2009

Wireless Solutions Improve Communications and Productivity in Manufacturing Facilities

While automotive, aerospace, and high-tech equipment manufacturers are early adopters of wireless networks, the overall manufacturing industry has been slow in adoption.

A plausible theory for this slow adoption is that manufacturing plants are, by design, not the most ideal environments for wired networks — there is too much interference caused by equipment. Therefore, wireless technologies are gaining momentum as the communications technology of choice because they operate on a wavelength basis, rather than a copper cable.

altSurveys have shown that more than 60 percent of executives agree that a wireless infrastructure should be part of their business. A large majority of the high-level executives and management already use wireless communications, followed by the sales and marketing workforce, and trailed by field workers and production teams. These high usage percentages seem to illustrate that the ease and efficiency of inventory and asset management, employee scheduling and production monitoring — as well as safety — should be clear selling points for wireless communications. So what are the barriers to adoption?

Simply put, these barriers are the unknown:

  • Perceived complexity of the wireless install
  • Disruption to workflow
  • Cost
  • Business as usual is “fine”

Wireless/Cellular in Manufacturing

Cellular communications are now a primary means of voice and data transfer. However, a gap still remains to extending these frequencies indoors, across campuses, and in dense metropolitan areas. To fill the gap, in-building coverage solutions are being deployed that enable cellular usage and allow organizations to provide better reception, and manufacturing facilities are no exception.

Unlike traditional offices, manufacturing facilities have more in-depth needs for wireless communications. When integrated into manufacturing plants, these systems are utilized on shop floors and across multiple facilities to enable supervisors to monitor and expedite supply orders, as well as communicate with employees and customers. Because the workforce is mobile, desktop phones are not always sufficient. Wireless service providers can install a microcell and assign employees a four-digit extension, just like a landline. Once outside the facility, a traditional cellular network and telephone number takes over.

Most of the wireless/mobile applications involve logistics outside of the distribution center or the manufacturing plant. Plant managers and floor supervisors who are equipped with wire - less/mobile devices can track orders, supply inventories, locate delivery trucks, change orders, handle customer relations, and more — all without leaving the facility. The ability to communicate anytime, anywhere, will expedite manufacturing tasks, increase customer satisfaction, and produce high returns on investment (ROI).

On the shop floor, employees equipped with wireless devices gain visibility into real-time inventory data and are able to make efficient supply chain decisions. Floor managers possess information for just-in-time initiatives while enjoying the benefits of unparalleled data transaction mobility. With im proved material handling, floor managers are able to manage inventories more accurately while expediting re sponse and security measures. Further more, plant technicians can easily troubleshoot manufacturing and material handling equipment more efficiently, minimizing downtime while maintaining high levels of production.

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