Warehouse WiFi has become critical to the operation of logistics facilities and production centres: warehouse control systems (WCSs), warehouse management systems (WMSs), and devices such as RF scanners and production machines communicate with each other via a wireless network.
More and more companies are investing in automated storage and conveying systems, i.e., stacker cranes, mobile robots, and automated guided vehicles. As opposed to home wireless networks, warehouse WiFi was designed to coordinate the programmable logic controllers (PLCs), WCSs, and computers involved in the operations of Industry 4.0 facilities.
What’s warehouse WiFi?
Warehouse WiFi, also known as industrial wireless communication (IWC), is the wireless Ethernet technology used in warehouses, production centres, and in any facility incorporating a WMS and WCSs for industrial machinery or other automatic equipment.
Ethernet is a standard that defines the characteristics and requirements for interconnecting multiple computers and devices enabled in the same local area network (LAN). The wireless Ethernet network employs radio waves to transmit and receive data. It works like this: a router, with internet connection and WiFi, exchanges data with other devices enabled with wireless network technology, i.e., computers, televisions, and smartphones.
Industrial Ethernet networks use the same technology as home WiFi systems, but they’re adapted to the particular features of logistics and production centres. The connection point, which can be installed in industrial lockers, on a computer, or on other devices, works in a much wider temperature range and is more resistant to shock, vibration, and noise.
The introduction of new technologies in industrial facilities, such as the Industrial IoT (IIoT) and augmented reality, make the role of warehouse WiFi even more decisive. “With the use of wireless smart cameras and vision technologies, applications such as remote visual monitoring and surveillance, intelligent logistics product tracking, image guided automated assembly, and fault detection can be realised,” says Professor Michael Cheffena (Faculty Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology) in his publication Industrial wireless communications over the millimeter wave spectrum: opportunities and challenges. Professor Cheffena says: “Vision capabilities can enable robots, machines, and other industrial automation systems to meaningfully interact with objects and safely navigate through their surroundings”.
Differences between standard WiFi and warehouse WiFi
Home and warehouse Ethernet networks share the same technology and operation. Nevertheless, there are multiple differences between the two, such as:
- Data volume: the WiFi used in homes, public spaces, and offices is a default connection that handles large amounts of data between few devices. Warehouse WiFi, on the other hand, is configured to constantly send small data packages at high speed.
- Battery level: the hardware and software used by the warehouse WiFi network are designed to work for long periods of time without having to charge the battery. Why? WCSs are often located in hard-to-reach places, so they’re not as easy to charge as a smartphone.
- Reliability: in a warehouse WiFi network, attributes such as reliability and accuracy are essential to ensure the coordination and smooth operation of the facility.
In short, unlike home internet systems, warehouse WiFi isn’t designed to send large amounts of data such as images or video files. An industrial connection requires smaller data volumes, greater interaction between devices, and lower latency to prevent interruptions that could interfere with the operation of the facility.
Benefits of warehouse WiFi
When implementing warehouse WiFi in your facility, your main goal is to quickly and reliably connect the control, management, and manufacturing software with sensors and machines to make your company’s logistics and production processes more efficient.
But increased efficiency isn’t the only advantage of this type of wireless network:
- Error-free management: the installation of sensors and software operating on warehouse WiFi lets you identify cost overruns and errors in logistics and manufacturing processes. A warehouse WiFi network guarantees that the data continuously processed by the systems connected to the network are transmitted speedily and reliably.
- Equipment productivity: the interconnection between the automated elements operating in a logistics centre allows the software to carefully measure throughput, maximising the work capacity of each piece of equipment.
- Maintenance and anticipation of failure: the sensors incorporated on the machines continuously send information on the status and performance of the equipment. A software program connected to the industrial network is charged with alerting the manager as to the status of the machinery.
Thus, the warehouse WiFi network provides persistent connections and roaming to the automated equipment, as well as the necessary connectivity to the RF scanners and computers in the facility.
How do I extend my WiFi range in the warehouse?
Having a powerful, robust warehouse WiFi network is crucial to adapt to new technologies and maintain a coordinated and efficient logistics facility. In fact, a weak wireless connection in certain parts of the building could lead to a lack of coordination between the automatic equipment or cause the sensors to disconnect, compromising productivity and safety.
To maximise efficiency in your facility, it’s a must to calibrate both the strength and the range of your warehouse WiFi: an adequate wireless signal needs to reach all areas with devices that run on a wireless connection. Examples of these devices include oxygen and temperature sensors in production plants and picking scanners and automated guided vehicles in warehouses.
In the report Guide to Industrial Wireless Systems Deployments published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the authors describe the benefits of the use of WiFi in industry: “Wireless has many advantages over wired installations, and it has many challenges. Applications of factory wireless can include process monitoring, condition alarming, product and asset tracking, supervisory control, and feedback control.” The NIST report also highlights aspects to take into account when deciding on whether to implement warehouse WiFi: “Use of wireless will depend on expected cost savings over wired options and the technical requirements of the application. Technical requirements can often be linked to the mobility, latency, loss, and scale constraints.”
These technical requirements mean that you need to study and plan how the wireless network will be deployed in your facility. When implementing warehouse WiFi in your logistics centre or production plant, you’ll have to assess the complexity of your operations. These buildings tend to be large open spaces, which makes it difficult to have a good connection in every area. Therefore, it’s vital to consider the installation of the wireless network during the warehouse design and logistics planning phases, as you’ll need to determine where to place the wireless access points according to the operations, workstations, and automatic handling equipment.
The same goes for a production plant. A prior analysis of the deployment of your warehouse WiFi will allow you to measure the propagation of the radio signal in advance, helping you to identify the ideal number of wireless access points and where to position them.
Warehouse WiFi: key part of a productive facility
Your warehouse WiFi needs to be sufficiently powerful and reliable. Equally important is its range to be able to connect all devices operating in the centre. So, it’s imperative to plan the installation of your warehouse WiFi in your logistics facility or production plant in advance, taking into account factors such as the degree of automation, the implementation of warehouse management software, and the number of workstations.
Despite the complexities involved when setting up warehouse WiFi, this type of wireless network optimises the productivity of the equipment and creates a safe, efficient, error-free workplace environment.