Analysts predict that we are entering a time where we will be short by up to 2 million industrial jobs by the year 2030. It is something we might call the Great Industrial Paradox: where technology advances to such a degree that it ostensibly appears that there should be less work and fewer employees required. However, this “robots will replace us” view is not only wrong; the reality is quite the opposite. Warehouses have especially seen this paradox at play, with the pandemic exposing the weaknesses of the supply chain and the consistent need for more workers, even in the face of massive technological advancements.
Companies can use automated systems to improve their warehouse operations via machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and deploy wireless mesh networks throughout their facilities to interconnect their workers better. This saves crucial time when it is desperately needed, proactively exposes weaknesses in daily tasks, and simplifies some of the incongruencies experienced by workers in real-time. Shop floor managers and warehouse workers can't afford downtime and recognize that non-stop connectivity provided by a dependable network is essential for short-term and long-term success.
Today, most warehouse communications require a fixed infrastructure, including fiber optic cables, ethernet, mini cell towers, or wireless access points. These limit communication coverage since they are stationary, but advancing applications like automation, telematics, and robotics equipped with M2M capabilities solve this aspect of the issue.
M2M wireless systems are great for making warehouse operations run at peak efficiency since they allow robotics and autonomous platforms to communicate with one another. This helps to keep up with fulfillment demands, productivity speed, safety, and accuracy. However pleasant this may sound, most networking systems in a warehouse face connectivity issues that obstruct them from an optimal workflow since most depend on line of sight (LOS). With fixed assets aligned to fixed network infrastructure, this is something that isn’t to be worried about. But rarely is this the case in modern warehousing due to all of the advances in automation and robotics, which creates a sort of conundrum.
Typically, warehouses experiencing signal blockage issues have only one way to solve them: adding more network infrastructure. This increases annual maintenance costs year-over-year, and network interruptions and blindspots can still exist. Warehouse operators should consider mesh networks when looking to solve connectivity issues and enhance their M2M communication.
A mesh system is a network enabling M2M communication along with Wi-Fi, creating large-scale connectivity capabilities with multiple concurrent radio frequency channels through various devices without losing connection. In the warehouse setting, a mesh network allows for continuous autonomous operations to take place and run smoothly.
Network nodes can be placed on fixed as well as moving assets, allowing for continuous connectivity throughout the warehouse. As moving assets roam around the site, they can link directly with one another or to the fixed assets to enable M2M communication. These nodes enable a longer range than Wi-Fi access points, making it possible for a warehouse to maintain constant communication and reduce downtime.
Filling the Gaps
Mesh networks allow a warehouse to operate at peak efficiency without ever taking a break or dealing with unexpected network downtime. Once in place, it keeps doing its job as the connective nodes interact with one another, so the warehouse will have less downtime on any given day. Even in the hardest to network areas — such as between racks — the machines can still receive a signal without adding significant infrastructure, proving why M2M nodes are so important to warehouse-wide connectivity. The right mesh network also allows warehouses to run other applications, such as video streaming, CCTV, and telemetry for equipment.
Using an efficient M2M communication system allows warehouses to access and use all the data that is being transferred between devices without missing a beat. In an effective mesh network, warehouse managers know there isn’t a gap in data collection. They can collect valuable M2M data to create reports to make truly informed decisions about their operations. This creates a cycle of betterment for the warehouse as simplification of procedures and awareness of flaws, however minor, become an intuitive and integral part of their working industrial ecosystem.
M2M communication powered by the right mesh network can drastically improve the way warehouses operate. Investing in these networks enhances the warehouse workflow and leads to more efficient operations, including less downtime and more connectivity capabilities within the physical warehouse itself.
Geoff Smith is executive vice president of Rajant Corporation.
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