By: Subhasish Gupta, Regional Director at Extreme Networks
Wireless technologies have evolved tremendously in a short span of time, enabling organizations to leverage the possibilities of wireless communications in myriad ways. A superior WLAN experience has always been a benchmark of a good corporate set-up and the carpeted office environments. However, businesses often forget to apply the same standards to their manufacturing facilities, factory floors or any other industrial environments, which are rugged, challenging and more dynamic as compared to the sophisticated office spaces.
The need for industrial WLAN is growing rapidly and high speed connectivity is turning out to be an indispensible requirement in warehouses and other industrial locations. Industrial strength wireless networks provide accurate, real time information for managing operations and tracking inventory, while ensuring remote communications in the industrial environment.
Wireless technologies are critical for massive warehouses to streamline and automate operations. WLANs are significantly a better option compared to the traditional wired LANs, which are susceptible to interference and coverage impairments.
However, deployment of an industrial wireless network requires thoughtful planning and design, and frequent monitoring to meet expectations for bandwidth, throughput, reliability and security. The industrial WLAN needs to be tough and intelligent at the same time, to meet and master the unique communication challenges.
Enlisted below are the 5 ways to ensure your Industrial WLAN can meet the growing demands.
1. Support for Reliable Mobile Connectivity in Complex Environment: The nature of industrial environments is quite unpredictable, requiring the wireless network to quickly adapt to changing dynamics. The maintenance of inventory and equipments (both movable and immovable), burgeoning structures that are stretched out in vast spaces, and overall industrial environment require high level of coverage and connectivity. Your wireless networks must be sustainable and needs to support the constant movement of people, equipment, materials and merchandise. It should also have reliable M2M connection to empower automation, and should be self-healing to provide continuous uptime.
2. Support for Consumer and Industrial Strength Devices: While keeping up with the mobile work force in the industrial environment, one must also take in consideration the wireless devices, which have varying network frequencies and receiver strength which the wireless network should be able to adapt to. If the wireless network can withstand the rigors of mobile devices, powerful laptops, wearable devices, RFID readers, bar code scanners and a wide variety of connected devices among the plethora of other technologies used in the industries, then the network can be considered industrial strength.
3. Bandwidth for Voice, Data and Video Application: The growth of browser based network access and increased use of cloud based application drives more traffic in the network. It is important ensure bandwidth and throughout, as many of today’s lower bandwidth systems will be unable to handle it effectively. How well you can leverage the wireless network depends largely on how the users architect their network and segment and route the traffic. A good industrial WLAN will help its user in avoiding congestion and bottlenecks by controlling the bandwidth, dedicating the right amount of throughput for the right applications on the right device.
4. Real Time Management of Wireless Network: Real time management of network components, devices and applications becomes essential when the objective is to reap maximum value from such highly complex networks. Be it production, warehouse or other supply chain environment, downtime is always the enemy. The wireless network must enable proactive rather than reactive troubleshooting and prevent intrusion and cyber-attacks. Centralized visibility control of the entire network is a critical factor in ensuring this. Organizations can leverage various tools available for integrated security, management and troubleshooting.
5. Deployment of Unified Corporate Wide WLAN Optimization: To avoid the cost and complexity associated with a bifurcated network, it would be better to have one powerful single network that can be optimized for both carpeted and industrial environment. This approach may require you to harden your networking hardware, or add additional components. It might also call for specialized support for faster roaming and more cost-effective redundancy features to ensure connection reliability and availability. Nevertheless, a unified network ensures improved productivity and impactful ROI (return on investment).
Irrespective of how challenging the environment is, all industrial environments demand a high-speed communications network that is more robust, efficient, and reliable than any standard system deployed in an office building or corporate headquarters.