Factories are beehives of activity – hundreds of skilled tradespeople scurrying back and forth, all contributing in their own unique ways to the fabrication of new products. Mechanics, welders, assemblers, technicians, stockers, forklift drivers, and many others all work symbiotically to produce the final products. And they are all highly dependent upon networking and IT resources to help orchestrate, guide, manage, and measure all ongoing processes. Industrial networks play a critical role in the success of the business and whether or not goals can be reached and surpassed. 

The data network is a mission critical resource for modern manufacturing facilities. It transmits information that can track components, time operations, measure processes, and enable communication between employees. It can also facilitate more sophisticated functions like robotics and factory automation. Networks can unlock doors, or dispatch response teams for injuries or emergencies, and even be used to order lunch entrées from the cafeteria. In short, the entire facility is wholly dependent upon the network 24×7. If the network shuts down, the entire factory shuts down.

While the network truly enables the whole factory, the very same things that are dependent upon the network can pose serious impediments to network performance. Wi-Fi is the only sensible networking solution for manufacturing plants, but it is also quite sensitive. Radio frequency (RF) devices (or Wi-Fi) are susceptible to many different types of interference – and modern factories present lots of RF challenges. For starters, the buildings themselves are typically supported by hundreds of steel I-beams, all of which can act as giant antennae. Secondly, many machines located on shop floors that are serviced by the network generate huge amounts of RF interference – a single arc welder, for example, can require 100 amps of current, and although it’s exponentially more current than a microwave oven or hair dryer in a home, those little household devices constantly interfere with local Wi-Fi signals. Lastly, equipment, products, and people are often rather transient in a factory, moving from place to place, or even indoors and out.

Industrial Networks – The Break Down

All challenges mentioned above are totally solvable. After all, thousands of modern factories successfully use networks and Wi-Fi. However, a successful Wi-Fi network implementation is entirely dependent upon careful planning and engineering. Properly designed industrial networks will not only support all of today’s requirements, but it will also allow the factory to grow and adapt to new business requirements.

The basic spine of a factory often consists of large steel beams which will interfere with Wi-Fi signals. Judicious placement of access points (APs) can help overcome these issues. It’s likely that you’ll need to increase the density of APs (as compared to an office setting) and use triangular patterns of deployment. Also, factories tend to have very high ceilings. These are often too high for typical AP deployments, so APs are sometimes lowered a few yards and attached to support beams or other conduits. Qualified RF engineers can help lay out a proper design.

Electrical Interference
Factories often house massive highly specialized machines. These industrial machines can include metal presses, drills, lathes, mills, CNCs, overhead cranes, casting, forging, grinding, and many other types of equipment. These behemoths, like the arc welders mentioned above, require lots of power and generate huge amounts of electrical impulses and unstructured RF, leading to a very hostile environment for Wi-Fi. Designing a network that will compensate for this interference can be extremely challenging. Wi-Fi frequencies, signal strength, positions, and directions will all have to be carefully calculated. The network’s APs will all have to support these advanced programming features (and they should be adaptable to changes as new plant-floor machines are installed). RUCKUS APs are ideal for this complex manufacturing environment and again, qualified RF engineers are critical.

Think of an old-fashioned assembly line. A product moves from station to station with components added at each stop. Parts and pieces need to be stocked at each station and all of these individual items, along with the product itself, must be counted and tracked. From a networking perspective, these products and components will move from one AP to another. The Wi-Fi connections must be seamlessly passed from AP to AP, and sometimes even to outdoor APs. The APs must be able to support and manage these handovers without any data loss. A RUCKUS solution can facilitate all these requirements.

Industrial Networks

Other Considerations

Industrial networks should be designed and provisioned for the future, not the present. Growth, business collaborators, new applications, additional devices (such as employee “bring your own device” appliances), and even mergers and acquisitions should all be considered in the initial Wi-Fi design. Additionally, cybersecurity is always a concern whenever Wi-Fi is deployed and the overall cost of the solution cannot be overlooked. These are all serious considerations that a qualified network architect should contemplate prior to proposing a solution.

Who You Gonna Call?

A successful Wi-Fi network deployment in a manufacturing environment can only be achieved with proper planning and engineering. After designing the solution, skilled technicians should install the network and then monitor its operations. Mirazon’s experts are ideal partners for these types of networks. They have 20+ years of experience (about the same age as Wi-Fi itself) and many flourishing network deployments.

If you have any additional questions or concerns, please call 502-240-0404 or send us an email at info@mirazon.com