From improved productivity and more organized asset management to reduced costs (due to the elimination of extraneous wires) and easier accessibility to plant information, wireless technology in industrial automation offers a wide range of benefits to help improve your business. However, in spite of the advantages, wireless technology can offer its own set of challenges, whether in fully implementing or overcoming regulation standards. Below, we’ll walk you through the basics of wireless technology in industrial automation - the pros and cons - and analyze why it could be right for you.
Current wireless technology can have a wide range of possible uses in a plant setting. At its simplest, radio-frequency identification (RFID) has the ability to assist in asset inspection and tracking, security and safety, and location. Wireless sensor networks are another new, integral innovation in wireless technology where the most attention is currently being placed. Its main focuses include condition monitoring as well as wireless measurements and instruments. Finally, wireless LANs and wireless WANs can work in conjunction to provide plant and process information via wireless sensor networks, leading to better quality information of plant activity.
All of these devices have the added benefit of improving workforce productivity. By eliminating excess installation and maintenance costs, these wireless technologies allow plant management to focus on improving the work environment. Investing in video surveillance systems to monitor employee safety and security as opposed to expensive, outdated wiring allows companies to minimize risk and make safety a real priority.
Wireless Sensor Networks
Of the modes of wireless technology outlined above, wireless sensor networks are the most critical to aiding industrial automation. In certain locations, the cost of wiring cannot be justified. Some sites are too challenging to access or it may be that the cost of wiring is simply too expensive. In these cases, wireless sensor networks offer a feasible and affordable solution for capturing vital measurements and data. Furthermore, wireless sensor networks can eliminate the need for outdated modes of data collection, such as pressure gauges and temperature indicators, thereby reducing possible blind spots as well as capturing additional data. It is also important to note that wireless sensor networks are easily scalable - additional sensors can be added to the system at low cost and integrated for process diagnostics and optimization.
Standards and Strategy
One of the primary challenges of developing a universal standard for industrial automation wireless networks is the distinction between 2.4 GHz bandwidth and the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. Most license-free wireless networks rely on the 2.4 GHz bandwidth, while a majority of sensor networks are based in the latter IEEE 802.15.4 standard. This discrepancy can be disconcerting, with qualms over interference leading to reliability and latency issues. Users have also shared concerns about possible security risks, the potential for jamming and compromising network privacy. With these concerns in mind, industrial automation wireless sensor networks are still striving to reliably collect and transmit crucial plant data. Further advancements, such as the emergence of a mesh network configuration (involving more than two paths), will continue to enhance wireless sensor network reliability and security. By utilizing the tools at their disposal, companies can save money and prosper through industrial wireless automation.
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