Five crucial questions to ask and answer as you prepare your industrial environments to take full advantage of today’s rapidly expanding wireless communications opportunities.
It’s time to call the wireless infrastructure in use in your industrial facilities on the carpet.
Here's why: when it comes to wireless communications, most industrial environments are three to five years behind the carpeted space. After years of focusing heavily on corporate office and branch WLANs, many organizations are surprised at what they’re finding when they look to leverage today’s advanced mobility tools beyond the carpeted space.
They’re discovering that while they’ve been concentrating elsewhere, their industrial wireless communications needs have both substantially grown and radically changed, to the point where existing networks and traditional approaches will no longer support the operational performance that is required to thrive in a changing market.
1. Can your WLAN support reliable mobile connectivity in a complex and dynamic environment?
The nature of industrial environments is a constant state of flux, requiring the wireless network to quickly adapt to changing dynamics. Inventory and equipment are continuously being shipped and moved, changing the physical state of the space virtually minute-to-minute.
There’s also their sheer size, with structures getting bigger, taller and more dense, and often encompassing both indoor and outdoor facilities and hundreds of thousands of square feet that challenge coverage and connectivity. Equally important is the need for mobility. Industrial environments have never been more on the move—in terms of people, equipment, materials and merchandise—than they are today. The need for nomadic communications solutions—including seamless roaming for a wide variety of users and devices—has never been more critical.
2. Can your network support a plethora of consumer and industrial strength devices?
Dynamic industrial wireless environments don’t just have to deal with a wide variety of mobile workers; they also have to accommodate an equally wide variety of wireless devices with varying antenna strengths and receiver sensitivities, which can affect connectivity. Different workers need different devices for different tasks. Some have powerful laptop computers, others reliable ruggedized handheld and wearable computers, bar code scanners, RFID readers and other technologies that can withstand the rigors of the industrial space and provide hands-free data collection and communications.
Further complicating the issue is the growing use of employees’ personal smartphones or tablets. Your network must account for the performance limitations of these various devices, and have the power and inherent intelligence to compensate for these issues to ensure reliable connectivity under even the most challenging RF conditions.
3. Can your industrial network deliver the optimum amount of bandwidth for each voice, data and video application?
There’s no question about the proliferation of powerful applications designed for industrial environments. The only question is which specific applications you anticipate utilizing in your operations, and how much bandwidth each requires; for example, telnet sessions and native apps require less bandwidth than browser-based applications and video.
The bandwidth discussion begins with the need for reliable range and coverage that make bandwidth accessible throughout your operation. The next step is providing the optimum amount of throughput.
4. Do you have the tools and/or resources to monitor and manage your industrial wireless network and devices in real time?
Industrial wireless networks are becoming more and more complex. To reap maximum value from highly complex systems like these, it’s imperative to have real-time management of your network components, your devices and your applications.
Whether you’re in a production, warehouse or other supply chain environment, downtime is always the enemy. Your network must enable proactive rather than reactive troubleshooting and provide systemwide security that guards against intrusion and the growing risk of cyber attacks.
5. Can you deploy a unified corporate-wide WLAN optimized for both carpeted and industrial environments?
The reality is, virtually all corporate-wide wireless networks are going to have something of a split personality. What’s optimal for the relative calm of the carpet is simply not going to be ideal for the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of the plant floor, distribution center or yard. Yet the right solution is hardly ever the added complexity and expense of a bifurcated network. In the best of all possible worlds, you need a powerful single network that can be optimized for both environments.
This optimization may require a relatively simple hardening of the hardware supporting your network, either inherently in the equipment or by adding additional components such as aftermarket NEMA enclosures. It might also require more specialized support for faster roaming and more cost-effective redundancy features to ensure connection reliability and availability.