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Wireless mesh connectivity empowering the smart warehouses of the future

Wireless mesh connectivity empowering the smart warehouses of the future

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Chris Wall – Director of Sales at Rajant Corporation, discusses how a wireless mesh network and continuous mobile connectivity is enabling warehouse operators to meet growing fulfilment demand and the likes of mobile robots, devices and automated equipment can help augment worker productivity, automate difficult processes and optimise the accuracy of repetitive and high-volume tasks that are common in warehouses every day.

With many people shopping online, which only heightened during the Coronavirus pandemic, warehouse growth continues to climb. By 2025, Europe’s e-commerce segment is forecast to reach almost US $570 billion. It is abundantly clear that the pace of warehouse production is evolving and therefore, more innovative processes and operations need to be adopted.

This growing demand continues to trend upwards and therefore, only by harnessing the most optimal and reliable next-generation technologies can operations thrive. By becoming more efficient and productive, operators can transform operational effectiveness and generate increased Return on Investment (RoI). This is why many modern warehouse operators turn to advancing applications like robotics and automation for their everyday operations.

Traditional Wi-Fi falls short

Operators may have a host of interference concerns when outfitting their warehouses with network coverage to support automation. This can include obstructions that typically hinder connectivity, such as racks of metal shelving and equipment, as well as hallways that create corridors blocking wireless communications. Metal racks, for example, can cause multi-path reflections, and with a constant fluctuation of product storage, this can be notoriously unpredictable. The metal shelving blockages can disrupt the Wi-Fi signal to mobile equipment and impact its ability to roam in and out of cell areas seamlessly. In an industrial environment, dense infrastructure and RF obstructions are ever-present. Further, there are variable operating temperatures and conditions, large volumes of operational data and fleets of moving assets and people.

Warehouses require real-time data access and cannot afford any network downtime, data loss, or lag. But typical enterprise Wi-Fi is designed and built for fixed and predictable office settings. Operators may deploy one method to combat this is by adding extensive and costly access points on fixed infrastructure to bring reliable and mobile coverage. But coverage gaps can remain. Maintaining unfailing and continuous connectivity with autonomous systems and automated assets constantly in motion can be very difficult using this method as RF signals cannot overcome the obstacles mentioned.

Machine-to-Machine (M2M) wireless systems can ensure that warehouse operations run at optimum efficiency. They enable improved safety and accuracy and allow operators to meet fulfilment demands. But these wireless systems can face connectivity issues that prevent them from reaching their peak efficiency level as they rely on line of sight with fixed infrastructure. M2M communications run through Wi-Fi on fixed infrastructure and involve a Wi-Fi signal being sent from a single location. With machines traversing the warehouse floor, this signal can be interfered with affecting both coverage and signal strength. In turn, the machines dependent on M2M communication can seize to operate or be unable to send data to other devices.

High efficiency to meet warehouse demand

Automation of dangerous, complex, or repetitive processes improves safety and quality throughout the fulfilment process. As operators seek to meet rising fulfilment demand and workflows, continuous mobile connectivity helps systems run at optimal capacity. If automated systems experience any downtime or a drop in coverage, it can have a detrimental effect on productivity and speed of operations. Remotely guided machinery demands unfailing wireless communications.

A solution that can connect warehouse assets and autonomous systems using minimal infrastructure is paramount everywhere they roam. Being able to link directly with each other for M2M communications is the solution. A network that can provide a more extended range than typical indoor Wi-Fi access points will allow operators to support more applications, including handheld devices, RFID wands and additional Wi-Fi-based IIoT sensors.

Rajant’s Kinetic Mesh

While many networking providers may claim to have the level of mobility and autonomy in their technology, some still fall short. Rajant’s Kinetic Mesh provides wireless reliability inside with built-in redundancy for network stability, high bandwidth for video and high-speed sensor data, enhanced M2M communications and extended Wi-Fi range. Packets will always have a path home with improved reliability and security, even in challenging environments. With Rajant Kinetic Mesh, operations become smarter, more autonomous and mobile. This self-healing network can be implemented to support M2M communications between equipment on the move and enable autonomous operations.

Rajant BreadCrumb nodes can hold multiple connections over multiple frequencies simultaneously and work peer-to-peer to form robust and redundant links between warehouse assets that may be stationary or on the move. The wireless mesh network delivers fully mobile, scalable, high-capacity M2M connectivity systems needed to run seamlessly 24/7, 365 days a year. These compact, lightweight nodes can be easily deployed on both fixed and moving assets. Connectivity can be achieved around obstructions. The nodes can be placed directly onto equipment, robots and devices to operate easily in the hardest-to-network areas without adding significant infrastructure.

Rajant InstaMesh smart networking software orchestrates traffic among these meshed connections, dynamically selecting the fastest path for delivery. If a path becomes blocked or interference is sensed, InstaMesh will automatically route traffic via the next available pathway, maintaining mission-critical connectivity and ensuring that communications do not wane. It overcomes traditional wireless challenges by providing coverage, resiliency and mobility.

The tools to thrive

The appropriate mesh network is critical for warehouse managers who want confidence in there being no gaps in data collection. By accessing and using the data being transferred between devices in real-time, warehouses can make informed decisions about their operations to maximise their productivity gains. The continuous mobile connectivity can also be used for telemetry to monitor equipment health on-demand and in real-time. Predictive maintenance can enable longer life cycles of machines and less expenditure on repairs or replacements. 

With more significant insights into the status and performance of personnel and machines throughout the warehouse, operators can reduce the risk of disruptions, downtime and human danger. M2M communication powered by an intelligent and self-optimising mesh network can transform the modern warehouse operation.

A network that supports intelligent, automated technology will maximise fulfilment efficiency in busy warehouses. The deployment of a unique network that is reliable and redundant can vastly improve warehouse operators’ productivity, efficiency and profitability stakes. Having access to effective communications in a dynamic environment, such as a warehouse, can ensure that operations thrive now and in the future.

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