Best practices in wireless
Prior to choosing industrial wireless networking technologies, ask 4 basic questions to help get the most out of a wireless network.
The advancement of wireless technology over the past five years has contributed to a growing acceptance of wireless technology within the industrial realm. Wireless networking has proliferated in industrial applications that were once considered too remote, too expensive, or too risky to hardwire with typical hard bus or fiber networks. Still, as a relatively new technology within industrial applications, choosing and designing your wireless network solution can be difficult.
Prior to choosing a wireless networking solution, it is important to ask four basic questions to help ensure that you get the most out of a wireless network.
1. What am I trying to accomplish?
This question can be rephrased in a couple of ways, such as, "How large is my required bandwidth? Or "How many end-devices am I connecting to?" Asking yourself these questions will elicit the correct advice and solution offering from a wireless solutions provider. For many wireless industrial networks, bandwidth is a secondary requirement to availability and redundancy. Understanding exactly what traffic will be running over the wireless local area network (WLAN) will ensure that your wireless network is reliable and built to size.
2. What am I connecting to?
"Industrial wireless" is a broad term. Wireless technology has become so prolific due to its ease of deployment in locations once too remote or expensive to hardwire. However, with this added benefit, it is important to take temperature, electromagnetic impedance, vibration, inter-unit barriers, and moisture abrasion into consideration. Additionally, be mindful of the location of each unit and the distance between each module. On an oil platform, for example, wireless signals often must pass through a jungle of pipes and tanks while competing with high levels of noise. Manufacturing facilities, as diverse as they may be, can be subjected to high volumes of cellular interference and vibration in parts of the manufacturing operation. Deploying a comprehensive wireless network requires a physical audit of the field operation as well as a logical one.
3. What certifications are necessary?
The issue of certifications takes the previous question of network placement to the next level of validation. Leading industrial networking manufacturers have gone to great lengths to test and certify their products along the stringent international regulatory demands dominant within the various industrial verticals that they service. For example, in the oil and gas vertical, ATEX or UL Class 1, Division 2 certified products are generally required for any field-level application. Additionally, depending on the network exposure to chemical or water intrusion, marine-grade certifications, such as those from DNV GL and American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), are often a requirement. With this said, other industrial segments have less stringent regulations that vary between government and region.
4. How do I want to manage my network?
After reaching this point in the conversation with a wireless solution provider, both parties should know what the bandwidth requirements are, as well as the redundancies and certifications that the wireless network demands. This will allow the customer to intelligently select a host of wireless solutions and products with specificity to their design preference, price, and sensitivity to cyber security and operational risk. Now the customer must ask itself how it wants to manage its network via HMI. There are many network management software solutions available in the market. It is important to make sure that if the customer already has a solution to manage its network, that it is compatible with its wireless solution.
- Thomas Nuth is global vertical manager, oil and gas; and Ariana Drivdahl is product marketing manager, industrial wireless; both with Moxa. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Best practices for selection of industrial wireless involve asking a few basic questions.
- Know what you're trying to accomplish and what you're connecting.
- Also know required certifications, and how you want to manage the wireless network.
Knowing what questions to ask helps ensure you get what you like in a wireless network, rather than having to like what you get.
See related Control Engineering industrial networking articles below.