Electronics Technology

Energising the industrial edge

28 September 2022 Electronics Technology

As if the drive to decarbonise energy as part of sustainability and climate change efforts was not enough, the recent rise in energy prices has brought into sharp contrast the need to re-examine how we generate, distribute, and consume electricity.

It has been well argued that simply generating more electricity is not the answer to the myriad of requirements now being faced. Greater transparency, management, and efficiency in distribution and utilisation must all be achieved to better use what is available, even as demand might require greater volumes.

The increasing digitalisation of industry, through the application of technologies such as Industrial IoT (IIoT), 5G and automation, managed through AI-assisted systems, has offered greater insights and visibility of how electricity is used than ever before. As Industry 4.0 has brought digital to industry and manufacturing, creating the Industrial Edge, that same trend in energy, Electricity 4.0, can have its methodologies adopted and implemented in industry, enabled by intelligent management systems, leveraging expertise from the world of data centres, microgrids and secure power. With these tools, services and insights, industries can ensure they utilise energy as efficiently as possible, even as they transform to meet the needs and demands of the future.

Electricity 4.0

Industry 4.0 is the application of digital technologies to industry processes, supporting, enabling, and extending Operational Technologies (OT). Within this, the Industrial edge is the subset of edge computing where OT and information technologies (IT) combine to apply high speed analytics in a localised, on-site system, addressing various industrial and manufacturing challenges. The industrial edge can provide simple, secure, highly available, powerful autonomous edge computing solutions that can be managed remotely. These can be applied to dangerous, harsh, and extreme environments to ensure high availability, preventing, not recovering from, failure.

Electricity 4.0 is a similar fusing of electricity generation and distribution with digital technologies to deliver new capabilities, insights, and manageability. It will be the foundation of the new energy future of renewable energy sources and net-zero carbon, to allow intelligent distribution, delivering electricity where it is needed, as it is needed, storing it when it is not, and balancing the needs of all electricity users.

Electricity 4.0 will enable smart grids in smart cities, as well as meeting the needs of industry through not just greater volume but facilitating demand side moderation and generation. Through the insights gained, grid operators will be able to model and forecast usage and demand to further increase efficiency and resilience, bringing large energy consumers into the fold as part of the new energy future.

Data lead

The growing wave of digitalisation in industry driven by transformation efforts, especially the implementation of IIoT, has meant that industries are better placed than ever before to gather and manage data on energy usage. However, industries were not always able to turn that data into intelligence, nor take advantage of it in real time.

Speaking to Dalia Adib, practice lead, edge computing lead with analyst STL Partners, Dalia emphasised the importance of being able to act quickly, at low latency on sensor and IIoT data gathered, rather than centralising it in a remote data centre.

The development of the Industrial Edge, that interface between OT and IT, has meant there are now facilities to utilise all that data from every sensor, machine and line.

Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Micro Data Centre and EcoStruxure IT combines edge compute expertise and innovation with remote intelligent management systems which enable customers and partners to leverage the Industrial Edge to make deep energy management more practical and informative than ever before.

Intelligence opportunity

The interface that is the Industrial Edge has the potential to deliver greater visibility across the entire infrastructure, from edge sensor to intelligent insight. With a holistic view of energy usage across the organisation, predictive modelling can ensure that management can stay ahead of demand.

With many geographies likely to see some restrictions on energy supply in the near future as major transitions towards renewable energy sources are embarked upon, the ability to confidently predict consumption and demand, moderate it where necessary and support sustainability goals, is vital. The potential for information gathering through IIoT, combined with edge deployed compute power to apply analytics, enable automation and even autonomous operation, can increase resilience, reduce downtime and ensure efficiency.

IIoT can facilitate predictive maintenance regimes, monitoring performance and efficiency, allowing remote management to identify where failures may occur. Preventative measures can then be taken to ensure continuity. This applies not just in production and processing, but across the operation through power distribution and IT too.

There are many examples of industries taking the lead to bring the end-to-end benefits of IIoT, edge computing and direct intelligence to their business.

Tver Carriage Works is a more than century old company based in the city of Tver, northwest of Moscow. It deployed an EcoStruxure Data Center Expert managed modular data centre infrastructure to achieve its aim of digital transformation of its manufacturing enterprise. Manufacturing electric trains, rolling stock and carriages to travel at more than 200 kph, it needed compute power close to manufacturing lines to improve efficiency, increase resilience, and reduce downtime.

Brazil's largest waste-water treatment plant, Aquapolo, achieved a 15% increase in operational efficiency, with a lower cost of ownership, while providing drinking water for more than 500 000 customers. This was achieved while also improving compliance standards for environmental protection. There, the EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor connects multiple industrial systems through an edge control framework, connecting Harmony HMI, Foxboro instrumentation, and ConneXium switches.

Deep insights

The strides already made by industries to implement digitalisation have brought many benefits, unifying OT with IT in the Industrial Edge. By taking on board the lessons of Electricity 4.0, industries can further improve efficiency, resilience and manageability.

With challenges expected in the near future as the world transitions to net-zero energy and operations, organisations that have achieved deep insights from sensor to core, will have the ability to predict, implement and adapt to change.

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