Often times what makes a business truly successful isn't what you see but what you don't. It's the behind the scenes efforts, the unsung hero of the business world, the warehouse.
This unique environment is an essential part of almost every organization’s operations and is the heart from which all materials, products and merchandise flow. Retailers are leading the trend of embracing wireless network technologies to revolutionize their warehouse operations and gain ground on their competition.
However, when your day-to-day operations depends highly on seamless, uninterrupted connectivity, it is vital to ensure that your warehouse WiFi infrastructure can support those requirements.
While there are many challenges to providing a high-performing industrial wireless network, there are some simple best practices that will make sure your network can manage these demands.
What seems to be the problem?
1. Covering Large Areas
Is it possible to do? Yes. Even with the common obstruction issues found in most warehouses, it is definitely possible to successfully deploy access points that have the ability to cover very large spaces.
But this isn't typically the problem. Your big issue is your mobile devices and their limited power output or in other words how loud they can talk to your access points.
Imagine your access points communicate through a very large pa system and your mobile devices (scanners etc.) only have a rolled up magazine, your mobile devices will hear your ap's but your ap's will most likely not hear your devices.
It's important to adjust your ap's power levels for the right balance, start at 50% and then tweak if from there. It's also critical that you always plan your network around the lowest powered devices and that your wireless network design is using the right antenna types.
2. Different Materials - "The Stock Effect"
Every warehouse is different, storing all kinds of goods, products and/or raw materials, all of which will affect your Wi-Fi performance in different ways. A warehouse stocked with clothes or pillows will perform differently than one with metal trash bins sitting on wood shelving or rows of electronic parts sitting on metal.
This is why it is essential to have a proper wireless site survey and RF design completed beforehand. Your warehouse Wi-Fi network deployment should take into account what types of materials you will have stocked and plan for it accordingly, this will ensure you don't run into performance issues later.
3. Dynamic Environment
For the typical wireless network the physical environment rarely changes and usually remains static; you design for it once and then deal with changes every so often. There may be walls and furniture that serve as sources of attenuation but these are fixed and rarely rearranged. The dynamic part is mostly the people and mobile devices moving around.
In contrast, the typical warehouse has a dynamic and often changing environment. Goods are moved around, constantly changing the environment's WiFi signal propagation. Roaming makes the top of the list of the primary issues with wireless connectivity in the warehouse environment and it has a lot of it going around.
Again this is a design issue and needs to be planned for with proper antenna placement, channel assignments and access point distribution.
4. Device proliferation
Real-time voice and data communications are essential in a warehouse’s day-to-day operations. Mobile devices allow the exchange of instructions and updates for better real-time project management. However, the harsh physical environment makes it hard for these devices to withstand these conditions.
Warehouses are dirty and dusty and everyone and everything move as fast as possible. These devices must be designed to stand up to these harsh physical conditions while still meeting industry WiFi standards to ensure interoperability.
Moreover, BYOD is everywhere. Personal devices, like mobile phones and tablets, will compete for bandwidth on the warehouse WiFi network. This is why personal devices either need to be factored into the initial design or completely banned from the warehouse.
WiFi has greatly improved the efficiency in warehouse management. However, they have also made them critically reliant on a technology that can sometimes be complex to troubleshoot. Any interruption or downtime in the network can completely halt operations at the expense of the organization.
There is, however, a way to avoid these issues. There are solutions available to ensure efficient operations regardless of the harsh demands placed on it by this challenging environment. The first step, is to plan your WiFi deployment well in advance, and always ask yourself:
- What am I trying to do using WiFi?
- What business applications am I trying to implement?
- What do I need to make that a successful reality?
If you're experiencing issues with an existing network, contact us here and we will be glad to help.