Established in 1914, MSA Safety Inc. is a global developer, manufacturer, and supplier of safety products that protect people and facility infrastructures. Many MSA products integrate a combination of electronics, mechanical systems, and advanced materials to protect users against hazardous or life-threatening situations. The company's product line is used by workers around the world in a broad range of markets, including the oil, gas, and petrochemical, fire service, construction, mining, and the military.

FIGURE 1. Edge computing is processing device data as close to the source as possible

Recently, Richard Theron, product line manager, MSA Safety, conducted a webinar in conjunction with Engineered Systems. In this webinar, titled “How to Capitalize on Edge Computing,” and this month’s Blueprint Q&A, he defined edge computing, discussed its cost and usefulness, explored applicable applications, and more.

Engineered Systems: Richard, it’s an honor to be speaking with you today. First off, can you introduce yourself to those who are tuning in?

Theron: My name is Richard Theron, I’m a product line manager with MSA Safety.

Engineered Systems: Your recent webinar focused on edge computing. Let’s start with a very broad yet important question. What exactly is edge computing?

Theron: Edge computing is processing device data as close to the source as possible. So, why should we do that? Can’t we just push data out to the cloud? Well, we can, but there's a cost associated with sending out a lot of data. And, we need to be selective with the data we’re sending; it needs to be appropriate and legible.

A great example would be an autonomous car. An autonomous car works and thinks by itself, but it needs data; it needs up-to-date maps and traffic conditions, and, to accomplish that, it needs to constantly run off the latest data. Autonomous cars are constantly updating, though it’s only receiving and sending data that is relevant. That data needs to be understandable.

Engineered Systems: So, it’s very important that we’re not just creating, sending, and/or gathering data simply because we can, right?

Theron: Correct. With remote edge devices and the cloud, the last thing you want to do is to create data swamps. Are we just populating the servers with a lot of unneeded data? For example, a device might have 100 data points available but only 10 data points are relevant to an end user. It essentially is cleansing that data pool and sending out only relevant data. To avoid bandwidth limitations, we don’t want to send up all that data; we need only the appropriate data to go up. If we flood the server with unnecessary data, the network's going to potentially experience latency issues. We want to make sure we’re sending the appropriate data in a timely fashion.

Engineered Systems: How do we determine what data is meaningful?

Theron: To determine what data is meaningful, we need meta data. If a temperature holds a value of 78°, what does that mean? Is it fahrenheit or centigrade? What room is it in? What building? There’s a lot of meta data attached to that one reading. We then have to ensure \the end user can quickly and easily understand the data that is presented.

Engineered Systems: Can you give an example of an application that would be a great use of edge devices?

Theron: A generator set is a perfect example. They can be monitored to ensure they’re meeting market demands for high-value assets. These items are expensive, and they need to be maintained. Because, when they’re needed, they need to kick in, and we need to ensure they’re available when required. But, to ensure they’re running appropriately, they need to be maintained.

Another example could be boilers or chillers. When it comes to critical assets, these are great examples. It could be in factories, production lines, critical operations, etc. Think of a boiler in a hospital. If that boiler goes down, what are the repercussions? So, how do we prevent that? We need industry specialists looking after these items, ensuring they're running efficiently. Air filtration is another great application. We must ensure the air is moving, and filtration is adequate. Especially with people returning to offices and campuses, they want to know that these establishments are safe. Filtration systems can be connected to edge device so they can be closely monitored by the relevant personnel.

Engineered Systems: How do we ensure edge devices do not pose a cybersecurity threat to the network?

Theron: One of the best ways to avoid a cybersecurity threat is to ensure you meet and follow standards, like ISO 27001. It’s also important to execute penetration testing periodically.

Engineered Systems: How can a company keep the cost down when connecting products to an edge gateway?

Theron: By making sure to only send the most relevant and appropriate data to the cloud. Sending data to the cloud via a cellular interface can be very expensive if not commissioned correctly. It’s important to carefully select the most appropriate suppliers or vendors in the marketplace. The last thing you want to do is configure the system and experience excessive costs. It should be quite easy to keep your costs low.

Engineered Systems: How difficult is it to deploy an edge gateway? And how much time does it take?

Theron: It's very much dependent on the usability of the edge devices and how well those edge devices are engineered to meet a user’s needs. An edge device can be connected to an end device and registered to the cloud in minutes to ensure the end-user has a positive experience.

MSA’s “How to Capitalize on Edge Computing” webinar is available to view on demand, for free, at your convenience. For more information, click here.