Recent innovations in automated and autonomous technologies have brought sweeping changes across industries. One of the biggest areas that these technologies have had an impact on is warehouse systems.
Businesses can use automated systems to improve their warehouse operations through machine-to-machine communication through unique networks.
What is machine-to-machine communication?
When people talk on the phone, they communicate through cell towers or Wi-Fi, which is similar to how computers communicate. But, when people are in the same room, they talk directly, and when computers share directly, it’s called machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.
Most communications today require a fixed infrastructure (eg, fiber optic cables, Ethernet, coaxial cables, cell towers, or wireless access points). These limit communications coverage, but advanced applications such as automation, autonomy, telematics and robotics require M2M, which extends coverage to operate effectively.
Current M2M issues in warehouses
M2M wireless systems are perfect for running warehouse operations with maximum efficiency. They allow robotics and autonomous platforms to communicate with each other, helping to meet execution demands, productivity speed, safety and accuracy. But too often, wireless systems in a warehouse face connectivity issues that prevent them from having an optimal workflow, as most rely on line of sight (LOS) with fixed infrastructure.
Many warehouse systems run M2M communications over Wi-Fi over fixed infrastructure. This means that the Wi-Fi signal is sent from a single location in the warehouse. Because they are stationary, Wi-Fi networks can have difficulty maintaining connectivity with autonomous systems, such as mobile robots. As different machines move around the warehouse, objects such as metal racks, portable scanners, and heavy equipment can interfere with the signal from these devices. Additionally, since these machines traverse the warehouse floor, the distance to Wi-Fi also creates signal blocking issues. When the signal is disturbed, machines relying on M2M communication may stop working or fail to send correct data to other essential devices.
Many warehouses have workers who use hand scanners and RFID wands to send product or supply chain information to different systems. Like through a Wi-Fi network, when workers walk through the warehouse, interference can affect coverage and signal strength. With patchy coverage, workers could potentially scan items into the system without the data being read or knowing where it should be sent.
What is a mesh network?
Typically, warehouses experiencing signal blocking issues have only one way to fix them, and that is by adding more network infrastructure. This keeps annual maintenance costs rising year over year instead of falling, and coverage gaps still exist. A mesh network should be considered by warehouse operators looking to solve connectivity issues and improve their M2M communication.
A mesh system is a network enabling peer-to-peer communication that creates large-scale connectivity capable of multiple simultaneous connections through various devices without loss of communication. It enables modern warehouses to implement a self-optimizing and self-healing network, thus enabling continuous autonomous operations.
Network nodes can be placed on fixed and mobile assets, enabling connectivity across the warehouse. As mobile assets move around the site, they can be linked directly to each other or to fixed assets to enable M2M communication. These nodes allow for longer range than Wi-Fi access points, by enabling peer-to-peer (M2M) communication and dynamically switching communication between machines and various infrastructure points allowing your warehouse to maintain constant communication with any mobile device or machine, improving productivity and reducing downtime.
How mesh networks improve communication in warehouses
Using a mesh network allows your warehouse to operate at peak efficiency 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since the connecting nodes interact with each other, your warehouse will have less downtime. stop every day. Your efficiency will increase day by day, allowing you to never interrupt wireless communications through your system and respond to warehouse demands.
Even in the most difficult-to-network areas, such as between racks, your machines can still receive a signal without adding significant infrastructure. M2M mesh networks also allow warehouses to run other applications such as video streaming and telemetry for equipment.
Before purchasing a mesh network, do your research and talk to customers as some are optimized for fixed deployments while others are designed to be fully mobile. Latency, throughput, range, scale (number of hops), number of radios, with controller or without controller are all factors to look for and consider. Not all mesh networks are created equal, and effectiveness depends on selecting the right mesh for the right applications.
One of the most important benefits of using the right mesh system is that it can create optimized traffic routes and allow traffic to be redirected instantly. If the wireless link of one of your moving robotic devices is blocked or disrupted, the mesh system will detect it and automatically redirect traffic through the next available radio link without outside intervention. The system will automatically create the most optimized wireless router to meet the demand, consider dynamic load balancing. This means that even in the event of signal blockage, communication is still maintained and information is successfully transmitted from device to device.
A mesh network allows warehouse operators to have high capacity to run other efficient and transformative applications. While running the M2M warehouse system, operators can monitor the health of their equipment. This allows them to perform any predictive maintenance on their machines before they break down.
When engineers take preventative action on warehouse equipment, there is less chance of malfunctions, which ultimately leads to less system downtime and fewer warehouse delays. Predictive maintenance also extends the life of machines, saving money on frequent repairs or replacements.
Informed decision making
Using an efficient M2M communication system allows warehouses to access and utilize all the data transferred from one device to another in real time. In an effective mesh network, warehouse managers know there are no gaps in data collection. They can collect useful M2M data and create reports that allow warehouses to make informed decisions about their operations that they can use to make their system more efficient.
M2M communication, powered by mesh networks, has the potential to completely change how warehouses operate in 2022 and beyond. Investing in these networks can improve enterprise warehouse workflow and lead to more efficient operations.