Edge Computing, 5g, and AI: Moving Print Deeper Into Industry 4.0

What to expect in 2021



Colin McMahon


In many ways, COVID-19 has been an accelerator, pushing many industries including print into greater digital readiness. In other words, fulfilling the promise of industry 4.0 transformation, which began many years ago. The movement toward edge computing, 5g, and AI solutions were already underway years before the coronavirus hit—the pandemic has created greater demand for their capabilities, though.


How Edge Computing, 5g, and AI Intertwine

While we can (and often do) break down various technologies to highlight individual strengths and capabilities, the reality is that the technological landscape of the 21st century is far less segregated. It is not an exaggeration to label it a full-fledged ecosystem, where each software or hardware solution interacts with one another to develop a fully cohesive whole—at least that’s the vision for many innovators in the space. With this mindset, how will AI in edge computing solutions be empowered by the rollout of 5g?


It is easy to get lost in the idea of AI, especially as our brains have been conditioned to view it as a futuristic idea of humanity and conscious robots working together (or against each other), but we’re a long way from either of those realities. Today, AI can really be broken down into a lot of data and a lot of processing. Some advanced programs have machine learning capabilities to allow the AI to better compute that big data, but that’s pretty much where we’re at.


Without edge computing, all this processing needs to take place away from the printer (or the edge) of the network. That either means an on-prem server or cloud solution. Regardless, the process may be bandwidth intensive and take time to complete. It’s also at the mercy of the network status. If the internet goes down, all business stops right away and stays that way until the connection is restored.


Edge computing, particularly advanced solutions with built-in AI (like aiStorm and its low-power-required AI edge computing chips), are capable of  relieving this bandwidth intensity, taking care of more processes at location and having less dependency toward an always-connected network infrastructure. That said, even edge computing devices still need to talk to the system-at-large, which is where 5g—and its improved data transfer rates—make a big difference.



Google may be retiring Cloud Print, but the company is fully investing in 5g solutions to empower its clients and other companies to do more with AI and edge computing. With edge computing reducing the bandwidth needed on basic device communication and AI making it possible for more advanced cloud operations, think of 5g as the highway that connects it all.


Fast Is No Longer Fast Enough: Print Going Forward

For printers, this ecosystem may sound nice but not essential, however this is likely not the case. Even if most print companies do not move toward edge computing at first, shifting consumer expectations may shove them over sooner than intended. Many companies like Amazon are working with edge computing to make customer transactions faster, creating orders—and in some cases, predicting orders before they happen. Considering the growing desire for print-on-demand solutions, edge computing will add crucial speed between the time from the order to the time of creation, letting print companies process more orders faster and with greater efficiency. It will also make it easier to detect and address any potential hardware or software issues as they occur on-site.


While cloud computing has and will continue to bring many advantages to print companies (as well as organizations in other industries), true industry 4.0—the complete and thorough automation of workflow processes—will occur with edge computing solutions in place.


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