I have spent a lot of space reviewing fog, edge, and cloud computing and now for the column I would like to consider one of my favorite vertical markets: manufacturing. Manufacturing is such a great indicator, at least in my opinion, of where we are now with the IoT (Internet of Things) and where we are headed.

So it’s for this reason that I want to look at some trends in manufacturing and IoT, especially the use of fog or edge computing.

There are many buzzwords being tossed around lately. One term we hear a lot in today’s tech world is “Industry 4.0.” That’s because most experts agree that we’re in the middle of an Industrial Revolution, of sorts. Unlike the previous Industrial Revolutions in human history, this one is thanks to the IoT—the Internet of Things

Manufacturing and other industrial businesses are undergoing a digital transformation unlike anything we’ve have ever experienced in our history. The use of IoT manufacturing solutions is transforming the way products are made, and even used every day. Processes are so much more efficient. Think about it, there’s less downtime and reduced energy usage, and all of this supports an increased bottomline.

As a result, of this move toward smarter factories, manufacturing is where a huge chunk of investment, adoption, and innovation is happening in the IIoT (industrial IoT). Worldwide spending on the IoT as a whole is forecasted to reach $1.29 trillion by 2020, and guess which industry is expected to make the largest IoT investment? According to IDC, it’s manufacturing.

For benchmarking purposes, let’s consider 2016. In 2016, manufacturing contributed an estimated $178 billion to worldwide IoT spending, while the industry that made the second highest IoT investment—transportation—contributed $78 billion. That’s $100 billion less than manufacturing.

From operations to production asset management and maintenance to field service, the IoT use cases in manufacturing are compelling to say the least. And that’s why the space is often considered to be a leader in industrial IoT.

To keep manufacturing in this sort of role, we need to invest in it and continue to explore new manufacturing use cases for IoT technologies.

Here’s some good news on that front: The Cleveland Foundation recently awarded $1.75 million to Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University so they can launch something called the “IoT Collaborative.”

The IoT Collaborative is a regional public-private academic collaboration dedicated to the development and advancement of the IoT. The collaborative will enable idea and asset sharing, conduct research, and educate future leaders so they can integrate IoT applications in manufacturing, as well as in energy, healthcare, and civic infrastructure.

One trend the collaborative will no doubt explore is how fog computing is playing a role in manufacturing and how it will play a role in the future.

When we talk about IIoT trends, fog is one that we keep running into. In general, by leveraging IoT technologies, industrial companies are driving unprecedented levels of performance and productivity.

And while cloud computing is—and has been—an important player in this digital transformation, fog or edge computing is quickly becoming a key part of today’s IIoT equation.

This is not to say that edge computing is a new concept. As we have reported in this month’s article on Connected World, several converging trends have made it more plausible and economical than ever before to move business intelligence closer to the edge.

Up to this point, edge computing’s role in industrial systems has mostly been in the realm of ingesting, storing, and filtering data and sending it to the cloud. However, times are rapidly changing.

Today’s edge devices are capable of packing more compute, storage, and analytic power. For manufacturers and other industrial businesses, the ability to keep data processing close to the edge is very valuable.

It opens doors for autonomous operation of edge devices, which is key to maximizing efficiency. And efficiency is a big part of the value manufacturers and other industrial businesses are looking to gain from their IIoT solutions, right?

So, while incorporating the cloud into industrial operations remains important for manufacturers gleaning insights from large volumes of data, edge computing is becoming increasingly critical to delivering on the promise of the IoT.

Earlier in this column, I mentioned there are converging trends that are making edge computing more viable today. GE Digital has put together a basic, but good list of some of these key drivers, and I’ll highlight a few of them quickly here.

First, there’s the plunging cost of compute and sensors, which is making edge computing more economically reasonable. Next, we now have access to more computing power in smaller footprint devices, which again contributes to fog computing’s viability.

And a third trend is the growing volume of data being gathered from industrial machines that can be turned into intelligent actions right there at the edge of the network. There are also several industrial use cases that can really benefit from fog. For instance, fog computing can benefit factories or industrial sites in remote locations with low or intermittent connectivity. It also benefits use cases that rely on very low latency or that require immediate analysis.

Another benefit not to be overlooked is compliance with data security and privacy laws. As you can see there is a lot happening in the IIoT and manufacturers have an opportunity to capitalize on it.

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