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Connecting the “Connected Worker” in the Industrial Enterprise with Private Wireless

Increasing labor costs, in combination with low worker availability and high turnover, is driving companies to invest in technologies such as Warehouse management systems, connected worker platforms, inventory management systems to improve worker efficiency, training, safety, and overall satisfaction on the job.

Surprisingly, enterprises only realize late in the process that none of these connected worker technologies can really work without reliable wireless connectivity. While Wi-Fi may be ubiquitous in an office environment, it struggles to provide reliable coverage in industrial environments such as manufacturing floors, distribution centers, warehouses and refineries and petrochemical plants.

While traditional wireless solutions like Wi-Fi and Public cellular do not work well in these environments, Private wireless offers a suitable alternative.

What is driving the need to connect workers in the Industrial enterprise?

Deloitte reports that an estimated 49% of factory workers lose 10 minutes of productivity per hour is due to technological and process inefficiencies.

Many of the connected worker solutions being deployed in the industrial enterprise hinge on the following outcomes.

  • Improving worker efficiency:

Warehouse management systems (WMS), enable workers to locate items in a warehouse / distribution center quickly and effectively using scanners, saving 10-45% in labor costs and in capital inventory costs . Workers carry a scanner to take inventory of material both inside the warehouse and outside in the yard, where trucks deliver the goods. Being able to scan material accurately and quickly anywhere on premises gives organizations full visibility into their inventories and increases labor efficiencies.

  • Improving worker communication

Workers need to be reachable anywhere in the facility via enterprise issued tablets, smart phones, laptops, push to talk (PTT) and voice picking systems. This allows connected worker platforms to dispatch work orders, provide them with the ability to order parts, look up documentation and reach out to experts for troubleshooting. In a case study conducted by Celona with a large refinery, the inspection crew saved 20-30% equipment downtime by in field techs connecting to off-site experts via video conferencing (using Zoom and Microsoft Teams) on their tablet to identify, root cause and address issues in real-time.

  • Monitoring worker safety

Connecting workers is critical for safety - especially in environments where workers are working in areas prone to toxic gases and other hazardous conditions. Workers equipped with smart phones, wearables such as connected helmets, watches etc. can be pro-actively and reactively monitored for their well-being. In addition, use of IoT sensors and Computer vision in premises can detect gas leaks, fire, and monitor safety compliance and alertness of employees.

  • Improving worker engagement and satisfaction

“The factory worker loses pay for every moment; he/she is not building a widget” – Quote from an IT manager at a large Industrial manufacturing facility. Average wrench time (time workers are performing repairs with tools in their hand) is only 25%-35%. Most of the time is wasted waiting for work orders, searching for parts etc.

A fundamental benefit of a connected worker platform is that it allows them to be more efficient at their work and get paid more. In addition, enabling eLearning tools on their devices helps them to learn quickly, collaborate and improve their skills increasing overall job satisfaction and engagement.

Challenges “Connecting” the Connected worker.

All the connected use cases discussed above heavily depend upon front-line workers having reliable wireless devices and connectivity that works  across the entire enterprise facility, indoors/outdoors, large open spaces, hazardous environments and more. In the 2020 Warehouse DC Equipment survey, 73% of participants were using smartphones and tablets, 55% bar code scanners, and 18% GPS technology (with 28% planning to deploy GPS in the next 12 months). Inconsistent connectivity would result in the workers not adopting modern technologies or in some cases the productivity being even worse off.

Guaranteeing reliable wireless coverage for connected workers with legacy wireless technologies would be unviable, if not impossible due to technology limitations.

  • Wi-Fi is designed for indoor office environments and faces multiple issues in harsh industrial enterprises like poor coverage, unreliable quality of service, mobility hand-off issues between access points and the Total cost of ownership of the network, especially considering large outdoor deployments will be extremely high considering the density of Wi-Fi Access points needed.
    More detailed analysis > TCO calculator to evaluate the cost of Private Wireless in comparison to Wi-Fi.
  • Public wireless, however, has problems too. Since it is managed by the carrier, enterprises may not be able to get coverage where they need it and with the appropriate level of QoS. Furthermore, the data is metered, and sensitive data will have to go through the carrier’s network, bringing privacy and security concerns to play.

Private wireless for the Connected worker

Private Wireless is an LTE/5G network stood up by the enterprise to exclusively cater to its wireless needs. In the U.S., most private cellular networks use the CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) band, whereas worldwide other bands like n77, n78, n79 are being used.

Device manufacturers such as Zebra, Apple, Samsung and others are coming out with Private Wireless compatible devices for the industrial enterprises.

Key advantages of Private wireless include:

  • Pervasive 5G wireless coverage with 1/5th to 1/10th the number of Wi-Fi access points
  • Full end-to-end security for both data in-flight and at rest (secured using SIM and eSIM)
  • Complete control of network and data with no dependence on public cellular network
  • Seamless mobility with precisely timed roaming managed by network infrastructure.
  • Dedicated, clean spectrum with no unlicensed wireless interference.

Reference: Distribution & Logistics-Case study

Factors to consider while picking a Private wireless solution for Connected worker use cases

Setting up Private Wireless for the connected worker is easier than you think. Let Celona help you enhance your Connected Worker initiatives with Private wireless. Contact us at hello@celona.io

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