Improving Wireless Systems for the Factory Floor

13 February 2017

An ongoing study by a team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology aims to address the issues around using wireless communications on the factory floor.

The study, Wireless Systems for Industrial Environments, partners NIST staffers with private-sector collaborators to build a test bed usable in different industrial environments.

Industrial communications systems often do not tolerate communication faults. Systems based on new standards, such as IEEE 802.11, appear to offer great flexibility in a factory environment. Engineers still hesitate to adopt these systems, however, citing ongoing concerns with reliability and security.

Understanding how RF platforms work in industrial environments is central to developing robust systems that work reliably. Many factors can affect RF propagation—heat, vibration, reflection, interference, and shielding.

The NIST team recently published a study reporting tests conducted at three facilities representing common industrial environments: a multi-acre transmission assembly factory typical of the automotive industry; a small-sized machine shop primarily engaged in metalworking; and a steam generation plant located on the NIST campus in Boulder, Colo. The study data demonstrate how each environment makes an impact on radio waves during transmission, providing a basis for designing an appropriate communications system.

NIST is actively recruiting partners to expand testing venues. The team will present a panel session on wireless networking for industrial automation on March 13, 2017, at the IEEE Sensors Applications Symposium at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@ieeeglobalspec.com

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