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There are a number of important factors that make wireless an important emerging technology today in manufacturing automation. "Manufacturers recognize that wireless can offer cost reductions. More importantly, they see wireless technologies as an enabler of entirely new business processes that will not only be less expensive, but will be safer, more reliable and far more transparent than their current manufacturing practices," says senior analyst Harry Forbes, the principal author of ARC's "Wireless Technology in Process Manufacturing."
The desire for improved business processes extends across all types of manufacturing. A major factor favoring greater deployment of wireless technologies in manufacturing is the ability of wireless applications to enable better ways of operating manufacturing plants, and process manufacturing stands to feel the greatest impact. Field operations within a process plant are a classic case of the need for more information that only can be delivered wirelessly.
Historically, process manufacturing has not been able to use wireless on a broad scale, but new sensor networking and WLAN developments will soon change this, presenting an opportunity for manufacturers who can use wireless to gain visibility into hidden processes, assets and activities. These now represent invisible assets still not well integrated into the enterprise.
Wireless technology is a means of monitoring plant equipment and production processes, and enables real-time decision making to optimize production or to head off maintenance issues before they interrupt production. Literally, millions of field devices are installed at great cost in process manufacturing facilities. However, because most are not digitally enabled, their ability to share process and maintenance information is limited. This presents a huge opportunity for wireless technology, which can be used to enable these stranded assets to the benefit of operations, maintenance and business systems across the enterprise.
The industrial wireless market is not new. Wireless has been a part of SCADA systems in oil, gas and electric power for decades. The major trend in the market, however, is growth through incorporation of new wireless technologies. These technologies have their roots in the IT, telecom, consumer and military markets. Manufacturing is adopting them in cases where the value of wireless information is apparent, but the market is far from saturated.
Wireless LAN technology mainly has been deployed at indoor facilities, but these will expand to encompass entire plants. Furthermore, new wireless sensor technologies will reduce the cost of information dramatically as they are developed and deployed in manufacturing. For more information on this study, visit www.arcweb.com/res/wireless.