Will automotive industry use less wireless because of recession?

Will automotive industry decrease spending on wireless technologies because of recession? Frost & Sullivan Industrial Automation and Process Control group suggests wireless technologies can be a good investment across industries. See table, three key points, and links to more information.

02/24/2009


Will the automotive industry use less wireless because of recession? Khadambari Shanbagaraman, research analyst from Frost & Sullivan Industrial Automation and Process Control group, points to a conflict that carries into other industries, as well. Applying wireless technologies in industrial applications adds efficiencies and saves money, but there's extreme budgetary pressure right now.

Wireless devices in European factory automation: Frost & Sullivan notes benefits, concerns
Automobile industry42.3%
Food and beverages industry24.2%
Plastics industry18.3%
Semiconductor industry8.7%
Fabrication metal industry6.5%

Shanbagaraman says the automotive industry has taken the lead in wireless adoption among the discrete industries. But the impact of global recession on the automotive industry is likely to restrain the extent of wireless investments in the short-term future. Currently, the European automotive industry contributes close to 42% of total wireless market in discrete industries (see table). There are various factors that drive the wireless adoption across the automotive industry, such as the need for real time data, work-force mobility, and substantial saving in cabling costs.
For the moment, the automotive industry is under strict budgetary pressure. While wireless devices are perceived as the next big technological wave in factory automation, current adoption trends are moderate at best, Shanbagaraman says. End-users have concerns about robustness of wireless devices, citing reliability, security, and interoperability as issues as well, he adds.
Shanbagaraman's views on wireless concerns, advantages, and expectations follow.
1. Concerns using wireless devices
Major concerns towards wireless adoption in factory automation are reliability and security. End-users perceive that for a plant to operate round-the-clock, the current wireless technology does not provide the necessary robustness. This is mainly because of the possibility of many technical issues, such as signal mismatch, electromagnetic induction, data loss in transmission, and other interference problems, that are common in a factory automation environment. For example, in industries such as automotive and plastics, inconsistent wireless connectivity occurs due to disturbances from metal grids present in the plant. Data transmitted wirelessly can be easily hacked and hence, must be properly encrypted and decrypted for secured transmission. Additionally, end user conservatism, which is evident in industries such as food and beverages and plastics, is restraining investments into wireless devices as the end users are less willing to implement the new technology without being assured of its potential benefits. Many end users indicate that they might jeopardize their current operations if they shift to this new technology. There are also other concerns, such as high initial investment cost, lower battery life of the devices, interoperability of the device and non-uniform wireless standards, which are currently hampering wireless device adoption.
2. Why adopt wireless for factory automation?
The key reason for wireless adoption in factory automation is the need for real time data and work-force mobility. Wireless devices track the state of the silicon wafers in the semiconductor industry and are involved in the diagnostic testing of the vehicles in the automotive industry. In these two applications the real time data are very crucial, which are efficiently obtained through use of wireless devices. End users indicate that constant monitoring of the processes is a major requirement in the factory automation set-up, as this would ensure quality at the end of the every process. Work force mobility is enhanced using wireless devices such as PDAs in numerous applications, which previously required the operator to spend more effort.
In packaging industries, the wireless modems fixed to the end users’ machines enable technicians to remotely diagnose and fix machines in case of machine malfunction, and this significantly reduces manual labor. Wireless devices offer greater flexibility and cost-reduction in monitoring and alerting applications. Cabling costs and installation costs are reduced by using wireless technology in the remote applications, prevalent in most industrial segments. Wireless devices also offer the possibility of measurements in areas that are difficult to access by cables, such as moving or inaccessible parts. Temperature measurements from furnace or rotating coils present in semiconductor industry are now possible by use of wireless devices. End users believe that the plant performance could be greatly improved with the availability of these untapped critical information.
3. Expectations from suppliers
Despite the available potential, the penetration of wireless devices into the factory automation environment has not been up to the expected level. The wireless device vendors must take the first step in addressing all the technical issues surrounding wireless technology. Educating end-users about the wireless products and their benefits can help change minds. This in turn will help the suppliers to learn about the end users’ requirements, and would help them in offering the best suited wireless solution. Offering the end users products for testing and trials is also an important step towards increasing wireless adoption.
Overall, the adoption of wireless in factory automation is expected to increase gradually as more end users realize the benefits of wireless technology, Shanbagaraman says.
More information on this research is available from Joanna Lewandowska, Frost & Sullivan corporate communications.
From Control Engineering , see the

Industrial Wireless Implementation Guide

.
– Edited by Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief
Control Engineering News Desk
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