Machine builders: Driven by consumer standards

Wireless links have a number of advantages for data communication within machine-control systems, and between these systems and larger facility- and enterprise-level networks. While numerous proprietary wireless standards are available, macroeconomic factors will drive control engineers to gravitate toward implementations based on consumer electronics standards; such as IEEE 802.

08/01/2007


Wireless links have a number of advantages for data communication within machine-control systems, and between these systems and larger facility- and enterprise-level networks. While numerous proprietary wireless standards are available, macroeconomic factors will drive control engineers to gravitate toward implementations based on consumer electronics standards; such as IEEE 802.11 (WiFi), IEEE 802.15.4 (ZigBee), and BlueTooth.

Wireless linking of control-system components (controllers, actuators, and sensors) to each other and larger factory- and enterprise-level local area networks (LANs) provides two decisive advantages over copper-wire or optical fiber interconnections:

  • Reduction or elimination of wire runs reduces the material and installation cost of interconnection infrastructure needed to support automated machinery, and improves maintainability.

  • Freedom of movement unhampered by optical fiber or copper wire tethers is another major advantage. Broken connections in physical links constitute the main maintenance headache associated with motion control. Of course, mobile systems cannot stand to be tethered at all.

The consumer sector is the 800 lb. gorilla in electronics manufacturing. Production volumes for semiconductor components used in consumer electronics are so vast that unit prices are typically small fractions of prices for components used only in more specialized applications. Thus, component costs for consumer-based wireless can be much lower than for proprietary counterparts. In addition, the pool of engineers competent to incorporate consumer standards into control-system designs is much larger than for proprietary standards. These macroeconomic forces drive integrators toward consumer-based standards whenever they are available and can do the job.





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