When Will Wireless Take Off?

April 11, 2008
When I laid out the plan for this series of special reports on wireless technologies in manufacturing last summer, I anticipated that there would be many successful applications that we could share, along with tips for success from the pioneers.

Turns out my crystal ball was a little cloudy. When Contributing Editor Dave Gehman went out in search of wireless sensor network users, no one wanted to talk. A few marketing managers at vendor companies were willing to discuss projects in progress, but only if we only quoted them, and not the customer. In fact, customers refused to participate.

In some cases, end-users feel that they are gaining a significant competitive advantage. They fear that discussing their successes will excite their competitors about the technology and they’ll lose their advantage. There are two problems with that idea. First, there is the first-mover advantage. The experience that their engineers and technicians gain will be their competitive advantage. After all, the technology suppliers are fervently trying to sell those technologies to everyone who will listen. As more companies adopt the technologies, then the price will drop. The second reason to promote their efforts lies in company image. A company in the forefront of technology adoption is in a good position to recruit the best new engineers. This perpetuates the competitive advantage.

Gehman’s research reveals that implementations of wireless technologies are growing. He also finds that the early adopters are doing well. There are several success stories from applications. The WirelessHart standard has been adopted and products are starting to appear. Momentum is apparent. When the ISA100 standard completes the approval cycle of the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society, then more suppliers will release products, and the momentum will grow. Maybe then, people won’t be shy about promoting their successes.