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What Is A Wireless Factory & What Are the Benefits?

New technology has made a wireless network essential for manufacturing. Find out what a wireless factory is, how it works, and how to get started.

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What is a Wireless Factory?

A wireless factory refers to all manner of wireless communications on the manufacturing floor. Wireless factories offer manufacturers the ability to build connected factories that exploit all the advanced capabilities of new private 5G products and technology.

This futuristic environment is characterized by a combination of IoT sensors and wireless technology. These sensors communicate with each other through Wi-Fi, LoRa, 5G, and 4G LTE networks. Wireless technology is a key driver in the transition to Industry 4.0 and the backbone for any wireless factory.

With a robust wireless infrastructure in place, factories can collect real-time data from machines, systems, and even staff. These data points are sent back to a server for processing where the data is transformed into business analytics and insights.

As organizations gain insight into their operations, artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to take prescriptive action when events occur or conditions change or KPIs are not met. For example, if oil levels begin to run low on a machine an alert can automatically be sent to the maintenance team.

5G technology is ideally suited to support the latest factory advances such as the use of autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) production robots and augmented reality, as these require the lowest latency and highest levels of network performance.

Wireless Factory Use Case

Whether you’re manufacturing vehicles or shipping consumer goods, wireless factories have a broad range of use cases and benefits. Here are some of the most compelling use cases for wireless factories.

●     Asset Tracking - Businesses use RFID tags to track the location, usage, and condition of vital tools to improve productivity and issue proactive replacements and timely calibration. 

●     Augmented Reality - Augmented reality headsets provide maintenance staff with hands-free live insights into complex problems across the factory. This technology helps improve factory efficiency by shortening repair time and reducing overall downtime.

●     Autonomous Vehicles - Autonomous vehicles can simultaneously reduce labor costs, eliminate mundane tasks, increase staff safety, and improve efficiency. Factories typically use robotics to move or assemble products. In some cases, even driverless vehicles are used to move products from a local port to the factory loading dock. 

●     High Performance and Availability - Using a private LTE or 5G network,  factories have total control over theircellular resources, and can set service levels on the application level. This level of control ensures critical processes always receive the network resources they need, even during peak traffic hours.

Wireless Factory Benefits 

Wireless factories stand to gain massive benefits over traditional wired factories. Below are some of the most noteworthy advantages of the wireless factory model.

Faster Changeovers In Flexible Automation 

Many factories utilize manufacturing automation to improve their productivity and increase their output. Factories that handle custom orders typically implement flexible automation into business to cater to customer needs.

The speed, low latency and bandwidth capabilities found in 5G networks significantly improve changeover time and handle large amounts of product information quickly in real-time. This not only improves efficiency but opens up the opportunity to track completion times using live data.

Scalable Automation

Wireless factories enable businesses to model their service levels, applications, and networks in a way that makes launching a new location simpler and more predictable. For example, application-aware technology can wirelessly provision devices at a new site, eliminating the need to manually configure and set service levels again. This improves scalability while freeing up countless hours for IT staff.

Improved Maintenance Efficiency

Between industrial IoT sensors, and augmented reality troubleshooting, wireless factories can significantly reduce downtime both proactively and reactively. IoT sensors can signal that a failure may occur before it does, providing maintenance an opportunity to look into the issue. This process eliminates the need for staff to manually check calibrations, fluid levels, and other processes when not needed.

Wireless Factory Challenges

Wireless factories have plenty of benefits but they aren’t without their unique challenges. Below are some of the most common challenges wireless factories face along with ways to overcome them.

Electromagnetic Interference

Wireless technology has many benefits in factories and is often more flexible and cost effective than wired cabling typically used  for local-area network communications. However, there are a few challenges to wireless networking in manufacturing environments.

One of the biggest is electromagnetic interference, which can disrupt wireless transmissions. For this reason, expert professional services are necessary for wireless networks in factories.

4G LTE and 5G access points can be strategically placed across the factory floor to mitigate such interference. Unlike other wireless technologies, private LTE networks operate on a licensed or shared spectrum within interference-free frequencies. This means neighboring signals won’t interfere with the signal.

Celona’s 5G LAN solution takes interference protection a step further by leveraging machine learning to continuously monitor network conditions and automatically self-heal network connections if interference occurs.

Legacy Hardware 

Some factories are reluctant to make the switch to wireless because their machines are older, and if it still works, why replace them? In the past, connecting legacy hardware to the internet would require expensive network changes or a replacement of the entire machine.

Many new IoT sensors can utilize 5G networks on older analog machines without costly and cumbersome upgrades. This is thanks to the low-power requirements of each sensor and the speed and efficiency of 5G networking.

Wireless Factories Made Simple

Celona partners with factories to provide private cellular 4G LTE and 5G wireless networks as a seamless turnkey solution that integrates directly with existing L2/L3 computer networks already in place.

As part of a Celona 5G LAN network, cellular access points can be quickly deployed throughout a factory, automatically enforcing quality of service requirements for key IoT applications and enabling proactive monitoring of throughput and latency requirements.

By adopting cloud networking principles, a Celona 5G LAN makes implementing private cellular wireless for IoT architecture and systems an out-of-box experience. With its ability to directly integrate with enterprise network security and QoS policies, installation can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.

If you’re building your factory network for the future, Celona can help. Check out our private cellular wireless network planner to estimate the size of your Celona network indoors and outdoors, or test-drive a Celona 5G LAN solution.

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