WBA and Mettis Aerospace to trial Wi-Fi 6 for industrial use
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and Mettis Aerospace have announced that they will perform what they describe as the world’s first Wi-Fi 6 Industrial Enterprise and IoT trial. It is the first of a series of trials that will take place around the world.

Mettis is a designer and manufacturer of precision-forged, machined and sub-assembled components, primarily for the aerospace and defence industry. It will work with WBA members to test several use cases on a Wi-Fi 6 network at its 27-acre West Midlands facility, which is challenging in terms of connectivity, given the large geographical area that needs to be covered and interference from industrial machinery.

Dave Green, head of IT at Mettis Aerospace explained that Mettis doesn’t currently have Wi-fi on the shop floor, but he has been working to deploy it. “When we started hearing about Wi-Fi 6 and [its] benefits and [considered] some of the bad experiences that we’ve had in the past [when] trying to deploy Wi-Fi in the factory with our challenges, that brought us together with the WBA [through our relationship with the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership] and their involvement with Wi-Fi 6. It [makes] sense, if we [are] going to deploy Wi-Fi onto our shop floor [then] Wi-Fi 6 should be the technology that we should be looking at because we want to… future-proof [our] deployment of Wi-Fi as much as we can.”

He added that Mettis has “dabbled” with Wi-Fi on the shop floor in the past but “Our environment is quite challenging, there’s a lot of electrical noise, the fabric of the building is largely ironworks. So, with [the] Wi-Fi trials that [we did in the past, we had] situations where Wi-Fi [worked] initially but then an electrical motor [gets] switched on which then [hinders] the Wi-Fi signal, so we’re hoping that Wi-Fi 6 is more resilient in this type of environment and also we’re anticipating along the way that we will have hundreds of devices that we will need to connect to Wi-Fi… One of Wi-Fi 6’s strengths is the number of devices that you’re able to connect to each access point, so that lends itself very well to what we’re trying to do.”

The trial will test the use of Wi-Fi 6 in a metal-rich industrial environment

The use cases that are being considered and are designed to digitise Mettis’ production line include: include multi stream live video monitoring; real time energy monitoring; ultra-reliable low latency communications with sensors on critical systems and augmented reality for trouble shooting.

“We’ve got around 3,600 assets on this site,” Green said. He added that these are combination of old and modern equipment and there’s a need to retrofit sensors on the older equipment. “The problem we have right now is that [we] don’t have a lot of [data on asset health], so our maintenance team are working blind or it’s very much a fix on failure type scenario. What we want to be able to do is equip our maintenance team with tablets/wireless devices so that they can [use] augmented reality so that they can go around the shop floor, point wireless devices at pieces of kit or assets and be able to have real-time information as regards to vibration, voltage, rotation, liquid levels, operation of valves, [those] sort of things. So that they’ve got all the information they need to understand the health of any particular assets… That’s one of the key drivers.”

Further reading:

The future of Wi-Fi
Eyes on the prize (an interview with the Wi-Fi Alliance’s CEO, Edgar Figueroa)
Industry 4.0: The data must flow

On the software side, Green added that Mettis is currently working with PTC ThingWorx to collect some data, though he notes that Mettis has only “just started down the road” in this regard. He adds that one of ThingWorx’s “strengths is that they have an augmented reality module that sits on top of their systems.” The idea is to tailor an off-shelf package to Mettis’ requirements. When asked as to why Mettis decided to trial Wi-Fi rather than mobile broadband, Green said that while he believes both technologies have their place, “Wi-Fi for us now at the moment makes the most sense” given its backward compatibility and the availability of Wi-Fi devices.

Tiago Rodrigues, general manager, WBA said that the trial consists of three phases: defining the trial requirements, identifying the use cases and gaining an initial understanding of the deployment environment; creating the test plan; and then installing the equipment and running all the tests. He added that those involved with the project are expecting to obtain the results from the trial between 4Q19 and 1Q20, but the exact timeframe will depend on the number of test and use cases.

The trial is being managed by the WBA and Mettis Aerospace, and supported by WBA members including British Telecom, Boingo, Broadcom, BSG Wireless, CableLabs, Cisco, HPE Aruba and Intel.

The West Midlands region, under the leadership of the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership, was selected to be the UK’s 5G Testbed for manufacturing and security by the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the trial will demonstrate the role that Wi-Fi 6 has to play in the broader 5G ecosystem.

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