As communications technology advances, the limitations of a wired ethernet network became apparent in versatile and harsh industrial environments, sparking the need for wireless solutions. Today, it has advanced to such a level that it has become economic, convenient and resource-savvy.
Shift to Remote Monitoring
Industrial wireless technology was initially adopted only in situations that were too remotely dispersed. Today, the landscape has changed. Remote monitoring has taken over daily operations in manufacturing facilities due to lowered costs and simplistic implementation. The former is one of the major reasons for inclination towards wireless technology. Lower upfront investment costs along with need for fewer operators per floor has allowed companies to make their operations lean and compatible with the current economic environment.
The benefits of remote monitoring through industrial wireless technology are quite obvious:
- Minimized labor costs
- Prolonged equipment life
- Reduced downtime
- Minimal interference from manual operators
Nonetheless, wireless technology still faces a number of challenges that make them a tough choice in many situations.
Wireless – A Double Edged Sword
Installation of wireless networks in industrial networks is becoming an easy way to reduce costs that are normally associated with maintenance of a wired network. Wireless networks undoubtedly offer a greater level of flexibility compared to a fixed topology and offer services in hazardous corners of a plant. The elimination of costs associated with trailing wires, repeater switches, etc. is the most immediate benefit. Next, wireless connectivity allows quick implementation of a new element such as a sensor, which reduces downtime and improves speed of operations.
In fact, the addition of sensors is a major benefit that benefits the plant in the long-run. Sensors greatly improve the visibility of a machine’s functions, and allow a centralized system to judge its workability by identifying trends in the data collected. This leads to greater plant efficiency and reduction in unplanned outages, both of which save cost.
But here’s where the euphoric dream ends. The lower installation and maintenance costs would only last so long, until other concerns start surfacing. Early wireless standards such as WEP weren’t as robust as wired networks, which raised several concerns regarding the sanctity of data being transferred. While the wireless world has come a long way from the WEP days, the concern remains very much alive. The use of encryption standards such as IEEE.802.11X Extensible Authentication Protocol have mitigated these fears but in order to ensure top-level security, a proper IT apparatus is still required within the workspace.
The industrial world has always strived to streamline the process of accessing data remotely, as doing so can greatly improve the efficiency of operations. In the 1990s, PC-based access was used in the industrial world, but advancements in technology allowed the shift to Web-based access.
PC-based monitoring brought in a lot of benefits that allowed plant operators to manage tasks efficiently and quickly. In addition to this, features such as alarming, and relaying of information allowed control engineers to bring in improvements to the industry in real-time. Today, the trend has shifted to web-based access that has brought handheld devices into the equation, introducing unmatched flexibility and mobility.
Remote access has also reduced the number of operators required to manage industrial assets. Wireless technology when combined with the cloud has brought down the number of control centers required to run plants located at different locations. Moreover, remote access and centralization of process monitoring has provided plant managers to respond effectively to upcoming or ongoing faults. This brings down unscheduled downtime, and improves quality of product.
Manufacturers are swiftly making the shift to wireless technology due to these reasons as this allows them to stay competitive. Furthermore, adapting wireless monitoring technology puts them in line and acts as a precursor to the upcoming IoT revolution. Real-time monitoring and control is a major aspect of IoT based communication, and it’s one that can only be accomplished if most devices within the industry are interconnected. This is only feasible through industrial wireless technology, which allows integration of industrial elements such as sensors, relays, controllers, etc. in an efficient manner.
Web Browsers & Apps
A company usually has a Virtual Private Network (VPN) in place that allows access & communication with its workplace assets. The logical progression for monitoring these assets is through a web browser, independent of the device. Usually, an HMI is deployed on the other end, using HTML5 elements providing a comprehensive mechanism to manage operations.
While the web-browser based HMI is very interactive and easy-to-access using PC based browsers, the story is quite different from a smartphone’s perspective. Even though, smartphones have gained enormous processing powers to load heavy online elements, they are short when it comes to screen sizes. This isn’t a pitfall as smartphones are designed to be this way. But when the screen doesn’t scale-up according to the display or if it takes too long to load, the entire edge of having remote access erodes away.
These factors have to be considered while developing HMI screens if a company wants to truly bring down costs associated with maintaining full-blown control rooms. Having a proper design beforehand can provide numerous benefits, including greater flexibility, quicker response time and lowered costs.
But there’s only so much you can scale-down, right? Absolutely.
A different approach to reap the benefits of wireless technologies can be development of apps for your handheld devices. This is an exceptionally effective way to remotely manage your workspace. Due to the explosive growth of smartphone apps, you may not need to develop an app at all. Some developers offer general purpose apps that are best for distribution among selected employees to perform limited functions. These apps go for as low as five dollars, and can fulfill the purpose of having an interconnected system in the first place.
On the other hand, development of apps dedicated for your own environment isn’t a bad choice too. Using an app to access data through a smartphone can be extremely reliable and cost-effective, especially for the corporate divisions who can study trends on the fly instead of requesting daily reports.
Role of Cellular Technology
Today, Smartphones have taken over devices that once seemed irreplaceable, i.e. watches, video recorders, maps, cameras, etc. There’s also no question about the fact that cellular technology has also made inroads within manufacturing environments. More companies are using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to increase the level of communication within the workplace in order to speed up daily processes.
One of the major reasons for the success of Smartphone devices is the associated advancement in cellular communication which include introduction of 3G, 4G and LTE spectrums. These spectrums have greatly improved data access capabilities, both over the internet and locally. Modern wireless devices are making use of these advancements in order to ensure location-independent, reliable communication with their devices.
Security issues that are linked with communication through the internet are also put to rest as most cellular companies can provide dedicated spectrum to their clients. This means that internet can be brought out of the equation if necessary and devices can communicate on a dedicated “line”, without the threat of any intrusion.
It has been stated earlier that devices such as sensors, controllers, and others can be a part of your wireless network, and integrate into a centralized system. But in order to do so, they must connect and converge at one point.
Wireless Controllers can provide all the services necessary to facilitate network connectivity for your devices, and bring them at par with Industrial Internet of Things based applications. The Banner DXM100 Wireless Controller is a best-in-class device that includes an internal DX80 gateway and a MultiHop Data Radio, allowing your devices to connect & communicate on local wireless networks.
Here’s an overview:
- ISM radios available in 900MHz and 2.4GHz frequency for local communication
- Converts Modbus RTU to Modbus TCP/IP
- Includes data logging capability
- Email & text alerts
- Compatible with the cloud
The DXM100 Wireless Controller can be used in applications such as predictive maintenance monitoring, environmental monitoring and productivity solutions.
A simple application for the DXM100 Wireless Controller would be an Automatic Guided Vehicle. As products are built, they are packed into boxes and loaded onto a pallet. A completed pallet must then be emptied at the designated location and the process repeated.
Where does the DXM100 Controller fit in all this?
As soon as a pallet is completed, a signal can be generated from a pressure sensor to the DXM100 controlled. The signal would be processed, and sent onto the control system of the wirelessly connected Automatic Guided Vehicle, which would then move to the assembly station to empty the pallet. On completion, a signal would be generated again, and sent to the AGV to repeat the entire process until no package is left.
In this way, wireless technology can eliminate the need for manual labor, something that wouldn’t be possible on wired networks due to the movements involved in the entire process.
Interested in learning more about Banner Engineering Industrial Wireless Technology?
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