Before we get into today’s insight, let's get a few definitions out of the way.

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0—aka the Fourth Industrial Revolution—is the name given to the ongoing digital transformation of the manufacturing sector, enabled by the Internet of Things, advanced robotics, data analytics, industrial software, AI, VR, and AR. Industry 4.0 has had a profound impact on safety, quality, and productivity in manufacturing in the last decade.

What is AI on the Edge?

AI on the Edge is not a type of AI; it's the location where the AI is processed. AI is now being embedded in edge devices such as smartphones, cars, IoT devices, and industrial machinery. The AI processing can then be done on the device (rather than a server in the cloud). This is critical to applications that require low latency. AI located in the device can then make a massive amount of decisions per second in real-time without the delay of a round trip to a cloud-based server for processing.

Industrial AI on the Edge

Manufacturers are among the furthest along in implementing edge use cases among the six verticals examined in the core 2022 AT&T Cybersecurity Insights Report.
The study showed that: 78% of manufacturers globally are planning, have partially, or have fully implemented an edge use case. 50% of manufacturers are at the mature stage of deployment for at least some of their edge network use cases. This puts manufacturing ahead of energy, finance, and healthcare verticals when it comes to edge adoption. - AT&T Cybersecurity Insights Report: A Focus on Manufacturing

The ability to run AI models on devices at the edge of the network, such as sensors on factory equipment, machines, robots, and even wearable devices, allows for faster decision-making and real-time responses on the factory floor. AI on the edge can significantly impact Industry 4.0 in the following ways:

  • Real-time analytics and faster decision-making: With AI models running locally on edge devices rather than in the cloud, analysis of data from industrial machines/sensors and process optimization can happen in real-time on the factory floor. This allows for agile and adaptive manufacturing.
  • Reduced latency: Edge AI eliminates delays involved in sending data to the cloud for analysis. Actions based on AI algorithms can be taken faster with minimal latency on edge devices. This is crucial for time-sensitive industrial automation tasks.
  • Improved reliability: Local on-device AI reduces dependence on network connectivity. Manufacturing operations can continue uninterrupted even with intermittent cloud outages, or where bandwidth is limited, or expensive. This boosts overall reliability and productivity.
  • Increased data security: Keeping data processing and AI modeling on the edge minimizes the need to send data externally, enhancing data privacy and reducing the risk of data breaches or unauthorized access.
  • Cost optimization: Processing data locally reduces communication and cloud infrastructure costs associated with constantly transferring industrial data to centralized servers. This makes edge AI very cost-efficient.
  • Scalability: Expanding edge AI across manufacturing facilities is easier than scaling centralized cloud infrastructure. Edge devices can operate independently or in coordination with other edge devices, allowing for highly scalable and distributed systems that can adapt to the needs of the industrial setting.

Applications of AI on the Edge in Industry 4.0

  • Predictive Maintenance: In manufacturing, AI on the edge is instrumental in predictive maintenance. By deploying AI models on sensors attached to machinery, the system can continuously monitor equipment conditions. It can detect anomalies and predict when a machine is likely to fail, enabling proactive maintenance to prevent costly downtime.
  • Quality Control: Edge AI can be used for real-time quality control on production lines. It can analyze products as they are being manufactured, identifying defects or inconsistencies, and triggering immediate corrective actions. According to the AT&T report quoted above, Computer vision-enabled quality inspection ranked as the highest priority for manufacturers of all AI on the Edge use cases. It also was scored as one of the lowest in perceived risk.
  • Supply Chain Optimization: The supply chain is a crucial component of Industry 4.0, and AI on the edge can be used to monitor the movement of goods and inventory levels in real-time. This helps optimize inventory management, reduce lead times, and improve the overall efficiency of the supply chain.
  • Autonomous Vehicles and Robots: In logistics and manufacturing, autonomous vehicles and robots are becoming increasingly prevalent. Edge AI powers these devices, allowing them to make split-second decisions, navigate through dynamic environments, and interact with humans safely.
  • Smart Energy Management: Energy consumption and sustainability are major concerns in Industry 4.0. AI on the edge is used to monitor and control energy usage in factories and facilities, optimizing energy consumption and reducing costs.
  • Worker Safety: Edge AI can enhance worker safety by monitoring their health and environmental conditions. Wearable devices equipped with AI can detect and alert workers to hazardous conditions, such as excessive heat or toxic gases.
  • Customization and Personalization: In smart manufacturing, AI on the edge can facilitate product customization. Sensors and AI algorithms can adapt production processes in real-time to meet individual customer requirements, enabling mass customization at scale.
  • Reduced Downtime: AI on the edge can minimize downtime by continuously monitoring equipment and triggering maintenance actions at the right time, preventing unscheduled stops in production.
  • Data Analytics: Edge AI can process large volumes of data directly on devices, providing real-time insights. This enables more efficient data analytics and decision-making at the source, rather than relying on centralized servers.

Industrial AI on the Edge Challenges

While AI on the edge holds tremendous promise for Industry 4.0, there are challenges and considerations that organizations must address:

  • Data Quality: Edge devices rely on data quality, and any inaccuracies or inconsistencies can lead to faulty decisions. Organizations need to ensure the integrity of the data collected from sensors and devices.
  • Resource Constraints: Edge devices often have limited processing power and memory. Ensuring that AI models are optimized for these constraints and will be adequate to the requirements of the application is essential.
  • Security: Although distributing AI models to edge devices can alleviate security issues with cloud-based systems, there are still security concerns specific to edge devices. Organizations must implement robust security measures to protect sensitive data and prevent tampering with AI models.
  • Interoperability: In a diverse industrial environment, different devices may use different technologies and standards. Ensuring interoperability between edge devices and AI models can be a complex task.
  • Maintenance and Updates: Keeping AI models up-to-date on edge devices can be challenging. Regular maintenance and updates are necessary to ensure optimal performance and security.

In summary, the responsiveness, autonomy, resiliency, security, and cost-effectiveness that edge AI offers aligns very well with the goals of smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0. It should be considered a key enabling technology for industrial IoT and should be part of any digital strategy for manufacturers going forward.