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It is not just the shopping season driving ever busier warehouses and logistics centers. More and more purchases are being made online, and these e-commerce transactions are flooding fulfillment centers. It is hard for human operators to keep pace with these massive year-over-year increases, and companies in this sector are actively seeking and testing new technologies to help them handle the tsunami of shipping units. Robotics and automation systems are key technologies being leveraged to increase warehouse and logistic center efficiency.
These robots and automation systems require next-gen wireless communications to handle a massive increase in traffic and user equipment generated by the distributed human and automated systems. Current Wi-Fi® 5 wireless networks simply aren't up to the task of providing the necessary throughput and latency needed for machine-learning/artificial intelligence (ML/AI) powered autonomous guided vehicles (AGV), robots, myriads of Industry 4.0 wireless sensors, and other automation systems all communicating through the same wireless network.
This blog focuses on the present realities of warehouse and logistic center wireless network challenges and how new Wi-Fi 6E wireless edge networking solutions can provide substantial throughput, reduce latency, and improve reliability benefits over legacy Wi-Fi 5 solutions.
Autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs) are the latest evolution of industrial robotic systems. Unlike the tethered ground vehicles and stationary robotics of the past, AGVs can guide themselves along predetermined paths and self-navigate through complex and changing environments without the constant need for operators to intervene. This means that AGVs can be programmed/trained, equipped, and deployed to perform their tasks, where they will automatically recharge when needed and continue to fulfill those tasks until completion. This is a huge boon to warehousing and logistic centers, which are now faced with never-ending quantities of packages of every different sort. Having to traditionally program in each and every function to efficiently handle every type of package and to navigate every potential floorplan is not only demanding but likely of limited value, especially as new safety concerns arise from human operator proximity to autonomous systems.
Though the newest AGVs promise substantial boosts to efficiency and human safety, they need high throughput and low latency wireless network interfaces to enable coordination among AGVs and other autonomous features of a warehouse/logistic center and to allow for surveillance and quality control.
Where Wi-Fi 5 has been adequate for legacy industrial robotic systems, other autonomous systems, hosts of Industry 4.0 sensors, diversity, quantity of users, and volume of traffic needed to achieve optimal efficiency in industrial settings is far exceeding the capability of Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6E boasts much higher real data rates than Wi-Fi 5, from ~700Mb/s to over 1.5Gb/s (Figure 1 for maximum throughput). This is partially due to the higher order modulation that Wi-Fi 6E uses, 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), compared to Wi-Fi 5, using 256 QAM.
Though in some respects, the increase in data rates may not seem like much, in industrial settings with tens to hundreds of wireless access points and potentially hundreds of wireless edge networking devices operating, that increase in data rates may mean lower capital costs on the access point and networking infrastructure or that more devices can be deployed in the same area. Wi-Fi 6E has another advantage in multi-user situations over Wi-Fi 5. The new standard also intrinsically incorporates improved multi-user MIMO and advanced orthogonal frequency division multiplexing access (OFDMA) network access control to ensure more reliable wireless networking performance amongst an even larger number of devices with diverse traffic. Wi-Fi 6E also offers a previously unused frequency band in the 6GHz range. This range is well beyond what is used for many other wireless networking applications and can benefit systems that are already suffering from congestion or may in the future.
Figure 1: Wi-Fi 5 versus Wi-Fi 6 versus Wi-Fi 6E throughput at 15 feet in Mb/s (Source: Brian Nadel/Future)
For AGVs and other Industrial 4.0 equipment that require a high throughput solution, Advantech's Wi-Fi 6E industrial wireless solutions could be game-changing wireless communication kits that increase efficiency and enhance safety. Advantech's AIW-166K series of wireless edge communication kits are fully IEEE 802.11 ax/ac/a/b/g/n tri-band (2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz) compatible and also have the latest Bluetooth® 5.2 connectivity integrated into the module. These kits contain a 2x2 MIMO unit complete with antennas, interconnects, and support for Wi-Fi 6E 1024 QAM modulation and 160MHz wide channels. The AIW-166k1 kit features the Intel® Wireless 6E AX210 802.11ax (no Vpro)+ BT 5.2 M.2 2230 module, while the AIW-166k2 kit features the Intel® Wireless 6E AX210 802.11ax (Vpro)+ BT 5.2 M.2 2230 module (AIW-166K2).
Reaching the highest AGV efficiency and safety levels in warehouse and logistic center applications requires the latest wireless network technology. Advantech AIW-166K series wireless communication kits offer incredible Wi-Fi 6E networking performance in compact modules that take the guesswork out of deploying AGVs and other industrial robotic systems.
Principal of Information Exchange Services: Jean-Jacques DeLisle
Jean-Jacques (JJ) DeLisle attended the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a BS and MS degree in Electrical Engineering. While studying, JJ pursued RF/microwave research, wrote for the university magazine, and was a member of the first improvisational comedy troupe @ RIT. Before completing his degree, JJ contracted as an IC layout and automated test design engineer for Synaptics Inc. After 6 years of original research—developing and characterizing intra-coaxial antennas and wireless sensor technology—JJ left RIT with several submitted technical papers and a US patent.
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