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I'm the new IT manager for a small-mid sized manufacturing company. I'm also new to IT in general, this is my first job after graduating with a computer science degree.

We manufacture HVAC parts and we have about a dozen large machines on our shop floor as well as several PCs scattered around there all of which need connectivity. Currently they are all connected with UTP cables going to our server room, but the cable runs are an absolute horror show with no documentation, and there are several small consumer switches daisy-chained through the shop. My boss wants me to clean up the cabling and make sure we can easily add devices on the shop floor to the network. If I were to go completely wired, all the cabling would need to be done from scratch. I'm wondering if there's any serious downside to just throwing up some good quality WAP's on the ceiling and connecting everything wirelessly (about 30 machines/PC's total), or what sort of considerations I should make to determine a viable wireless solution.

Thanks!

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  • Factory floors can have machinery that generate EMI. Radios (e.g. WiFi) don't work well with EMI. Serial connections in a factory environment typically use shielded cable. The use of unshielded UTP at your site might be risky, although could be mitigated by protocols that ensure reliable delivery.
    – sawdust
    May 7 at 20:13
  • Don't rely on the advice of (well-meaning) strangers in the internet. You have to do a proper site survey or (preferably) have one carried out by a networking company with experience in industrial environments. There are many factors in designing and building a properly functioning wireless network in a factory environmeny and mistakes can be costly.
    – StarCat
    May 8 at 15:01

2 Answers 2

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I do not advise introducing wireless into your factory without expert advice in the domain of Industrial Wireless LAN (iWLAN).

Industrial environments typically have diverse sources of RF interference, reflections, and absorption that can cause varying degrees of attenuation and irregular radio-wave patterns. Among them: Nearby office WLANs, adjacent iWLANs, RFID systems, metal machinery, ductwork, racks and doors, thick concrete walls, liquids and even people. That's why an expert site survey is critical for successfully deploying and operating an iWLAN.

A site survey is required to ensure adequate signal coverage for the facility including the optimal placement of wireless access points (APs), correct channel selections and the best signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) possible between APs and client devices.

A site survey will require the facility's floor plan, the data-rate requirements, and tools to measure SNR and detect other RF sources, such as wireless site survey software and an RF spectrum analyzer. Experts with professional software and site survey experience will be better able to assist in defining your iWLAN design.

I suggest to avoid hit-and-miss practices and for best results use the services of a professional.

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I would be inclined to wire (Ethernet) the machines (think of them like servers and printers). Machines tend to be dumb. Someone walks between Wireless and the machine causes it to hiccup. Also if the machine has a large mass of metal, that may interfere with the wireless trying to service it.

If the machinery has motors that can also generate much interfering noise (EMI noise) that will cause issues with wireless.

People with devices can compensate and machines may not to be able to compensate. So I always lean to wired connections. Wireless can work but for machines I always prefer wired connections.

Then use your plan to put high quality Wireless Access Points on the ceiling for Computers and Smart Phones.

Ethernet remains more consistent and stable than Wireless, and you want machine to run in a stable fashion.

No issue for using Wireless for personal devices - that is done all the time.

You can build a decent plan to allow for expansion.

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  • The question remains is the reason these HVAC machines need to be on the internet in the fi
    – Ramhound
    May 7 at 17:58
  • Machines tend to be dumb. Someone walks between Wireless and the machine causes it to hiccup. People with devices can compensate and machines may not to be able to compensate. So I always lean to wired connections. Wireless can work but for machines I prefer wired.
    – John
    May 7 at 18:03
  • Intranet I understand. Why is there internet connected to commercial devices.
    – Ramhound
    May 7 at 18:26
  • Intranet supports wired connections and wireless may have the same issues for wireless. I did not specify Internet in my answer.
    – John
    May 7 at 18:30
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    A consideration not mentioned in the answer is "broadband noise". Motors can generate a lot of broad spectrum noise which can kill WIFI. WIFI is also limited shared bandwidth. Cabled connections are MUCH more immune to these problems. I always prefer cabled over wireless connections for speed and reliability. Id look to structured cabling solutions.
    – davidgo
    May 7 at 20:07

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