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Emily Newton


Strong Warehouse Wi-Fi Design Improves Robotic Material-Handling

Understand your Wi-Fi environment

Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2023 - 12:02

It’s increasingly common for today’s warehouse managers to pursue robotic material-handling solutions. That approach can boost productivity, reduce injury rates, and enable companies to adjust to changing demands. However, before company decision-makers choose what kind of robots they want, they must carefully analyze the warehouse Wi-Fi design and determine whether it aligns with the company’s current and future needs.

Many robotic material-handlers use Wi-Fi for basic functionality. Strong Wi-Fi in an environment that uses material-handling robots enables machines to learn and recognize their surroundings while avoiding obstacles. This helps them operate safely and effectively.

Managers can also use data-transmission capabilities on some material-handling robots to get real-time information about a machine’s location, total moving time, or other specifics. Users can access a database to see how robotic handling equipment contributes to a company’s operations. However, a spotty Wi-Fi connection can cause the robot to lose the necessary signal, causing it to operate erratically or stop moving.

Conduct a wireless site survey

Most people have experienced frustrating situations caused by poor Wi-Fi coverage. Even if a building has relatively good connectivity, it can still have “black spots” where coverage is much less reliable and sometimes nonexistent. That can be hugely inconvenient when warehouse managers invest in robotic material-handling equipment they expect to help them do business.

A wireless site survey can helps people determine their current state of coverage, including whether existing access points meet a company’s needs. Access points are devices that create wireless local area networks (WLAN). Many are located in warehouses or other workplaces. Once people have that all-important information about coverage, it’s easier to determine the most appropriate technologies to fill in the gaps. Managers considering this kind of analysis should know there are three survey types, each addressing a different need.

Predictive surveys

Predictive surveys center on the best places to install access points before moving into a new space, and how those signals will travel based on machinery and furniture locations. Perhaps a company is building a warehouse from the ground up and knows robots will play a significant role in helping the new facility function. Predictive surveys let companies avoid the pitfalls of expecting the Wi-Fi infrastructure to fit their needs and later realizing it won’t.

Passive surveys

Passive site surveys occur during site construction or while installing and activating wireless equipment. Technicians perform these surveys with specialized software that doesn’t connect to an access point but scans to find channels and Wi-Fi networks. The software then analyzes the Wi-Fi environment, gathering details about signal strength, device traffic, interference, and other metrics. The results will give the installers details about interference and signal-to-noise ratios. Problems can then be resolved proactively before the warehouse becomes operational.

Active surveys

Active site surveys relate to individual or complete sets of signals. They provide details associated with signal strength and how well it travels through a facility. Thus, active site surveys are trusted troubleshooting methods when clients complain about their current infrastructure or report an issue that only began occurring recently.

Technicians perform active surveys by connecting a laptop to an access point, then using software to measure its signal strength, packet loss, traffic, and other key performance data. The outcomes indicate the radio frequency performance and associated signal propagation characteristics.

Outside of these three main types, companies may wish to create wireless network heat maps. These use a color-coded system to show where the coverage is strongest and weakest. The results show where improvements are necessary and reveal the best places to put equipment that requires extremely reliable connectivity.

Ask appropriate warehouse Wi-Fi design questions

A 2022 McKinsey survey found that robotic material-handling is already a widely used technology in today’s industrial environments. About 82 percent of respondents had already automated ground-movement material handling. Additionally, 77 percent of those polled said they’d automated material handling with forklifts. However, 71 percent said capital was the biggest barrier to implementing robots in their facilities.

Cost-related concerns help explain why the robots-as-a-service (RaaS) strategy has become so popular. RaaS companies only require payment once the robots begin performing as expected. Because people associated with these businesses generally handle all setup costs, they may also assist with warehouse Wi-Fi design concerns.

In any case, companies must evaluate every aspect of the necessary Wi-Fi connectivity and consider relevant questions. Those could include how many employees, devices, and pieces of equipment will typically use a connection at any time.

Another factor to ponder is how the robotic material-handling equipment will integrate with a company’s other resources. For example, many enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools offer real-time information that updates as transactions occur. In the best cases, software can trigger robots to respond, tasking them with filling orders as soon as they arrive. However, poor Wi-Fi coverage could make those ideals impossible or much harder to achieve.

Robust Wi-Fi coverage will also influence how people can control the chosen material-handling robots. One platform on the market allows users to manipulate at least 1,000 robots in spaces surpassing one million square feet. In such cases, individuals can explore creative solutions for making robots work together rather than assigning separate tasks to them.

Companies must also diagnose current pain points. For example, what shortcomings does the Wi-Fi network have at present, and what technologies could overcome those obstacles?

Should you consider a wireless mesh network?

Wireless mesh networks are becoming more popular. They’re groups of linked connectivity devices that communicate with each other and improve data routing. This setup allows a building to have multiple connectivity points rather than a single Wi-Fi router. People can also add more items as their needs increase.

However, mesh networks aren’t the right options for all cases. The overall installation costs are typically more expensive than conventional choices. Additionally, latency issues can result if one node has difficulty communicating with the one closest to it. Planning the placement of each node is critical for dependable performance.

Explore new technologies and innovations

Warehouse Wi-Fi design offers benefits to more than those using the connected equipment. It can also help the machines themselves work better. That was the case with an innovation developed by University of California-San Diego researchers. They created a solution using standard Wi-Fi to help robots navigate and recognize their environments. The approach involves using Wi-Fi sensors mounted on a robot that constantly send and receive access point information to map location and movements.

Companies that study what kind of Wi-Fi capabilities they need may find simulations helpful to avoid pitfalls and focus on their goals. Digital twins for network architecture are particularly advantageous because they allow people to build their networks without engaging in a costly trial-and-error approach.

Similarly, companies can use artificial intelligence and machine learning to test certain suggested configurations before committing to them. Wyebot and Ekahau offer artificial intelligence tools for Wi-Fi network design and troubleshooting. These options help leaders feel more confident about particular courses of action vs. others.

Wi-Fi makes robotic material-handling solutions work

Anyone involved with building the infrastructure for warehouse robots must account for current and future needs, especially if they intend to substantially scale up the number of material-handling machines over time. However, taking a methodical approach ensures trouble-free robotic technology used in the warehouse now, along with any future investments to help the company become more efficient and resilient.


About The Author

Emily Newton’s picture

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine exploring the innovations disrupting the scientific and industrial sectors.