Wireless choices for a new generation

Although wireless is heralded as the next big thing in automation and the production operations world, it certainly isn’t brand new.


Although wireless is heralded as the next big thing in automation and the production operations world, it certainly isn’t brand new. The desire to use wireless technology to reduce costs and improve efficiency has been underway for some time in manufacturing organizations supporting applications ranging from materials handling to SCADA systems, from individual machine communications to oilfield microwave communications.

What has changed is the significant emergence of a new generation of products, applications and standards to address the specific challenges for using wireless in large manufacturing facilities. Wireless technologies have enabled greater monitoring capabilities and points of measurement; enhanced workforce mobility; improved safety and security; driven more efficient use of assets, raw materials and energy; and have lowered the costs of plant and process network communications.

Choosing the right wireless technology for the future

As the list of wireless applications grows, so does the list of wireless devices and systems that support these applications. This rapid application growth adds complexity from using multiple wireless technologies to address each application’s specific requirements for coverage, latency and throughput. There is simply not a “one-size-fits-all” wireless networking technology that adequately supports the diverse requirements of industrial applications.

So here’s the key challenge %%MDASSML%% and the critical choice. Every plant has an extremely important but invisible asset: airwaves %%MDASSML%% the radio-frequency spectrum that is available in and around your facility. Imagine two or three years from now when you have thousands of wireless devices in your plant from dozens of vendors. As with your wired control networks today, without the right tools for managing the secure, effective coexistence of your airwaves, the wireless communications networks will become slow, unreliable %%MDASSML%% and unmanageable. The choices you make today will limit your options in managing your future as new wireless technologies become available.

Industrial plants have three basic choices to make when it comes to wireless:

Choice #1: Pick one vendor for everything %%MDASSML%% You can install proprietary wireless products with everything from one vendor. Choosing all of your wireless networking applications from a single vendor gives you the advantage of an engineered system that is designed to integrate various wireless technologies into a single seamless system.

But as new applications emerge and wireless technologies evolve, your dependence on that single vendor will limit your options and lock you into the capabilities of a single vendor. A critical issue here is whether the single vendor is truly open and standards based. If they claim to be fully open and standards based, but are really not, then the plants’ options can be greatly restricted.

Choice #2: Single-purpose point solutions %%MDASSML%% You can continue with the point solutions route, which will solve one application problem at a time. The second option is to choose the best or lowest cost wireless technology for one specific application. This approach will have a good chance of delivering the performance and reliability for that one very specific solution.

But there will be no re-use of a common infrastructure. Each low-cost point solution you deploy will demand its own wireless infrastructure, network management and security approach. This approach will eventually create “islands of wireless” which will make it difficult to establish a positive return on your investment for any single wireless technology or application.

Choice #3: The new generation %%MDASSML%% Or finally, you can choose to implement an open, standards-based, wireless network that is secure, reliable, rugged and scalable. This truly open wireless infrastructure will allow you to choose exactly the right wireless device and application for your plant with “plug and play” interoperability. Because there is no single wireless network technology, application or vendor capable of delivering the full range of industrial wireless products and applications, an open, shared, wireless infrastructure delivers a greater degree of application flexibility and cost certainty. This approach creates a network of systems based on open standards, best practices and vendor neutrality across all your wireless applications.

The choice should be easy. The financial and operations benefits of industrial wireless are most effectively realized with Choice #3. This provides an open, “future-proofed” solution architecture capable of using the best technologies and applications available %%MDASSML%% from any vendor %%MDASSML%% now and in the future. By using the best tools for the job and an open wireless infrastructure, you will avoid the limitations of a single vendor solution and the constraints imposed by numerous point solution wireless applications. Instead, you will enjoy all the benefits of industrial strength wireless in all areas of plant operations for many years to come.

Author Information
Mike Bradley is CEO of

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2017 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
SCCR, 2018 Maintenance study, and VFDs in a washdown environment.
Welding ergonomics, 2017 Salary Survey, and surge protection
2017 Top Plant winner, Best practices, Plant Engineering at 70, Top 10 stories of 2017
Product of the Year winners, Pattern recognition, Engineering analytics, Revitalize older pump installations
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Setting internal automation standards
Knowing how and when to use parallel generators
PID controllers, Solar-powered SCADA, Using 80 GHz radar sensors

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me