can be used for direct machine-to-machine data use. Together the two technologies will allow for smart machines, sensors, and data analysis systems serving devices and users alike.
If the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) were an organism, Edge and Fog computing would be remote brains and 5G would be the nervous system. The sexy software applications people prefer to talk about can run on outdated technology, but that would be like buying a racehorse and then never letting it do more than walk around the paddock.
If you want the horse to run, put it on a racetrack. The same holds true for today’s advanced software products at the heart of industrial digital transformation.
University researchers in Taiwan say that the previous generation of wireless network standards still in common use today cannot meet the demands of cyber-physical manufacturing systems (CPMS). 5G has the “significant potential to promote IIoT and CPMS.”
Among the many industrial benefits from such new technologies as 5G and Edge/Fog, the researchers foresee the widespread use of augmented reality and virtual reality, due to the increased throughput of data and low latency 5G offers. “It will improve production efficiency, reduce production cost, and enhance product quality through applying virtual reality and augmented reality in product design, manufacturing, maintenance, and production equipment overhaul.” They cite the existing example of Oil and Gas vendor Total using VR software to train staff for offshore installation work.
The team’s summary report is quite enthusiastic about the long-term. “IIoT aims to realize ambient ubiquity networks in industrial environments based on the technologies of reliable sensing, computer networks, real-time communications, and big data. IIoT can acquire the important manufacturing process parameters with lower cost, more convenience, and higher applicability, which cannot be acquired in the traditional industrial production line.”
Editor: Register to watch the replays from our September, 2021 3DEXPERIENCE Dialogue sessions hosted by Futurum Research and featuring industry influencers such as author Isaac Sacolick and Travis Hessman, Industry Week in a roundtable called “Digital Transformation-Where Do We Go From Here?”