Electronics

IIoT Potential with Edge Computing


As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) continues to evolve and expand, the sheer amount of data being collected, organized, and analyzed by data centers and in the cloud continues to multiply. The total amount of data shared worldwide is expected to more than double in the next three years1. Processing that much data requires significant bandwidth and processing power and can create computing gridlock and slowdowns. “Edge computing” aims to ease some of the burden on the central processing system by performing simple operations on smart devices or network gateway nodes, thereby lowering latency and freeing up valuable bandwidth for more complex computations. Edge computing is currently being implemented in a variety of use cases and industries, including:

  • Healthcare – surgical robots that require lower latency to make real-time decisions and adjustments and smart medical wearable devices like heart and blood pressure monitors
  • Retail and Manufacturing – inventory and supply chain management with RFID trackers and smart sensors
  • Media – real-time video analysis to improve content moderation and enhanced gaming functionality by reducing latency and content caching closer to the edge for faster access
  • Transportation – autonomous vehicles with self-driving capabilities utilize computing on the edge to react to traffic and weather conditions as quickly and efficiently as possible
  • Agriculture – farmers implement smart sensors on their crops to monitor hydration and nutrition levels and help predict when weather conditions may precipitate an early harvest
Source: Ar_TH - stock.adobe.com
Source: Ar_TH – stock.adobe.com

Moving logic and data storage to the edge creates privacy concerns, so a network of wirelessly connected devices requires powerful encryption to ensure data transmitted and received on the edge is safe and secure. Edge computing, however, can reduce the risk of data loss or theft by reducing the amount of data being transmitted to the cloud in the first place. The principal benefit of edge computing is spreading the responsibility around—in other words, more hands mean less work. Lowering latency and increasing bandwidth can lead to faster response and transmission times, critical factors in certain applications.

Conditions on the edge of the IIoT can be demanding for smart devices and intelligent gateways and nodes. Sensors and actuators can be exposed to extreme heat, variable humidity, intense and intermittent vibrations, and electromagnetic interference that can damage devices and adversely affect data transmission. Smart devices at the edge in certain industries or manufacturing settings must be rugged and reliable in harsh physical environments, like acoustic and temperature sensors designed to improve preventative maintenance on industrial robots or heavy machinery. Size and form factor can also be critical factors as physical space is at a premium in many IIoT applications, and edge devices equipped with processors might be larger than their more basic predecessors. In some implementations, engineers and facilities managers might need to weigh the relative pros and cons of larger gateways with more processing capability versus smaller devices that put more pressure on data transmission and processing in the cloud. Another factor to consider is how much computing power is required to meet an application’s needs and how to allocate the responsibility as data centers are under a greater and greater burden. As a result, they are increasing compute density, but the strain can create significant latency issues. Pushing data storage responsibilities to devices at the edge frees up bandwidth for transmission to and from the data center and enhances overall system response time.

Solutions

TE Connectivity offers a variety of product solutions designed to help optimize edge computing applications. Approximately half of all internet connections worldwide are between machines without human users on either end. Making those connections as robust, secure, and reliable as possible is paramount to ensuring safe, efficient communication and operation, especially connections that must be maintained in harsh conditions. TE’s 16GT/s 0.5mm free height stacking COM (computer-on-module) connectors can provide a transfer rate of up to 16GT/s and feature a new contact design that improves signal integrity. The vertical mating configuration allows designers to adjust their designs to fit the physical space limitations they’re working with. TE’s COM connectors can be found in everything from aerospace design to medical equipment, industrial machinery, COM modules, and more.

Similarly, TE’s ICCON slim power pins and sockets enable scalability in designs while coming in a small, unobtrusive form factor for saving physical space. With a current capacity of 35A per contact, the ICCON power pins are an optimal solution for switches, servers, or data storage devices. The pins and sockets themselves can be easily installed or removed without tools and can accommodate pin-in-paste reflow processes.

Conclusion

For the IIoT to continue to grow and evolve, developers will have to use every weapon in their arsenal to lower latency and reduce bandwidth usage across various use cases and applications. Pushing some of the computational burden from a central processing system to devices on the edge can do that, but not without creating new potential issues. Reliability in harsh environmental conditions like extreme heat or vibration is paramount, especially with COM’s or edge devices with built-in processors. Network security is also a major concern, especially when multiple wireless protocols are being used in concert; robust encryption and network security are vital. Accounting for these factors can make edge computing the secret to unlocking the IIoT’s operational potential. As data centers get bigger and denser, processing data on the edge could be the answer to keeping networks running smoothly.

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Alex Pluemer is a senior technical writer for Wavefront Marketing specializing in advanced electronics, emerging technologies and responsible technology development.