The role of wireless technologies in modern production

Looking at industrial robotic systems alone, research firm McKinsey predicted in its 2018 Industrial robotics report that global industrial robot sales would reach 421,000 for that year – a 10.5 per cent increase from the 381,000 sold in 2017.

In late 2019, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) reported that 422,000 were shipped in 2018 – outstripping McKinsey’s estimate by 1,000.

It has been roughly a decade since the phrase ‘Industry 4.0’ was first uttered at the legendary Hannover Fair in Germany in 2011. Digital technologies have become increasingly common in industrial environments and central to this is wireless serial communication.

For many businesses, both locally and abroad, smart factories have brought renewed focus to industrial networking capabilities. Newer communication protocols and technologies such as EtherNet/IP, RFID and Bluetooth are certainly making their presence known on the factory floor.

Wireless is invaluable in any industry or application that makes regular use of motion applications with communication cables.

In the past, many were subject to trailing communications cables that proved problematic for two reasons, the first being that the motion of the systems means the cables are often damaged or disconnected during operations, leading to frequent maintenance or replacement and higher operating expenditure (OPEX). Secondly, the design of some systems require communication cables to be run in close proximity to high voltage power cables.

This is where the EX600-W wireless fieldbus system comes in. It is designed in response to the ever-growing need for reliable, wireless communication technologies on the factory floor. The system allows industrial businesses to achieve consistent, noise-free communication. Data is encrypted and is quick to connect and modify.

This innovative flexibility means less cables, maintenance, breakage, and disconnection issues on the factory floor.

Where wireless all began

Modern wireless communication technology can be traced back to German physicist, Heinrich Hertz.

In 1888, Hertz proved the existence of radio waves – something that until that point had been merely theorised by James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism, or Maxwell’s equations.

Six years later, Guglielmo Marconi began experimenting with what were then, and until
1910, known as Hertzian waves to develop long distance wireless transmission systems.

This led to the development of a wireless telegraph system and laid the groundwork for the eventual development of radio broadcast transmission. 100 years later, in the 1990s, the world witnessed a wireless boom!

Cabling choices

There are two main types of cabling used in modern industrial settings: copper and fibre optic (FO) cables. Traditionally, copper cabling has been favoured in the factory setting but more recently there have been a few shortfalls and safety concerns.

Firstly, it is limited in the volume of data flow that it can allow – something that will
become increasingly troublesome as Industry 4.0 technologies continue to develop. Secondly, it can present a spark risk if damaged which makes it unsafe. Finally, its inherently susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI) from other industrial applications.

FO cabling overcomes many of these problems. It boasts data transmission speeds of up
to 10 Gbps and can be used for much longer runs of up to 2km*. In addition, FO cables addresses concerns around safety risks, but it is important to note that is more expensive and requires a specialist to assist with the installation.

Signal Interference

EMI is a mounting problem in the modern industrial environment. Electric motors, which are understandably common in industrial environments, are prime culprits for causing
harmful EM emissions that can radiate and interfere with nearby electrical and communications networks.

For communications, this interference can mean data degradation and signal loss,
which makes the performance of affected equipment become unreliable and not ideal for high value or precision manufacturing.

Engineers should typically avoid running communication cables parallel to high voltage power cables, as the noise induced can cause communication loss or component damage. Yet this is the case for some industrial applications such as some industrial robotics, where wiring is confined to a set space.

Clearly, there is a pressing need for wireless technologies to revolutionise serial communication in industrial environments.

More about the EX600-W Wireless

This decentralised wireless fieldbus system bypasses the need for network cables.

The system is easy to integrate into existing setups with minimal time required. The
communication with remote units can begin in as little as 250 ms. The base unit is connected to a standard industrial Ethernet connection such as Ethernet/IP or PROFINET. The base can wirelessly communicate and control up to 127 remote units in a range of up to 10 metres.

These remote units can be fitted onto analogue, digital, and pneumatic equipment to
provide control functionality of I/O and valves. The system has one IP address, so it boasts
decentralised point-to-multipoint communication.

Achieving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)

More than a buzzword, OEE acts a key metric to measure the performance of your production processes. The focus is on losses in production and can be categorise as follows: availability, performance, and quality.

Availability × Performance × Quality, or (Good Count × Ideal Cycle Time)/ Planned Production Time.

Adapted from White Paper produced by SMC EU: ‘The Role of Wireless in Modern Production’

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