So, what’s the difference? Isn’t WiFi just WiFi?

Well, that’s kind of true. However, there are some significant differences between industrial WiFi and everything else. These can be broken out into three different aspects:

  • Environmental
  • Equipment
  • Rules of engagement

The industrial and/or manufacturing environment is completely different from anything else. In these unique environments, office spaces are small and far between. Many places consist of massive pieces of machinery arranged throughout gigantic warehouses. Everything is metal, comprised of various sizes and shapes surrounded by yet more metal encasing. Some might incorporate large glass windows, but is not just plain glass, no sir, it’s more like what you see on the front of your microwave at home. The glass has lots of metal wires crisscrossing through it for structural reinforcement, think “Faraday cage”. Sometimes there is 20 to 40 feet of open space overhead. Often that space is filled with all manner of piping and conduit. Add to all of this, the possibility of non-WiFi generated RF interference that could come from anywhere. Every location is different, but one thing is consistent, its all hostile territory for WiFi.

Much greater attention must be paid to the equipment that is deployed when it comes to industrial WiFi. In many cases the installation is not so much about high throughput, but survivability. Often, access points need to be able to deal with high temperatures, high humidity, or massive amounts of dust. Quite often, INDOOR access points need to be IP66 or IP67 environmentally rated.

Then there is the wired infrastructure that goes along with the design that must be reckoned with. Strategically placing IDF cabinets in locations that are both safe and convenient for access point placement is a challenge itself. Determining what type of cabling to use for data back-haul can be a challenge due to the environment as well.

In general, industrial IT, or OT as it is referred too, is played by a different set of rules as opposed to traditional IT. Because what ever the facility is making, creating, assembling or packaging is a specific kind of process. This process can be continuous, batch based, or it can be more discrete manufacturing. For both financial and safety reasons, the process simply cannot be stopped or paused so that the OT Administrator can reboot a server, switch or an access point, or take an asset offline for updates. While wireless access points are not usually considered mission critical, the switches they connect to and the rest of the network upstream most certainly is. It is not unusual to have to wait for specific plant outage dates before normal network maintenance, wired or wireless, can be performed, that in a standard business environment can be done much more frequently.

With the latest advancements in smart manufacturing and what is known as Industry 4.0, the industrial process has become reliant upon their OT networks. Wireless is becoming more and more prevalent in industry as a cost-effective alternative to expensive cabling ventures, be it copper or fiber. With that comes all the responsibility of catering to that process or manufacturing schedule.

So, while Industrial WiFi makes use of the same tools and hopes to reach the same connectivity goals as mainstream wireless networking , the playing field is a bit different.

Follow this blog as I share my experiences, blunders, how-to’s, tips and opinions in all things OT Wireless from the wonderful world of industrial WiFi!

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