The worldwide spread of COVID-19 has led to significant changes in business operations, supply chains and consumer behavior. Across industries, manufacturers navigated shortages, supply interruptions, and stay-at-home/social distance requirements on their workforce — all of which forced change in both operations and worker classification such as “essential.”

Edge computing offers dairy manufacturers a single solution to address several operational challenges. Fundamentally, edge computing allows manufacturers to move computing resources to where they’re needed most — near critical equipment to aid operations and the supply chain. A good edge computing platform, purposely built for operational environments, can enable zero-touch, OT-friendly operation and provide computing redundancy to eliminate equipment downtime that increases overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). The low latency of running these applications at the point of data acquisition is also ideal for the high velocity of dairy manufacturing, the multiple SKUs and the focus on product quality.

Edge computing platforms can enable dairy manufacturers to modernize their packaging plants more quickly. They can further improve key performance indicators (KPIs) by implementing nearly infinite other applications, including predictive maintenance with plug-n-play capability to significantly decrease maintenance requirements.


Reducing risk through increased automation

Edge computing supports greater automation, which allows more tasks to be performed with reduced on-site staff. This can help companies adjust to fewer people on-site as a result of government restrictions on movement such as quarantines and curfews, as well as limits placed on the number of people who can safely be accommodated in production line spaces.

Companies are accelerating the use of edge computing to improve analytics, quality control, troubleshooting and disaster recovery while reducing bottlenecks and, ultimately, production costs. Enterprises should look at what operations are lower value but supervised manually and identify those activities to be moved to fully automated or remote operations.


Preventing downtime at the edge

Complying with staffing limits and increasing levels of automation could mean fewer workers permitted on the plant floor. This can lead to issues in quality and production. A mistake in something such as temperature control can mean a significant loss of product and profit.

Edge computing allows for data to be collected close to their creation. Via technology such as smart sensors, data can be processed locally for real-time decision support and digital escalation of issues. Using edge computing, teams have a new way to improve traditional KPIs such as OEE.

Edge computing also enables data acquisition and reporting from various analytics packages, opening the realm of predictive maintenance and reduced waste using process variables (temperature, vibration, holding times, etc.) to flag abnormalities and deviations. This data then are used to forecast when maintenance should be completed to avoid decreased efficiency or equipment failure, unlocking the potential benefits of moving from reactive/scheduled strategies to predictive maintenance.


Leveraging real-time analytics

Not only can edge computing collect and analyze data in real-time, it can also feed data to the cloud or on-premise systems, allowing integration with engineering, manufacturing execution and application performance management infrastructure. Connecting these systems and achieving a single pane of glass view through one holistic solution are key for organizations looking to achieve digital transformation at the plant level.

Edge Computing can also be programmed to send specific data to specific locations at specific intervals of time, which can be necessary if Internet connections are not always available or restricted for security reasons. It also can provide storage for data that may not need to leave the site, but still may be of value locally. This can be important when thinking about regulatory requirements for data management.


Changing roles and responsibilities

Plant managers, incorporating input from process and control engineers, are tasked with managing their own systems and taking on IT responsibilities to implement the business systems they require. As automation increases at manufacturing plants, operations teams require plug-n-play capability and systems that are easily validated by IT.

Edge computing platforms solve these needs, reduce cost and address IT requirements with simple, protected and autonomous operation. They also reduce infrastructure footprint by running multiple business applications in a single platform, eliminating management and cost of industrial PCs or traditional servers that require special environments.


Edge computing drives future success

As dairy manufacturers implement digitization, they can also adjust to the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic using the same edge computing technology. Imagine the benefits of new visibility into operations, flexibility to run new applications and machine learning on operational excellence and resilience.

Throughout time, we can rely on market conditions to change. Companies with a more reliable edge platform are tooled to adjust quickly and exploit their competitive advantage.