NIST to set noise standards for manufacturing-based wireless networks

The National Institute of Standards and Technology said today it is looking to establish a set of standards aimed at pre-qualifying wireless devices for use in industrial environments.

NIST says heavy industrial plants can be highly reflective environments, scattering radio waves erratically, and interfering with or blocking wireless transmissions. Electromagnetic interference may hinder the auto industry, some of the world’s largest manufacturing sites, and other manufacturing environments  in trying to take advantage of wireless networks.  GM for example has made extensive use of wireless technologies in its manufacturing locations.

While the perception that heavy industrial environments and wireless networks might not work well together seems to be a given, it’s a little unclear how significant a problem it is, NIST says. Factories have a lot  to gain from wireless technology, such as robot control, wireless sensor networks and RFID tag monitoring, not to mention wireless systems can cost less and offer more flexibility than cabled systems, NIST says.

NIST said it expects to set these new standards in conjunction with the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR).  NIST and USCAR – which is made up of the Big three automakers – Ford, GM and Chrysler – have a had a relationship since 2004 to share research and development of high-tech technologies with the goal of  improving U.S. automotive manufacturing competitiveness.

NIST researchers have already taken tests at an auto assembly plant in August 2006, and completed additional tests this month at an engine plant and a metal stamping plant. NIST said the manufacturing plants it tested  were crowded with stationary and mobile metal structures, such as fabrication and testing machinery, platforms, fences, beams, conveyors, mobile forklifts, maintenance vehicles and automobiles in various stages of production. NIST monitored frequencies below 6 GHz for 24-hour periods to understand the background ambient radio environment. This spectrum survey showed that interference from machine noise can impair signals for low-frequency applications such as those used to in some controllers on the production floor and signal-scattering tests showed the potential for high levels of “multipath” interference, where radio signals travel in multiple complicated paths from transmitter to receiver, arriving at slightly different times.

While customers wait for the NIST standards, the agency suggests the following to minimize problems

·          Use licensed frequency bands where possible.

·          Restrict use of personal electronics in high-traffic frequency bands such as 2.4 GHz

·          Install noise absorbing material in key locations.

·          Use wireless systems with high immunity to electromagnetic interference

·          Use equipment that emits little machine noise

·          Deploy directional antennas to help mitigate multipath interference when transmitter and receiver are close together.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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