By Paul Savill, Global Practice Leader for Network and Edge at Kyndryl

As companies turn to technology to accelerate their sustainability efforts, they often see cloud-based solutions and AI technologies as tools to reduce their carbon emissions. For the manufacturing industry, another technology is also top of mind: edge computing.

Manufacturers today rely on edge computing to connect thousands of devices across factories, to proactively solve problems along production lines and to ensure that their most sensitive data remains secure. These edge capabilities are made possible by processing data closer to where it is generated, which enables companies to gain real-time insights into their operations. Manufacturers can make smarter and faster decisions with this instant and constant stream of information.

Recognizing this value, enterprises are investing heavily in edge computing. Worldwide spending on edge is projected to reach $232 billion this year, an increase of more than 15% from 2023, according to an IDC forecast.

Adopting edge technology with a focus on sustainability can provide additional benefits for manufacturers as they look to achieve regulatory compliance, minimize waste and move closer to net zero. 

Further, by prioritizing sustainability, manufacturers can achieve critical business outcomes, as the same measures that drive sustainability initiatives can address operational inefficiencies, enhance production quality and lower overall costs. The opportunity for organizations to integrate sustainability measures into their modernization goals is noted in Kyndryl’s Global Sustainability Barometer study, which includes sustainability best practices for driving growth and improving business outcomes.

Here are four ways edge computing can make the manufacturing industry more sustainable.

1. Optimize energy use

Manufacturers can process data at the edge with low latency and without having to transmit large quantities of data to the cloud. Edge computing can optimize energy use through the collection and analysis of data from IoT devices deployed throughout manufacturing plants. These devices — supported by edge computing — can help manufacturers monitor plant conditions like temperature and power draw in real time. Edge compute can also help support smart grid applications such as demand management and grid optimization.

2. Reduce waste

Edge computing can play an important role in minimizing the scrap that ends up in landfills. Consider automotive manufacturing: vehicle materials — from window glass to seat fabric — have the potential to be defective, and the longer a faulty component continues down the production line, the more expensive the mistake. Edge computing can help businesses more quickly detect these defects by supporting AI-powered computer vision. Edge can also enable predictive maintenance for production lines, which means manufacturers can identify issues before they cause equipment failures. This foresight extends the longevity of assets, ultimately reducing waste and contributing to a circular economy model.

3. Streamline resources

Data silos are disappearing as manufacturers bridge operational technology (OT) with IT to unlock networking’s full potential. Converging the technology that connects the business with what is happening on the plant floor can lead to sustainability benefits for manufacturers, including the ability to consolidate and share resources between IT and OT environments. This simplification can reduce extraneous IT hardware and optimize data processing to improve energy efficiency.

4. Enable digital twin technology

A digital twin simulates an object or process so businesses can test outcomes before they act. Edge computing-based digital twin technology can be used in manufacturing settings to avoid creating wasteful physical prototypes and to identify less resource-intensive designs. Digital twins can even help manufacturers reduce emissions associated with logistics. The use cases across industries are growing: Kyndryl, for example, has developed technology capabilities to optimize water treatment operations with predictive maintenance, an enhanced aeration process and reduced energy consumption.

Edge computing can be a powerful conduit for embedding sustainability efforts across manufacturing operations — from the production line to the supply chain. But manufacturers should be sure to balance technological gains with associated energy use and embrace clean energy sources to reduce their carbon footprints.

It is a balance worth getting right: By aligning edge computing with sustainability initiatives, manufacturers can achieve both their business and environmental goals — and contribute to the broader action that will be needed to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale.

Join Kyndryl at Hannover Messe, the world’s leading industrial trade fair in Hanover, Germany, from April 22-26, 2024. See how Kyndryl and Litmus are helping the manufacturing sector drive IT/OT convergence with digital twin capabilities to accelerate Industry 4.0 potential at Hall 16, Stand D04.

Paul Savill

Global Practice Leader for Network and Edge