Two ways Edge Computing can help manufacturers close the growing skills gap.

Close the Skills Gap with Edge Computing
Edge Computing provides reliable, high availability that keeps critical systems up and running at all times.

Much has been written about the manufacturing skills gap, or the mismatch between the skills current employees have and those that will be needed in the future. In their most recent joint research report, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute predicted that by 2028, there may be 2.4 million unfilled manufacturing—a disconnect that could cost the U.S. economy more than $450 billion in 2028 alone.

While the entire industry has grappled with this issue for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things more challenging. Many baby boomers chose to walk away in 2020 rather than return to the workplace after stay-at-home restrictions were lifted. Not only were many of these “exits” much earlier than expected, but workers tended to take critical institutional knowledge with them. Even if manufacturers can find new workers, it is extremely difficult to replace this knowledge, especially since options such as onsite mentoring and in-person training may not be possible.

These factors seem like they could make the manufacturing skills gap worse, at least in the short term as we all try to react to so many COVID-19 challenges. Yet there is good news: Today, Edge Computing can deliver two advantages to help manufacturers tighten the gap, and in doing so, position themselves for success in the post-pandemic economy.

What is Edge Computing?

Edge Computing is a distributed information architecture that collects and processes data at the furthest point (the “edge”) of a computer network. In many ways, Edge Computing platforms and workloads are ideal for manufacturing companies because of their ability to minimize downtime, reduce latency, and provide better access to critical data. Edge Computing was designed to support ongoing operations in rugged, far-flung locations with minimal hands-on management—again, making it well-suited to manufacturing. Edge Computing workloads can be deployed to enable remote monitoring capabilities and collect valuable data for real-time visibility and improved decision-making.

Edge Computing can also support two use cases in order to close the manufacturing skills gap: supporting centralized Centers of Excellence and avoiding unplanned downtime.

Enhancing normal operations with a Center of Excellence

Before COVID-19, many of our manufacturing customers were in the early stages of evaluating or even developing an internal Center of Excellence (COE). COEs give manufacturers a centralized way to uncover, document, and deploy best practices for all parts of its business, such as supply chain management, operations, IT initiatives, and even equipment servicing and repair.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic, COEs make even more sense and can be supported and enhanced with Edge Computing technology. For example, as manufacturers suddenly had to support a workforce of remote employees, they could no longer keep equipment specialists in each plant. Instead, they are now consolidating these valuable resources in a centralized COE, and using Edge Computing applications to give them a better way to keep machinery running at top capacity.

In this example, Edge Computing provides the reliable, high availability that keeps critical systems up and running at all times. In addition, Edge applications can be used for remote monitoring, advanced data analytics, and predictive maintenance for real-time visibility into all equipment and systems to keep everything smoothly. One of our customers recently adopted this COE approach and moved all of its operational technology (OT) staff to a centralized operational center—instead of in each of nine different facilities—where they rely on digital solutions to manage all aspects of the business’s operations.

COEs have clear benefits to manufacturing businesses, such as the reduced costs that come from consolidation. But such a COE effort also helps address and tighten the manufacturing skills gap. For example, providing new tools and improving collaboration helps free OT professionals time, so they can spend more time on higher-value, more rewarding work. In turn, this increases employee morale, productivity, job satisfaction, and even recruiting and retention.

Avoid unplanned downtime

One of our customers likes to tell a story about one of their employees, a valve specialist who seemed to diagnose and potential issues by touch or even by listening to machine vibrations. This company jokingly said that when predictive maintenance technology could ever match this employee’s “superpowers,” they would be first in line to implement them.

With Edge Computing, that time is now. Manufacturers can implement innovative new technology to monitor critical equipment, proactively plan maintenance, and improve their ability to avoid unplanned downtime. For example, by making better use of IoT, data analytics, machine learning, and even self-reporting applications and systems, manufacturers can stay a step ahead of potential outages and keep machinery operating at peak efficiency.

This use of Edge Computing also helps tighten the skills gap. Giving OT staff access to the latest tools and technologies can improve their standing in the company while also making career opportunities much more appealing to potential new hires.

Mind the gap with Edge Computing

While the manufacturing skills gap has been an issue for years, Edge Computing platforms, workloads, and applications can now help manufacturers address this challenge while also positioning their company for long-term success in the post-pandemic economy.

Close the Skills Gap with Edge Computing
Jason Andersen

Jason Andersen is Vice President of Strategy and Product Management at Stratus and is responsible for setting the direction for Stratus products and services. Jason has a deep understanding of both on-premise and cloud-based computing infrastructure and has been responsible for the successful market delivery of products and services for over 25 years. Learn more at www.stratus.com.