How IIoT and edge computing can drive greener supply chains

As businesses reevaluate their supply chains in the wake of the pandemic, green initiatives must factor in once again.
30 June 2020

Woman watching global warming simulation 3D. Source: Shutterstock

  • The pandemic is enabling business leaders to reevaluate and ‘reset’ their supply chain initiatives 
  • Green initiatives aren’t going anywhere, and will factor into these reviews
  • IIoT and edge computing can offer the tech to help optimize supply chains and reduce carbon emissions

The ongoing pandemic has led to a series of realizations among business leaders, from the need to reassess their business’s daily workflow and what operational ‘norms’ should look like, to an awareness of the delicacy of a highly-connected web of partners and suppliers around the globe. 

But as the health crisis begins to taper, organizations have also not lost sight of a topic that was pressing before the pandemic hit, and remains to be today in spite of it — climate change.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and, perhaps more accurately, the impact of lockdown measures as a result, stalled daily operations for many businesses across the globe, exposing their supply chain vulnerabilities. 

But it also showed how swiftly sectors can adapt. Nations, their public bodies and private businesses, can mobilize their collective forces when met with a global crisis. That same adaptable mindset can be applied to reduce carbon footprints across various industries and technology will help. 

Climate change experts are reporting that supply chain emissions are, on average, more than five times as high as a corporation’s direct emissions. Even though the pandemic has wreaked havoc across industries, many leaders are also seeing this as an opportunity to press the reset button and build a better world by reducing consumption of fossil fuels and embracing greener solutions.

Two emerging technologies stand out from the rest as being able to actively contribute to the issue of climate change

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the bridge between machinery, advanced analytics, and people. It means that a multitude of devices homed in factories and across industrial environments are constantly working and generating unfathomable streams of data.

IIoT is seen as the main technological driver of the ‘Industry 4.0,’ and is projected to hit a worth of US$1 trillion by 2022. As the implementation of IIoT devices multiplies, edge computing is increasingly proving itself as the perfect partner in tech for IIoT.

The combination of both of these emerging technologies is predicted to turbocharge clean-tech applications.

Data collected by IoT devices is usually sent to data centers for processing, and the exponential growth of devices being used means increased bandwidth usage and potentially longer response times for data to be processed. This is what edge computing aims to support.

Edge computing allows data to be analyzed locally and will significantly cut the resources and time needed for data to be relayed back. Edge computing will positively impact in reducing carbon emissions and can boost decarbonization initiatives.

When put into practice, IIoT can drastically improve an organization’s sustainability plan across their operations and developments. Organizations can maintain machinery energy levels by embedding a real-time sensor that monitors 24/7. These real-time sensor can measure the amount of energy used by machines and adjust its usage based on productivity levels; in the long run, data garnered from sensors can help managers pinpoint factors that impact efficiency and schedule a specific period to cut down production rates when levels go beyond a set limit.

Looking at how data provides powerful insights into an organization’s operations, the same knowledge can be applied to implement solutions to tackle climate change.

By adding edge computing into the mix, data from IIoT equipment can be processed locally at the edge instead of cloud infrastructure. This approach brings a myriad of benefits, starting with reduced latency in the transmission of data, less strain on network bandwidth, and, essentially, reduced carbon emission as compared to the constant need for data to be delivered to the cloud. Businesses will also benefit from having the added advantage of quicker access to data insights, preventing downtime and predicting potential disruptions ahead.

The role of IIoT and edge computing in addressing climate change is evident, and business leaders aiming to cultivate sustainable habits will benefit from understanding the mechanics of these emerging technologies.

Despite the capabilities of IIoT and edge computing, there are some limitations that prevent widespread adoption. In terms of IIoT, an absence of industry-wide standards and regulations prevents emerging technology from taking off completely and achieve a high level of maturity in interoperability. Meanwhile, to scale both technologies is not as straightforward as one might envision. Edge computing experts acknowledge that the complexity of edge computing architecture inhibits its mass adoption; however, companies seeking to break loose from the gridlocks of environmentally unsustainable operations will find part of the answer to climate change in IIoT and edge computing.