Wireless networks are now paving the way out of the office and living room and moving towards the factory floor. We take a closer look at the trend.
Wireless technology is becoming more common: there are more and more cases of practical applications beyond the office or living room area for which the technology was originally intended.
Until recently, most network companies relied on fiber-optic cable to support the network infrastructure. These cables are hardwired and the devices are fixed access points ( APs connected APs). Although they allow high transmission speeds and large traffic volumes, the quality of the fiber optic cables deteriorates over time, resulting in signal attenuation and a reduction in data transmission speed. Many of these cables were laid in the late nineties and are now at the end of service life.
As companies evolve and expand, some wired networks have proven to be restrictive: the reason is the way the networks were originally built in the business premises. For large-scale companies, installing wired networks involves digging trenches – which can incur costly additional costs.
Meanwhile, systems have increasingly received wireless capabilities and the associated hardware has become more consistent. Heavy industry has therefore started using wireless technology for their network infrastructure.
The jump towards wireless
Decisive is the time that you choose for an upgrade. Most companies that decide to upgrade to a wireless network usually take this step when replacing their wired network. Others opt for an upgrade when they move to new premises.
Despite the cost associated with a wireless network upgrade – such as installing wireless LAN routers – these are insignificant when compared to installing new fiber optic cables. Wireless systems can also be used in harsh environments that would otherwise require strong fiber optic cable protection. This saves companies even more money.
For example, frost can cause temporary signal degradation or permanent damage, while high radiation levels can cause the clouding of fiber optic cables. The turbidity ensures that the signal transmitted via the fiber optic cable is absorbed – this leads to signal attenuation.
This makes work easier
Wireless technology has increased productivity by making networks more accessible and adaptable, which is not the case in hard-wired locations. Combining this with handheld and wearable technology, employees can always access the corporate network for different applications.
The Valencia-based Ford production facility recently started using wireless networks as part of a pilot project. A wrist-worn quality control device allows factory workers to connect to the corporate network and review the specifications for each vehicle. It can be one of hundreds of possible design specifications.
By allowing immediate access to this information, the level of human errors has been reduced by 7 percent. With 440,000 vehicles inspected each year, this saves almost 780 man-hours per year.
“We have several options and features for our entire vehicle range. Digital innovation in our facilities allows us to develop an effective approach to our manufacturing process, “said Linda Cash, vice president of manufacturing at Ford of Europe ”The ability to simply consult the screen of a smartphone to validate aspects of vehicle quality and specification helps us ensure the highest quality standards and improves workflow and manufacturing efficiency.”
The Bluetooth enabled device used by Ford works by detecting the quality inspection requirements for each vehicle and displaying them on the touch screen. This allows employees to instantly access the specific vehicle details.
Safety in the working environment
Other industries also use wireless technology to improve plant security. Here, instead of on-site, the measured values are recorded remotely. There are cases of wireless drones being used to control parts that are toxic or difficult to access. This happens much more often than would otherwise be the case for practical reasons.
Wireless technology allows access to hard-to-reach devices and blind spots in a facility, where readings are not taken as often as needed. This increase in the number of readings enables managers to detect minor deterioration well before it leads to serious situations that could potentially become dangerous and lead to longer shutdown periods and higher financial expenditures.
Scope for innovation
When companies are using wireless networks, they are no longer dependent on network connection points when considering new office or factory layouts. This freedom gives business leaders a lot more options when it comes to company development. In addition, they have the advantage in the case of new hires to no longer have to bear the cost of installing new grid connection points.
Sopto is a Nottingham-based company that provides Inventory-as-a-Service solutions to UK companies. Six years ago, the company expanded its approximately 3200m 2 warehouse into a wireless network environment.
The warehouse team at Sopto now uses bar code readers to identify the components – each with its own unique product code – using a portable barcode scanner connected to a laptop.
“It’s an asset to inventory accuracy,” says John Street, operations manager at Sopto. “Our KPI [Key Performance Indicator] for inventory accuracy is 99.5 percent. Viewed from the perspective of inventory accuracy, it is not useful for warehouse employees to search for missing parts. “By allowing this information to be accessed through laptops connected to the network, the component database is kept up-to-date Inventory lists updated. There is no longer a risk of a duplicate request for the same product, as was the case if the inventory had not been updated fast enough.
The cost of installing the wireless network was approximately £ 1,000 (€ 1100). The network ultimately provided 100% coverage for the warehouse after the gaps were discovered and addressed. The installation costs were soon covered by an increasing efficiency – this was especially true during the subsequent inventories. With the previous wired network, inventory managers had to download batches of inventory information during batches. Now, however, the information is always available and can be accessed through the network devices that the professionals carry with them.
The recent expansion of the warehouse into the intermediate floor was relatively easy. “We simply told our IT department that we were expanding the hall, and she then made plans and tested availability to make sure everything could be done,” explains Street. “The alternative would have been the cable option, but we did not want that in the hall because of the stumbling hazard.”
But wireless networks also have their disadvantages. Due to their nature – the fact that they transmit wirelessly – they are much easier to listen to. With wired networks, you do not have to worry so much because they are generally closed systems and much harder to compromise.
Using end-to-end encryption, the eavesdropping potential can be minimized. Even if a third party tried to eavesdrop on a wireless network, it would need the encryption key to understand what is being transmitted. Companies can also use Frequency Hopping: Here, the wireless signal is switched several times in order to keep potential spying within limits.
Wireless networks are also exposed to interference and noise. But this is not such a big problem anymore compared to the past, because the wireless technology is more advanced and therefore more robust and the signal more stable.
Wireless networks are currently unable to maintain high bandwidths with a high link rate. As a result, companies that expect high data throughput should avoid using wireless networks.
For companies requiring high communication speeds and response times, such as those using fast motor control, a wireless infrastructure is not suitable.
The larger the distance that the network signal has to travel, the weaker it becomes, but with appropriately distributed routers and signal amplifiers this is no longer as problematic as it used to be.
The hybrid option
Some companies operate dual networks, using separate wired and wireless networks as part of the overall infrastructure.