Here’s the reality, many industrial environments lack wireless internet.
It’s not for a lack of trying.
However, there are real, pragmatic reasons that some companies can’t benefit from the “Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT) — it’s the ‘Internet’ part.
The Challenges of Industrial Work Environments
The challenges of legacy facility designs and equipment are significant. Designers and engineers couldn’t anticipate the kind of automated machine communication we expect today, so they weren’t building with wireless connectivity in mind.
For instance, in buildings where insulation or thick walls are required, getting a signal through three feet of concrete can be challenging. Not to mention certain machines that block signals may be rooted in the plant design or cost too much downtime to relocate.
On top of infrastructure challenges, harsh production environments can pose their own obstacles. Extremes in temperature, humidity, moisture, shock, and vibration are all common in the industrial workplace.
With so many barriers, some manufacturing leaders may believe this connectivity is out of their reach. Fortunately, as technology and software advances, adding wireless capability to your manufacturing environment is more than possible.
5 Ways to Get Wifi on the Factory Floor
We’ve helped hundreds of businesses kickstart their digital journey with Dozuki and have learned many strategies to get wifi on the floor or in the field. While some may not be permanent solutions, simply getting started will allow you to pilot new technologies and find what works best for your business.
Tablets with Cellular Data Plans
If you are fortunate enough to have areas of your facility where cell service is available, then this option can be a very elegant solution for basic connectivity with tablets.
Although paying for monthly data plans on a collection of company devices may seem costly, for many businesses this is actually the cheaper option. When compared to the infrastructure challenges that may be required for a built-in wireless system, data plans may be worth every penny.
Strategic Hotspot Placement
Hotspots can be another great alternative to setting up a hard-wired infrastructure that may disrupt uptime, or be considered too costly, initially. Rather than having an internet plan for each device, commercial hotspots offer a flexible option that won’t drain the battery of your mobile devices.
While hotspots on the factory floor can only provide limited internet access, compared to more robust systems, they can be a great entry point into connecting your workforce and kickstarting your business’ digital transformation. We’ve worked with companies who have purchased cellular plans for both, smartphones and tablets, to create hotspots throughout their facilities.
Increase Range with Mesh Repeaters
Factories of any age face similar issues. While production lines, air compressors, tanks, and machines are generally out in the open on the factory floor, the sheer size and amount of metal present can be a big hurdle for wireless signals.
Although there can be a variety of obstacles in industrial work environments, the advent of wifi mesh repeaters has enabled seamless transition between network “repeaters.” Repeaters allow you to significantly extend the footprint of your internal network — providing coverage across areas that were previously inaccessible to wifi signals.
A wireless mesh system is a user-friendly option that is also easy to set up. That said, the effectiveness of this option is dependent on your current system’s bandwidth and the barriers or physical obstacles unique to your factory layout.
Provide Tools that Allow Offline Access
Unfortunately, not all industrial work environments can provide effective internet access. Understanding your constraint when purchasing new digital tools will allow you to make better use of your technology investments. If you’re looking to connect workers via software platforms that have mobile applications, seek solutions that provide offline access to key information and tools.
Many modern software tools that are purpose-built for manufacturers are able to store localized information on tablets and other mobile devices. This way, essential information can be accessed without wireless connectivity and then employees can-re-sync their devices when connection is restored.
Consult the Pros
Have you had a heat map done? Do you need total coverage or just essential spot coverage? By looking at your floor plan, specialists can indicate different types of materials and technology that will have the biggest impact on improving your plant floor connectivity.
Service providers and consultants will offer free, localized assessments that can give you a better understanding of your unique requirements and constraints.
These experts can build signal heat maps to show a visual representation of your wifi signal reach. Having a visual map gives the network administrators insights on how to adjust the wireless access points (“APs”) to improve signal coverage and avoid dead zones.
It’s a Process, Not an Event
Digital transformation is a process and every step is important. As such it’s crucial to get the fundamentals just right before jumping into expensive technology that your facility is unable to support.
Do you know of other strategies or challenges that we should consider? We’d love to hear them!
Leave us a comment below.