Deb: What is edge computing?

Deb: What is edge computing?

Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” an advice column from MxD.

Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.

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Dear Deb from QA: What is Edge computing? Someone told me it’s the future.

We finally get our heads wrapped around the Cloud and in comes the Edge. Here’s the 411.

Simply put, Edge computing is computing done at the edge of the network, as close as possible to the data source. In other words, not in the Cloud. 

That doesn’t mean the Cloud is going away. It means that sometimes you can’t, or shouldn’t, wait for data to go to and from those remote cloud servers. In those cases, you need the answer fast, and it makes sense to have your computing power nearby.

This goes back to the problem of latency, or that infuriating delay between data being sent and data, or an answer, being received. Delays don’t matter so much if I’m asking Alexa if it’s raining. If she’s slow to answer because of some kind of Cloud jam or outage, I can look out the window and figure it out myself. But if I’m on the road at the same time as one of those self-driving cars I keep hearing about, there’s no way I want their red light/green light decisions delayed by even one millisecond. Get me onboard computing capability stat!

I think of it like takeout, since I’m always thinking of takeout. Before my favorite hot dog joint opened a place near my house, I was bringing home soggy fries and cold hot dogs. The original place was far away and traffic was usually brutal. Now that there’s a location closer, I can get home and dig in while the fries are crispy and the dog is hot.

What does Edge computing mean for those of us in a factory? Software AG, which partners with my friends over at MxD, has an example courtesy of Chief Evangelist Bart Schouw. In his blog he talks about how in the factory, any kind of latency between an industrial robot’s hardware and the software that tells it what to do can cause product defects or worse. 

If, say, a robotic paint sprayer’s nozzle is just a tiny bit clogged, the sprayer might miss a spot on the car it is painting. If that info isn’t detected and acted on immediately, the next car — and the next and who knows how many more nexts — will have bad paint jobs. That, he says, shows why the distance between the robot and the nearest computing resource is so important. Edge means near real-time insights.

It’s why the tech team may be installing more hardware to collect, store, process and analyze data right in the shop. And sure to make that tech team happy, if such a thing’s possible, Edge computing can increase security. Smart companies can lock down their data locally instead of relying fully on centralized Cloud technology owned by somebody else. 

Edge computing will become an even bigger deal as the billions of devices that are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) continue to roll into our lives. 

IoT and all that increased data are going to require the more robust application performance of Edge computing. The big driver here is 5G, which will provide the speed those devices need to communicate and share data. 

To help us see how this will all work, AT&T has built out a 5G testbed on MxD’s factory floor in Chicago so manufacturers can go and learn for themselves which solutions are best. 

Sign me up. I hear there are some delicious hot dogs in Chicago.

Assuring quality,

Check out the last Ask Deb here:
What is Ransomware?

Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ’em to and she’ll answer as soon as she’s done with her dinner.