VMware Edge Compute Stack Manufacturing

Tame the Chaos: Integrating Digital Technology into Manufacturing the Right Way

Industry 4.0 promises a new era of digital manufacturing through the increased use of technology. According to a survey by the Manufacturing Leadership Council on Manufacturing in 2030: 84% of manufacturers say the pace of digital adoption will accelerate through 2030 and the majority believe it will be a “game change, truly a new era”. However, manufacturers today are faced with barriers to digital manufacturing including traditional hardware-based systems that are costly, difficult to update, and consume way too much energy. To reap the benefits of Industry 4.0, manufacturers are seeking a platform approach that runs on off-the-shelf hardware, streamlines updates, protects systems from cyber attacks, and lowers the cost and time of modernization. 

The benefits of adopting Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0, aka the fourth industrial revolution, incorporates additional sensors and digitizes existing processes. This data can then be analyzed to improve efficiency, increase agility, and enhance sustainability. The benefits of implementing these changes include:

  • Efficiency: AI in manufacturing enables the quick processing of local data to make smarter, faster decisions. A PwC report predicts that AI in manufacturing will contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. Computer vision has many applications in manufacturing, including quality inspection, automated sorting stations, and checking whether workers are wearing appropriate safety gear. Machine learning models are employed to analyze sensors on machinery to predict the next maintenance cycles in order to increase overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Machine learning algorithms can also increase the precision and repeatability of robotic operations like welding to improve quality and reduce sampling.
  • Agility: While supply chain constraints have improved in the past year, they remain tight for semiconductors and other components. When done right, technology improvements can increase the agility of production lines to deal with supply stresses, labor shortages, and changes to product mixes.

Challenges with technology adoption

Despite the promises of new technology, the World Economic Forum found that more than 70% of companies investing in Industry 4.0 technologies fail to move beyond the pilot phase of development

A typical factory can have thousands of single-function computers which are difficult to maintain, reconfigure, and waste energy.

Many of these challenges stem from trying to implement technology using a traditional manufacturing approach of having a separate system for each function. Much like datacenters 25 years ago, factories are filled with thousands of single-purpose computers and proprietary hardware. This hardware is expensive and has long production lead times. The lack of redundancy can impact factory productivity, and support is complex and costly. If this method is followed to implement new Industrial 4.0 technologies in factories, the problem becomes even worse.

The most common method of updating software in factories involves technicians with USB memory drives during maintenance windows. When software vulnerabilities remain unpatched, the risk of cyberattacks like ransomware increase.

Years ago, as a young engineer supporting a production line of complex semiconductor equipment, I updated Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) using USB memory sticks. Surprisingly, this is still the most common method of updating software and devices on manufacturing floors today. And what makes this more cumbersome is that usually updates can only be made during short production breaks—which means a major update can take weeks to implement. 

Besides support costs, the difficulty in applying software updates can leave security vulnerabilities unpatched. This is risky because manufacturing is the top industry affected by ransomware. A better method is needed to apply patches while meeting production requirements to make it harder for attackers to compromise systems.

The increasing technology needs combined with the traditional appliance approach of manufacturers, means more and more single-purpose computers across the factory floor. This method is inefficient and the extra energy consumption works against meeting sustainability goals.

A platform approach: from chaos to bliss

VMware Edge Compute Stack provides a compute and orchestration platform to incorporate new Smart Manufacturing technologies, while consolidating existing functions delivered by applications running on Industrial PCs (IPC) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Modern applications, written on containers, can run concurrently with existing applications in virtual machines on a system capable of running real-time and non-real-time workloads repeatedly and deterministically on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware. 

The platform approach simplifies management to lower support costs, increase agility, and improve security, while consolidating hardware to increase sustainability. 

A platform approach combines multiple PCs to lower support costs, increase agility, and improve sustainability. Compute is placed close to motion control systems to run real-time applications like virtual PLCs and computer vision.

Lower support costs / increased uptime

Consolidating multiple industrial PCs onto a pair of redundant edge servers reduces the hardware footprint while the second node enables redundancy. Now maintenance can be easily performed using proven IT management tools. A virtual machine can be cloned, migrated, or restored to previous states remotely without any onsite visit. Intelligent workload and network telemetry can proactively flag issues and help to quickly diagnose.

Easier security patching

Instead of sending technicians to each machine with USB drives to install security patches, automation enables patching at scale. If an error occurs after a patch is applied, the virtual machine can be quickly rolled back to the last known good state to minimize interrupts to production. With easier and more timely patching of security vulnerabilities, the manufacturer can reduce the risk of ransomware and other attacks. Even if virtual machines are compromised by ransomware, all it takes to resolve is simply to revert to the previous snapshot.

Improved agility

By splitting manufacturing systems into software and hardware components, COTS hardware can be used which has lower costs and shorter lead times. With software components now on a platform and fewer individual hardware devices, it’s now easier and faster to reconfigure a line to accommodate a product mix change.

Increase sustainability

It’s simple to understand that running 8 single-function computers uses more energy than a 1 or 2 node server. But also in the larger picture, it uses less footprint and generates less heat, resulting in a leaner overall factory.

Audi sets the example

Like many manufacturers, our customer Audi is implementing AI and other technologies across their factories. Among other initiatives, machine learning is being added to torque wrenches and welding robots to improve repeatability and quality while decreasing sampling requirements. Dr. Henning Loeser, Head of Audi Production Lab, Audi Automotive Group, spoke at VMware Explore in Barcelona in November. He relayed that “everything about Industry 4.0 leads in the end to an exponentially growing compute demand”. 

“We will be adding more and more compute into our infrastructure, and that will cause maintenance to rise steeply if we don’t do something different.” said Henning.

Audi’s factory of the future integrates compute within the factory using virtualization from VMware Edge Compute Stack, an integral part of their Edge Cloud 4 Production (EC4P) initiative. By replacing individual computers with local servers to run factory and worker support systems, software updates, deployments and reconfigurations become much easier.

VMware Edge Compute Stack can help manufacturers implement new technology as part of a Smart Manufacturing or Industry 4.0 initiative. The platform simplifies management to lower support costs, increase agility, and improve security, while consolidating hardware to increase sustainability.