Today, increased levels of automation, advanced robotics, AI and machine learning are creating a step-change within smart manufacturing. This is driven by the need for on-site computing systems that offer users elevated levels of security, low latency connectivity and, above all, resilience. These technologies are helping to increase productivity and performance and using data to make informed real-time operational decisions. At the same time, research from Gartner shows that 79 zettabytes of data will be generated via the IoT 2025, and 75 per cent of all enterprise data will be created and processed at the edge. Indeed, edge computing is seen as a key enabler of smart manufacturing technologies. But what does that mean for channel partners?
Opportunities for partners
At Schneider Electric we see this as a massive opportunity for our entire channel partner network. To enable this, we are collaborating with our partners to increase profitability and offer greater support in this space.
Integral to this goal is working alongside our valued distribution partners. Global technology solutions provider Arrow Solutions is seeing operational technology (OT) move closer to the IT environment and wants to help partners take advantage of those opportunities.
On the IT Channel Perspectives podcast, I spoke with Andy Smith, EMEA OT Partner Alliances at Arrow’s intelligent solutions business, about how IT/OT convergence is creating significant disruption in the market. One of the biggest trends he’s seeing is specialist integrators in the manufacturing space now being challenged by larger IT companies expanding into that market.
“We see a lot of IT system integrators expanding their field into the OT space. It’s a challenge for them, but it’s also a huge opportunity,” said Andy. “They are building from their technology expertise in IT and figuring out how to play in this market.
“Arrow can guide them to expand their field and teach them some of the technologies that are already in play, but also bring IT expertise to bear onto that OT space.”
Challenges to overcome
There are, however, several challenges facing partners wishing to take advantage of the opportunities in the industrial space. One is getting data from legacy machines – which in the past would have been air-gapped and insulated from the IT environment – and moving it into the cloud or enterprise environment in a secure, sustainable way.
At the same time, Andy noted that most industrial companies have a mixed estate or brownfield environment, with generations of equipment from different suppliers. This makes it a real challenge to connect and share data easily.
Additionally, IT companies moving into this space quickly find a world of specialist hardware. “It’s a harsh environment and they try to apply their IT skills and find they don’t have the suppliers and the technologies that address the needs of those environments,” he explained.
A diverse range of solutions
At Schneider Electric we have an innovative range of edge enclosures and infrastructure solutions that can work from office environments to traditional datacentres and ruggedized and harsh environments, such as factory floors and warehouses. This variety of solutions can help partners with security, resilience, availability, and performance.
This range includes specialist enclosures to house application-specific servers, helping partners and customers get closer to the data source with security and environmental monitoring. Additionally, we have the software layer for data analysis and to help control and manage assets out in the field, alongside support and services.
“We’re now starting to sell to a new class of customer that wants to integrate and deploy technology into existing environments” confirmed Andy. “They need solutions – they don’t want to design a product; they need something off the shelf. This has opened up a whole new channel of opportunity for us.”
At Schneider Electric we’re proud of our relationships with alliance partners such as Dell, HPE, Stratus, and others. We’ve worked hard with these vendors to create reference designs that enable our partners to quickly determine what works for them and for the application, and to make sure they get the best outcomes. On top of that, we leverage solution providers like Arrow Electronics who have capabilities to customise and adapt to specific customer needs.
We also have the local edge configurator tool that allows partners to select devices from Dell, HP and others, and build their infrastructure specifically to the customer’s needs. Plus, there are lots of other training assets resources available on our partner pages as part of the mySchneider IT Solutions partner program.
Looking to the future, AI at the edge will be deployed for all kinds of use cases, from safety in a factory environment and monitoring of worker PPE to inventory management solutions.
Elsewhere, customers are putting more workloads into a single platform. Traditionally, many machines and devices were single computers, each connected to a network perhaps, but all disparate and difficult to manage. By putting a micro datacentre on the shop floor with its compute workload and storage right at the edge, customers can now containerize their software and run multiple applications in one environment.
We’re also seeing interest in machine vision – quality control and other adaptive manufacturing applications as businesses look for more agility and adaptability in their own processes.
However, it’s not just the technology that is evolving. We’re seeing customers move from CapEx investments to OPEX to reduce the upfront cost of deploying new technology into their estate. With new financial models for selling hardware, software and services, Schneider Electric and Arrow Electronics make it easier for the end-user to justify the investment, calculate their ROI and spread their costs over a greater period of time.
This also provides both our partners end customers with an opportunity to innovate and differentiate themselves in a competitive market.
To learn more about the new mySchneider IT Solutions Provider Partner program – visit the website.