How the automotive industry can turn data into their advantage

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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Article by Joe Craparotta, VP IT Business & Strategic Segments, Schneider Electric

For the automotive industry, edge computing represents a solution to latency, bandwidth, and autonomy challenges, as well as regulatory and security requirements, that hold us back from reaching the full potential of data.

The industrial edge can help automotive players leverage their data in real-time, ultimately creating a competitive advantage that is more necessary now than ever. 

Internet of Vehicles data can be a competitive advantage if processed close to the source 

Software guides everything from production to testing to in-car navigation. The Internet of Vehicles (IoV) — connected cars, effectively — market is poised to grow more than 200% between 2017 and 2024. During every milestone of their lifecycle, from production to decommissioning, modern vehicles generate mountains of data.

Data from sensors and remote-management equipment at factories allow manufacturers to adjust processes, conduct maintenance and make operational decisions from afar. Vehicle OEMs also capture test data, to the tune of terabytes per hour. 

When this information flows into a manufacturer’s network, it must make real-time decisions about the data. Though the cloud provides many efficiencies over legacy networking, it introduces too much latency when time is of the essence. For auto manufacturers, then, the answer is to deploy IT resources closer to industrial systems so that they store and analyse data as closely as possible to where it’s produced. 

To enjoy the full potential this data has to offer, automakers must turn to industrial edge computing. As the phrase suggests, industrial edge computing places compute and analysis power in industrial settings at the network edge. 

Industrial edge computing enables what centralised data strategies cannot

Industrial edge computing offers a framework for latency-free analysis, as well as the ability to leverage tools that enterprise and cloud IT arrangements cannot, including video analytics and autonomous robotics. The instantaneous nature of edge might be the most crucial benefit. However, manufacturers in various industries also enjoy the convergence industrial edge offers. 

For example, energy organisations leverage the industrial edge to merge human expertise and machine efficiency. With processing power at drill sites, firms can capture insights from senior operators, automate that information and deploy it to additional assets. The same edge architecture enables these organisations to actively manage their machine assets and optimise production. 

This energy-sector example is just one example of how industrial edge implementations enable organisations to combine IT and OT. Generally, firms must analyse data from business systems to optimise several operational outputs, including sustainability, profitability, and cost. These systems do not function properly without the hard work and expertise of IT teams that understand network performance and security.

Automotive manufacturers must follow the lead of their fellow industrial firms. Future success for the industry requires melding information and operational technology as close as possible to the asset.  

Resilience is the key to success at the edge

Even if the benefits of edge computing are clear, the path toward achieving such an infrastructure may not be. Industrial edge computing begins with a hybrid data centre architecture. This architecture combines: 

  • centralised data centres for massive compute and storage purposes, typically located in remote areas; 
  • regional edge centres for large compute and storage, often located in central or urban areas; and, 
  • local edge data centres, with compute and storage, at the site of data generation. 

Unfortunately, not all organisations have treated edge compute sites with the same deference they show central data centres. But in the automotive world, local edge sites likely represent a manufacturing floor, distribution warehouse, or even personal safety monitoring system. If a local edge site experiences unplanned downtime, that downtime makes it challenging to deliver product or adequate customer and employee experiences. 

The automotive industry must ensure that any industrial edge implementation is as resilient as if it were a standard central data centre. However, the lack of on-site IT teams and wide geographic distribution of edge sites makes this task a more complicated endeavour. Turning to partners for all phases of the edge data centre lifecycle ensures smooth deployment and operations. Solutions that easily integrate with existing hardware and software tools and come equipped to withstand power disturbances and other outages can provide peace of mind even at unmanned locations.  

Industrial edge computing unlocks data, potential for automotive companies

Compute power and processing capabilities have become cornerstones of the automotive industry. With software and sensors enabling advancements maintenance and performance alerts to parking assistance, car makers today are as much software companies as they are producers of durable goods. 

Yet, unlike other industries that have monetised their transformation to software-centricity, the auto world still has more road ahead in turning its data into a bottom line-booster. Moving forward, automotive industry players can earn a competitive advantage by leveraging industrial edge computing solutions to truly harness their data.