Industrial wireless networking presents challenges but they're surmountable

Warehouses and distribution centers present a non-stop set of communication challenges when it comes to setting up an industrial wireless networking system. Unlike residential buildings or office complexes, these spaces are characterized by vast open areas, high ceilings, large racks causing interference, and twenty-four/seven operations in often harsh indoor and outdoor environments. Wireless can reach anywhere a business wants it to but will it be able to:

  • handle the constant flow of data between the thousands of nodes that connect to it?
  • provide the real-time responsiveness needed to balance the dynamics of production, distribution, and service needs?
  • ensure wireless capacity, coverage, throughput, and speed?

A provider can add access points and install RF cards, but that doesn't mean the connectivity will deliver what the business demands of it in  order to keep its productivity and profitability trajectories on an upward keel.

Typical Distribution Center Challenges

A distribution center exists within an industrial wireless environment in a continuous state of flow. The characteristics can change by the minute due to constantly moving vehicles, equipment, and manpower negotiating areas where they encounter substantial RF obstacles posed by rolling stock, tractor-trailers, and stacks of steel wall containers.

Typical Network Challenges

It is within the realm of possibility that a distribution center's network will consist of a mix of access points to other distribution centers and warehouses around the country, as well as multiple manufacturer's facilities. Add to this, a fleet of forklifts, each equipped with barcode scanners and mobile computers to assist their operators in fulfilling orders as they traverse back and forth from the warehouse to the yard.

Any gap in coverage can cause a disconnect to the database software, meaning the order picker cannot scan the barcode. The bottom line is the order will be delayed. Additional delays can result when a wireless device finds itself within the range of a stronger signal and roams to it. All these minute delays can compound time lost, and in the end, result in a logjam of orders that do not meet promised arrival dates.

Security Challenges

Gaps in connectivity are not the only worry. The inability to manage access points can lead to co-channel interference and weak security protocols. With so many nodes connecting large geographical areas, any hole in security can leave a company prey to unauthorized users and rogues.

Surmounting the Challenges

What is needed is a network that constantly adapts; one that provides intelligent connectivity and persistent connections. One solution is Motorola's WiNG 5 architecture with built-in SMART RF algorithm that mitigates interference and allows the network to autonomously adjust its channel configurations and power levels so it can minimize co-channel interference and deliver unimpeded wireless connectivity and service.

Contact us for information about wireless network solutions from Motorola, as well as Cisco, Aruba and Ruckus networking. Supply Chain Services network engineers and technicians are available to provide complete planning, management, and support for wireless networks.

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