Dr Eoin O’Connell
Lecturer University of Limerick & Funded Investigator, Confirm Research Centre for Smart Manufacturing
Wireless solutions offer big benefits for manufacturers, including enhanced capabilities. However, deploying this tech successfully involves overcoming a number of grand challenges.
Manufacturers wanting to deploy wireless solutions into their operations might be astonished to discover just how difficult it is to do. This is neatly summed up in one of Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoons when a character incredulously asks: ‘It’s wireless. How hard can it be to not install wires?’
Difficult but rewarding transition
It’s actually a real challenge. Why should that be a surprise? “I think it’s because ‘wireless’ is so abstract,” explains Dr Eoin O’Connell, Lecturer University of Limerick & Funded Investigator at CONFIRM Centre, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Centre for Smart Manufacturing. “Everything is becoming wireless now — so manufacturers want it, too. They know that it can make them faster and enhance their capabilities such as mass customisation and 3D printing. The problem is the steps for deployment are very unclear.”
Dr O’Connell knows how difficult it is to build a wireless ecosystem because he and his pioneering team have already done it. The Future Wireless Innovation Test-Bed, located at the CONFIRM Centre, took two years to complete and launched in 2021. Companies can use this environment to speed up their own wireless deployment and take advantage of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality for troubleshooting and the Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Manufacturers must also grapple with the
question of sustainability because wireless
tech is extremely energy intensive.
The wireless challenges facing manufacturers
What are the challenges of deploying wireless tech? For one, the radio frequency spectrum suitable for wireless communications is becoming increasingly scarce. The growing demand for extremely high-data-rate services, together with emerging advanced IoT and Industry 4.0 applications, is necessitating the exploration of new spectrum bands.
Then there’s the issue of security and privacy because the broadcasting nature of wireless transmissions makes information vulnerable to eavesdropping. “Plus, the decision-making tech on the edge of the wireless network backbone has its own security vulnerabilities,” says Dr O’Connell.
Manufacturers must also grapple with the question of sustainability because wireless tech is extremely energy intensive. “The goal for wireless is to deploy sensors that can transmit from a distance — which, currently, quickly drains their energy — but have reduced power requirements so that their battery life lasts up to 10 years,” says Dr O’Connell. There are also questions about scalability and interoperability.
Nevertheless, Dr O’Connell is optimistic that the factory of the future will be wireless. “It’ll be hybrid and use a mix of protocols,” he says. “The challenges of building it, however, shouldn’t be underestimated.”
CONFIRM Centre is open to collaborations with companies who want to use The Future Wireless Innovation Test-Bed. Learn more at confirm.ie