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Industrial wireless LAN promises secure, fast logistics control

30 November 2010

The rise in order-related production in the automotive industry presents production logistics with new challenges – getting the right body, in the right place, at the right time!

While things can still be organised in the body shop by means of a logical sequence of work steps, when it comes to the paint shop an intelligent combination of identification and logistics control that can be efficiently optimised by the use of industrial WLAN is a good solution.

Compared to more traditional fixed cabled networks, Industrial Wireless LAN (IWLAN) enables high-speed and secure transfer of data for logistics operations. The main advantages of such a solution include simple and flexible access to mobile nodes, and savings on maintenance costs.

Automated guided vehicle systems, for example, can receive data without cables, and they remain flexible in the choice of route. Maintenance work is simplified and reduced, and service and standstill times are also reduced.

A further benefit of wireless communication is the avoidance of accidents in areas with moving parts. In the case of remote operation, service and maintenance using IWLAN, areas presenting a potential injury hazard to personnel can be better restricted.

Order-related production
Reliable, centrally controlled IWLAN solutions and their high flexibility also, however, can enable the individual logistics and control necessary to ensure up-to-date, order-related production. Processes can be more easily monitored, and production failures avoided. In addition, the wireless networks can be expanded at any time with additional mobile nodes at no significant cost.

Siemens offers products that emphasize the ‘I’ (industrial) in IWLAN, especially with regard to their ruggedness in the industrial environment. This was a vital consideration for an application in the BMW plant in Dingolfing, Germany. The plant manufactures around 1,200 BMW cars every day, as well as aluminum bodies for Rolls-Royce on a job order basis. The plant has a sort to help increase production flexibility while maintaining a certain buffer. Here, the bodies coming from the body shop are distributed on an order-related basis among 40 lanes to the downstream paint shop. For this purpose, two transfer trucks are used in each of three lanes, to which the identification information of the code carrier of the host computer is transferred via an IWLAN solution using components of the Scalance W product family from Siemens.

Secure and compatible
The benefits of the rapid spread of WLAN in home, office and public areas include increased flexibility and lower costs than wired infrastructures. The BMW Group also uses these advantages in Dingolfing in the industrial environment, where the IWLAN installation in the sort store replaces an older system that employed components designed for use in an office. One of the decisive factors was the problem of spare parts in the fast-moving market of conventional IT products, and the drive to use only products from a standardised platform as far as possible. Added to this is the fact that the Scalance W components from Siemens have been especially developed for harsh industrial use, and for increased requirements with regard to ruggedness, reliability, determinism, and security of the information networks.

Security is a vital consideration in wireless communications. Scalance W offers a ‘Security Wizard’ as an installation aid. This simplifies setup of the WPA access rights (Wi-Fi Protected Access) that assigns the security gaps of the older WEP standard (Wired Equivalent Privacy) to the past, ensuring secure authentication. The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is used. Its 128-bit long codes are changed at a frequency that is inaccessible to outsiders.
A host of other features of the vibration-proof and shock-proof Scalance W products also makes them suitable for use in industry. For example, a flexible power supply, and an I65 rated metal housing. For controllers and I/O devices with cyclic data exchange, there is also the option of reserving a data rate in advance for critical clients for the purpose of implementing time-critical connections as well.

Industrial Wireless LAN stands for wireless communication in industry and was founded by Siemens. It is based on international standards such as IEEE 802.11 for 2.4 and 5 GHz, and data rates up to 54 Mbit/s. The IWLAN products in the Simatic NET range are oriented selectively around requirements in industrial use – reliable communication through "I" features (industry features) such as rugged design for harsh industrial use, and security of the transferred data by means of up-to-date encryption algorithms. This opens up solutions that are otherwise scarcely possible with this level of integration, and that also encompass deterministic, safety-related (Profisafe) or real-time tasks with transfer times in the millisecond range.

From conveyor systems and logistics, through production lines requiring flexible conversion, right up to rotating machine units: Wireless communication also offers significant savings potential thanks to lower installation costs, reduced susceptibility to wear and tear, and minimum maintenance. Added to this is the fact that in conventional fixed networks, many expansions were either impossible or only feasible at high cost. As well as the usual primary purpose of transferring control data for mobile units, the same IWLAN system can also often support useful additional applications such as online diagnostics, real-time data recording, or Voice-over-IP telephony.


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