In your everyday life, it’s hard to miss the impact of wireless. We’re no longer tethered to our desktop computers or corded home phones. Our music now streams wirelessly on our headsets or in our cars. And when you’re looking at wireless platforms, you have lots of options—such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and LTE.
The challenges of wireless in a factory setting
Despite its prevalence in other areas of our lives, wireless in industrial settings isn’t as ubiquitous as one might think. There are a number of reasons for this, but mainly it has to do with the environment. Have you ever driven in your car and had the signal cut out? Or listened on your headset and the sound drops our briefly? That’s usually due to some sort of interference or blocking of the signal. You could be driving under a bridge or past some tall trees. You could be running down a street near some lighting that causes signal interference with your Bluetooth headset and causes your music to cut out.
These are common issues with wireless in normal environments. But now consider the additional challenges in a dense setting like a factory—where there’s lighting, movement, heavy equipment, machinery, dust, and lots of noise in a contained area. All these scenarios make deploying wireless in an industrial setting more complicated than, say, turning on your wireless router in your house. However, there are solutions built for these kind of environments; it just takes some careful planning to implement them effectively.
Industrial wireless: The benefits
Wireless offers many benefits in a factory. To call out a few:
- It enables better tracking of assets and resources.
- It helps reduce cabling costs.
- Legacy machinery that was expensive to pull data from can be retrofitted with sensors to enable better overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).
- Employees can become more mobile, which can lead to better collaboration and the ability to resolve issues in real time.
But with all the benefits of wireless, there are many stories out there about how a wireless project went wrong in an industrial setting. In fact, many wireless projects have to be restarted because of lack of information or poor planning.
What can go wrong—and how to avoid it
Let’s touch on three commonplace missteps:
- Using a standard enterprise solution. Industrial settings and enterprise settings need different types of equipment. Because of the rugged environments mentioned above, regular enterprise-grade equipment will often fail shortly after being deployed. It’s important to align equipment standards to the type of environment your wireless project is being deployed in.
- Not conducting a site survey. When a road is being built or altered, you often see survey engineers on the side of the road taking measurements and making calculations. The same should be done for any wireless project. It’s important to look at the layout, critical locations, and coverage when developing a plan. Effective site surveys determine the critical elements of a wireless plan.
- Not bringing IT and OT together. Here’s a common scenario with industrial wireless projects: The operations technology (OT) group is working on a project that involves wireless. They turn to the IT department to handle it all because they implemented wireless in the office space. But what’s often missed in this scenario are the nuances of a factory setting that the OT teams deeply understand.
Another common scenario involves “one-off” projects that don’t scale as more devices, people, and sensors begin using the wireless backbone. IT and OT need to work together and coordinate priorities as well as prepare teams for the change management that comes with new wireless technology.
To help you with your industrial wireless project, we’ve developed a guide that outlines best practices, common misconceptions, and key equipment considerations. I also encourage you to check out some of key wireless case studies and resources here. Good luck with your project!