Wireless communication is a key part of most manufacturing and distribution operations. Many companies, however, don’t revisit their wireless installation once the access points are in place. But wireless networks have to change and evolve with your business and keep pace with technology advancements that can provide improved performance.
If it’s been a few years since you had a network upgrade, it’s time to take a hard look at your industrial wireless network to determine if it’s time for an overhaul or a few minor adjustments. Here are four tips for identifying your company’s wireless networking needs.
1. Re-evaluate your wireless and mobility needs. Has your mobile environment changed in recent years? If your facilities now handle more (or different) inventory, higher density racking, faster vehicles, or more employees, you may need to expand or replace your network.
In addition, the network should support a variety of rugged and consumer-style mobile devices, including laptops, tablets, smartphones, and handheld computers running different operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows). Those devices will also run more data, voice, and video applications, further straining capacity. The number of devices accessing your wireless network will continue to grow, so it is important to make sure you’ve got the bandwidth to support that growth. New WLAN systems offer 100 mbps data rates and that will soon expand to as much as 450 mbps.
2. Conduct a risk assessment. Can your current network support the type of encryption and security your applications require? While the mobile devices in your warehouse may not contain any valuable data, the network itself may present a vulnerability, allowing hackers access to your corporate servers and sensitive customer data. Your wireless infrastructure should support features such as WPA2 authentication, Integrated Access Control List functionality, firewalls, and multiple configuration methods.
3. Utilize network monitoring and troubleshooting tools. Optimizing the network and avoiding unexpected downtime should be key priorities, and are enabled by the use of real-time monitoring and management tools. There are now tools available that will let your IT administrators spot any gaps in coverage, identify problematic devices or access points, monitor network security, and control device access. Implementing these tools can help save time by proactively addressing network problems before they result in downtime, as well as assist you with staying on top of your changing wireless network needs.
4. Bring the shop floor and back office together. Do you need a WLAN that extends from the manufacturing/distribution facility to the carpeted, back office environment? Find a unified network solution that allows you to address the different needs of these two environments without isolating either of them. Running segregated networks can increase IT support costs while making it difficult for supervisors to roam between the two systems.
Your wireless network isn’t a one-time infrastructure investment. Your networking needs will change and expand over time. If your network doesn’t keep pace with those changes, you could create bottlenecks or security risks that can impact productivity and customer service. Refer to these four tips whenever you feel the need to make changes to your wireless network.