Wireless Networks: Huge Inroads, Big Rewards

More manufacturers are becoming wise to the ways of wireless, citing convenience, low cost, real-time visibility, process controls and asset utilization as the key benefits. In response, the market for industrial wireless devices is set to exceed 150 million units and more than $1 billion annually over the next few years.



Wireless networks seem to be making huge inroads in the manufacturing community as more companies find out about the wealth of new wireless apps that can be applied to their factories and across their distributed enterprises.

A recently published ARC Advisory Group report said the market for industrial wireless devices will exceed 150 million units and more than $1 billion annually over the next few years. A lengthy Manufacturing.net article, published yesterday, breaks down the growing popularity of wireless succinctly:

Convenience, low costs and real-time visibility for security, process controls, asset utilization and maintenance are just some of the reasons behind the proliferation of wireless systems among manufacturers, particularly in the oil and gas, power generation, and chemicals industries.

But just as quickly, the article underscores the importance of proper network architecture:

The architecture must be based on a well-developed security model that includes functions like authentication and role-based access control. Eventually, your network management center should treat your wireless systems the same way it would any another network, by focusing on managing enterprise-wide communications – not the individual technology. Because there will never be a single wireless protocol and frequency, and therefore the appropriate technology must be matched with the right application.

According to this news release, PPG Industries‘ chemical manufacturing complex in Lake Charles, Louisiana, successfully completed the first phase of a rather large wireless infrastructure deployment.

The idea is to help further improve PPG’s plant profitability, safety and security, while providing a secure, flexible and cost-effective foundation to support additional wireless applications in the future. The new infrastructure combines multiple wireless technologies (both standard and proprietary), wireless devices and wireless-enabled applications. PPG’s wireless rollout includes the following:

• Wireless temperature condition monitoring;
• Wireless site security monitoring (including remote video surveillance);
• Wireless environmental monitoring to help simplify regulatory compliance; and
• Secure wireless laptop and PDA access to provide authorized personnel with remote access to the site’s enterprise network.

Not surprisingly, ARC Advisory Group Senior Analyst Harry Forbes likes what PPG is doing. “Wireless coverage, services and applications for huge plants like PPG Lake Charles have been infeasible until recently,” he says. “It’s encouraging to see a wide variety of applications in this first phase of the project. I expect many more will be added as the ‘network effect’ begins to occur at plants like PPG and they realize the potential value of this new infrastructure.”

More proof that wireless is working can be found via this recent IBM news item about Southern Wine & Spirits, the nation’s largest wine and spirits distributor. Thanks to a recently installed wireless warehouse system, the company expects to save $4 million per year. The company says it went wireless after consolidating three warehouses into one 650,000 square foot behemoth.

“Since the completion of the wireless warehouse system, we can fill customer orders more efficiently with far greater accuracy than before,” says Jason Witty, Director of Information Technology for Southern Wine & Spirits’ Florida operations.

And if materials handling is up your alley, be sure to check out this Tampa Bay Business Journal piece announcing the completion of a wireless installation at Tampa Bay’s Port Manatee, the largest importer of plywood and wood fencing in the Southeast, with 600,000 tons of wood offloaded and trans-shipped annually. The system allows the port to maintain updated inventory of the materials that arrive across its 138 acres through 15 different touch points.

Indeed, these examples make a strong case for manufacturers to ride the wireless wave.

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