Taking Wi-Fi to Work

Few things are more pathetic than watching road warriors in search of a “hot spot”—that is, a place where we can connect our beloved laptop computers to the Internet wirelessly over what is known popularly as Wi-Fi.

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Wireless Fidelity (did you even know that Wi-Fi was a shortened nickname for a real term?) is not wireless Ethernet, technically speaking. It is effectively the same as the wired Ethernet connection—and our pathway to the Internet from conference rooms, hotel lobbies, coffee shops or wherever. Even sometimes our patios for those who work at home in times of good weather.

Wireless in manufacturing is not just for sensors. Operators with mobile computing devices such as laptops, personal digital assistants or tablet personal computers can be freed from the shackles of the control room and keep tabs on the plant’s operations while physically checking out situations in the field. This can be a tremendous productivity boost—something desperately needed in the current economic climate. But it can be a boon to maintenance technicians, as well. They can communicate with the maintenance management system to follow up on alerts, check out technical documents for the device they are working on and report potential problems they may observe just by walking around and being aware of the plant.

Wi-Fi is based on a standard—802.11 of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE. That’s a reminder that we in manufacturing can use commercially available standards that do a perfectly good job in our plants. We just need to use good information technology governance techniques—use security protection, for example. Wireless is not just sensor networks. What else can make your plant better if it doesn’t require wires?

Check out an archived Webcast on Enabling a Mobile and More Efficient Workforce at www.automationworld.com/webcast-4582.

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