Industry NewsNovember 24, 2023

Q&A: Expert Insights on Industrial Wireless with Cisco Systems

Smart manufacturing graphic

As a key enabling technology accelerating the digitization of industrial, industrial wireless is taking a role in shaping new directions for industrial automation.

Andrea Orioli, Director Product Management, IIoT Wireless for Cisco Systems, Inc. offers insights into the trends and technologies driving the growth of Industrial Wireless applications in smart manufacturing. Highlights include advances that are helping organizations deploy more Automated Guided Vehicles and Autonomous Mobile Robots, along with technology that is helping to improve sustainability KPIs. Wi-Fi 6/6E and Private 5G are making an impact by offering new enhancements that will deliver higher speeds and enhanced communications.

What key technology trends are enabling new Industrial Wireless Solutions?

Orioli: In every industry, organizations are accelerating digitization and increasing automation to improve productivity, reduce downtime or increase worker safety. Wireless is a key enabler for digitization. Not only is it required to connect remote, mobile, and difficult to access applications, but it’s extremely convenient. The elimination of network and cables offers organizations the ability to run their operations more efficiently, increase productivity, reconfigure their operations more easily, and reduce costs.

Many of the assets and applications that need to be connected in these industries have stringent network requirements. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), robots (AMRs) in manufacturing or logistics, and teleremote applications in ports and mines all require dependable connectivity. These mobile assets can create safety risks to personnel or stop complete production if they lose their wireless connections. A wireless network that provides high-data rates, ultra-low latency, fast hand-offs, and high reliability is a must, specifically in dynamic environments with shifting dead zones and RF interference patterns.

What we have seen in the past years is the advancement of wireless technologies to address these needs, such as Wi-Fi 6/6E and private 5G. At Cisco we have enhanced our Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul (URWB) technology to increase throughput and reliability.

How are Industrial 5G and WiFi 6 making an impact in the smart factory?

Orioli: Networking for manufacturing has some of the most stringent requirements among the industrial use cases. Any glitch in the operational network could mean stoppage of the production line, leading to lost revenue and wasted materials. In the past, wireless was used mostly to connect non-critical tools, sensors, and handhelds. Today, with more reliable wireless technologies, it is possible for critical assets and applications to be connected wirelessly.

Advances in wireless technologies are also making it possible for organizations to deploy more Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and other mobile assets to enhance productivity. These assets need not only high reliability and low latency, but they also need seamless roaming and zero packet loss during handoffs. Which is challenging in the environments they operate in the presence of obstacles and RF interference.

New wireless technologies are also helping organization improve their sustainability KPIs, which is becoming more and more important to more organizations each day. Wireless technologies can help by improving the power consumption of industrial assets. This can be achieved only with a reliable, predictable, wireless infrastructure.

What specific technology benefits do these new industrial wireless solutions offer? What unique capabilities do they offer compared to existing solutions?

Orioli: Connecting assets and applications in manufacturing requires a highly reliable wireless network that provides high throughput, low latency, fast hand-offs with zero packet loss, specifically in dynamic environments with the presence of obstacles and changing RF interference patterns.

Private 5G introduces new enhancements and promises to deliver higher speeds and enhanced communications as well as highly reliable communications with ultra-low latencies. Wi-Fi 6/6E delivers higher bandwidths and lower latency than previous generations, allows for more devices to be connected and it is much more power efficient.

Cisco URWB delivers high-speed, ultra-reliability, ultra-low latency, and seamless handoffs. URWB is built on 802.11 standards and deploys just like Wi-Fi. Multipath Operations protects critical communication and provides uninterrupted connectivity to fast moving devices by sending high-priority packets via redundant paths. It can duplicate protected traffic up to 8x, avoid common paths and works alongside hardware availability. The result is not only lower latency and higher availability, but also less effects of interference and hardware failures.

What application areas are the newest Industrial Wireless solutions targeting? What is the status of the use of wireless for industrial control?

Orioli: The elimination of network and cables enables manufacturers to run their operations more efficiently, increase productivity, reconfigure plant floors more easily, and reduce costs. Wireless makes it easier to deploy additional machines, sensors and PLCs. AGVs and AMRs are being deployed to move materials within the factory or between the factory and warehouses.

Private 5G, Wi-Fi 6/6E and Cisco URWB all address the needs for faster and more reliable connectivity, but they all vary not only in terms of performance but also in deployment costs and complexity.

Private 5G is still not available everywhere and it comes with spectrum, cost, and complexity issues. Wi-Fi operates in unlicensed spectrum which lowers the TCO when compared to P5G and could be preferred for organizations that prefer a standardized solution in multiple geographies, but the variability in performance due to RF interference and number of devices connected might not be the primary choice for critical applications.

We’ll continue to see organizations use a combination of different wireless technologies that best meet the operational requirements for specific applications. Apart from the technical criteria like bandwidth and latency, organizations are considering other conditions like spectrum costs and availability as well as deployment costs and complexity.

What are challenges that automation engineers face that advances in industrial wireless are helping to address?

Orioli: Main challenges of deploying wireless in industrial environments include the need for resiliency, high throughput, and low latency as well as high device density and radio interference.

Wi-Fi 6E, which offers up to 1.2 GHz more spectrum, and 5G’s enhanced Mobile Broadband Profile (eMBB) can address the need for increased throughput while solving concerns regarding interferences and high-density support.

Time-sensitive critical applications need high reliability and low latency. Connected devices that are moving at high speed also need seamless handoffs and zero packet loss. Technologies like Cisco URWB can be used to support these use cases.

We have seen organizations adopting these new wireless technologies to enable more automation and increase efficiency. They have been improving their wireless strategy by adding new technologies for specific applications. For example, we have a number of customers in manufacturing that have adopted Cisco URWB to support their AVGs and AMRs and other critical applications, while continuing to support Wi-Fi for other less critical applications.