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The Next Leap in Smart Manufacturing: the Magic is at the Edge



I’ve always had a special appreciation for panoramic photography. We can capture entire landscapes, sunsets, or ocean views in exquisite detail (and now and days, we can do so easily on our phones!). It’s amazing that we can pack so much visual information into a single image, giving us a whole new perspective on the world around us.

HPE20160525596_800_0_72_srgb.jpgTo that end, I’ve been thinking about the magic of the wide-angle view as I talk with manufacturing industry leaders about the Intelligent Edge and what it can do for their enterprise. The industry is starting to grasp the magnitude of the possibilities that unfold when you bring more compute power and more data and analytics capabilities to manufacturing processes. While manufacturing leaders have achieved impressive advances in recent years in automating production, reducing errors, and driving down costs, the next step in extending those gains must involve increasing the amount of information and intelligence that’s embedded in manufacturing operations. And for that, they need broader views of their company’s needs and objectives, as well as the new technology and services landscape.

Manufacturing’s new digital dimensions

Manufacturing businesses are, of course, no strangers to holistic views of processes; these come with the territory. When you’re running a product line that takes raw material all the way through manufacturing stations to a finished product, you’re intensely aware of how processes interact, and how easily an error or failure – a missing piece of inventory, say, or a defective sensor – can cause extremely costly slowdowns and interruptions. Still, in the new world of IoT-enabled manufacturing, it can sometimes be tempting to focus in on individual machines or sub-processes. You might have a unit that’s given highly dependable performance for many years … perhaps you can update it with some new sensors and put a server on the production line?

Possible … but not ideal. Servers are just part of the equation. You also need to think about architecting the connectivity. Then there’s the software layer that enables you to understand the data and analyze what’s going on. You can implement an analytics software package, but it won’t know your company’s processes; the specifics are crucial, and they can vary hugely even among businesses that produce similar, competing products. To understand the data, you’ll need to tap into field-based knowledge that up till now has been residing in your people – technicians on the shop floor, experts in product construction and quality control – and bring it into the digital world.

All of which is doable, but the companies that we see having the most success are the ones that approach the Intelligent Edge with the big picture firmly in mind. In fact, that approach may reveal opportunities to reshape operational processes in ways you might not have thought of otherwise.

Leveraging the Edge to Win

Here’s an example. I recently worked with a pharmaceutical manufacturer that was looking for ways to leverage Intelligent Edge solutions to drive new efficiencies. I zeroed in on the quality control process. The company would produce a batch of pills, and then test them to ensure they met regulatory standards. If so, they would continue production; if not, they would destroy the entire batch. So I suggested putting some intelligence on the edge, so that instead of sending the pills to the labs and having to wait for the results, the edge solution could analyze the quality of the product immediately, automatically feeding the results back into the production process. That way, the company wouldn’t have to throw away an entire batch because of what might perhaps have been just one defective pill.

End-to-End Edge 

GettyImages-183742099_super_800_0_72_srgb.jpgThat’s a classic example of how a well-structured Intelligent Edge initiative can drive impressive business results, in this case saving money and reducing waste through combining two previously asynchronous processes. It’s important to note that you can achieve these kinds of insights and results without having to build massive IT capabilities and expertise. HPE Pointnext is partnering with many organizations in this space to deliver tailored solutions for every step of the journey to the Intelligent Edge, all the way from sensors to security, from connectivity to control, so you can keep your focus where it belongs – on the business outcomes.

HPE Pointnext can help you explore the technology options, design your project, and integrate the components. What’s more, we can run the infrastructure for you across its entire lifecycle, so you don’t have to find the resources to do that in-house. It’s a true end-to-end offering, a wide-angle solution for the panoramic opportunities of the Intelligent Edge. Learn more about HPE Pointnext here.

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Have questions, comments or suggestions? Reach out to me on twitter: @tesmanech

About the Author


Intelligent Edge, IoT & Edgeline Director, HPE Pointnext

June 18 - 20
Las Vegas, NV
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