Parker Hannifin sees widespread applications for wireless networking

Cleveland, O. - Newly available wireless networking technologies are likely to find widespread use in a range of industrial applications, according to Parker Hannifin Corp., a leading diversified supplier of motion and control technologies and systems.


Cleveland, O. - Newly available wireless networking technologies are likely to find widespread use in a range of industrial applications, according to Parker Hannifin Corp. , a leading diversified supplier of motion and control technologies and systems.

The company recently reported that it foresees significant applications for the Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11b wireless standards in climate and industrial controls, industrial automation and in a variety of mobile systems and equipment. Parker says it was the first to demonstrate Bluetooth-enabled industrial products last spring at Hannover Fair 2001, and subsequently demonstrated prototypes in the U.S., Brazil, Sweden and Finland. Parker expects to bring these products to market in early 2002.

Bluetooth is a recently established standard for short-range wireless communications and networking that combines robustness, small size, low power consumption and low cost. IEEE 802.11b, also known as Wi-Fi, offers faster wireless networking than Bluetooth, but without Bluetooth's size, cost and low power advantages. Although the two networking standards may be similar, they are not incompatible, and both are expected to find broad application in the marketplace.

In fact, initial 802.11b-based networks and Bluetooth-enabled telecommunications and computer products are already coming to market. Cahners' In-Stat Group (Scottsdale, Ariz.) projects that worldwide revenues from 802.11b equipment will exceed $2 billion by 2004. In-Stat also forecasts that the market for Bluetooth-enabled equipment will hit $5 billion by 2005.

These forecasts assume the bulk of wireless opportunities will occur in telecommunications, personal computing, and office and retail environments. However, Parker and several other companies see equal or even greater potential demand for wireless solutions in industrial markets.

'The possibilities for these wireless technologies to add value in monitoring, control and industrial-system configuration are tremendous,' says Sandy Harper, Parker's senior R&D project engineer and its wireless solutions project manager. 'One of the key benefits is the elimination of cables and connectors from the manufacturing floor. This, in turn, speeds installation and reduces maintenance and troubleshooting headaches.'

New wireless technologies will enable machines to be programmed, actuated and automatically report their status back to a central controller or to an operator with a pocket PC or other valid wireless device, even a cell phone, she says. New wireless protocols also could possibly enable manufacturers to greatly reduce the inventories of multiple protocol platforms they must now maintain.

'We believe Bluetooth and Wi-Fi represent the next big productivity leap in industrial automation and lean manufacturing,' adds Ms. Harper. 'We see these wireless technologies first being deployed in new systems and equipment, and later penetrating the existing installed base. Even at $10 or more for a Bluetooth sensor, the cost savings to industrial users from going wireless would be significant.'

Parker's research teams have been exploring potential industrial applications for both Bluetooth and 802.11b. Although there are currently only a handful of approved Bluetooth communication profiles that can be applied to industrial automation products, Parker's teams have installed Bluetooth electronics in two pneumatic products to demonstrate wireless applications to customers.

The company is looking to partner with customers to develop other products that incorporate wireless technology with advanced systems designed by Parker.

The company adds the typical industrial environment has thousands of access points for potential replacement with low-cost wireless sensors. For example, in one industrial valve control system under development at Parker, 14 tiny Bluetooth wireless sensors will replace 14 cables, 28 connectors and eight input-output modules.

Eliminating miles of cables and wiring should prove particularly attractive to many industries, such as food processing and pharmaceuticals, which require an ultra-clean environment. Moreover, in some other industries, it has not even been possible to use wires because of harsh operating conditions or other restrictions. The new wireless technologies will eliminate many of these limitations, and permit cost-effective, low-hazard data collection and equipment control.

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