Mobile Automation powered by Fast Roaming in Vehicle Manufacturing
In auto manufacturing, mobile automation, including AGVs (autonomous guided vehicles), skillet conveyors and EMSs (electrified monorail systems), has become critical to daily operations. While automakers have used conveyors to move chassis, bodies and parts for decades, it’s clear that these helpful devices and equipment are now smarter and more flexible than ever.
As vehicle manufacturers continually increase the number of trim packages and customizations to their models, flexibility is king. This flexibility can help increase jobs per hour in a number of ways.
First, a smart carrier needing maintenance can be pulled off the line into a maintenance area to prevent production bottlenecks. Second, if a smart carrier cannot proceed to the next station, the carriers ahead of it can continue through the production process. Finally, additional carriers and loops can be added to the line more easily than increasing the length of a traditional conveyor.
We continue to see a growing demand for these solutions in the automotive industry to improve quality and consistency, reduce strain on workers, scale to match fluctuating demands and increase assembly speed.
And as mobile automation becomes established in automotive manufacturing (specifically in assembly), it’s trickling down to the rest of the industry as well. Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers, such as powertrain production and battery manufacturers, are starting to leverage this technology within their plants.
Whether you’re talking about an AGV, autonomous mobile robot (AMR), automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), EMS or intelligent skillet conveyor, mobile automation has lots to offer—but it also comes with risks that you need to prepare for.
For example, to make sure devices can move around freely, wireless technologies are required to enable connectivity. Communication between the device and the manufacturing operations system must happen as reliably and predictably as possible without latency or jitter.
If a piece of mobile automation equipment disconnects from the network for even a second, carriers may repeatedly stop, cutting jobs per hour. Some manufacturers tackle this problem by slowing down message rates and timeout settings, but this results in systems that are less safe and may even have to be run more slowly.
This means that:
- Communication between the device and the manufacturing operations system must always be maintained while mobile equipment roams the plant floor
- Bandwidth must always be able to support a reliable and constant flow of data
- Interference must be limited to ensure constant connection
To enable these capabilities, fast roaming technology allows mobile automation devices to move wherever they need to while intelligently switching to the ideal access point before connection is lost.
New Technologies Ahead
Within the world of auto manufacturing, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are both positioned to support mobile automation and the fast roaming wireless needed to ensure connectivity.
In these environments, 5G has the potential to offer even faster data-transfer rates with very low latency and high reliability. Its capabilities could not only offer improved fast roaming, but also allow the entire communication backbone network to support a wide range of applications that range from resource management to safety.
For example, 5G can enable fast reconfiguration of machines on the production line in response to detected changes.
Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax) is already capable of much faster data rates and low latency. As OT wireless vendors bring Wi-Fi 6 products to market, this will bring even faster roaming, more stable connections, and the potential for denser smart mobile automation systems to automotive environments. It not only improves on current Wi-Fi features, but also introduces new features that make it a good fit for mobile automation:
- Lower battery consumption in Wi-Fi 6 devices supported by Wi-Fi 6 networks
- Higher data rates with peak Gigabit speeds
- Increased capacity with reduced latency to support higher numbers of users and devices
For example, with Wi-Fi 6, plants can deactivate mobile automation equipment that isn’t being used (over holidays or on weekends, for example) so it doesn’t have to be recharged when equipment operation resumes.
Wi-Fi 6E—an extension of Wi-Fi 6 (using IEEE 802.11ax technology)—may also be a good fit for smart mobile automation and fast roaming. It provides four times the amount of bandwidth offered by Wi-Fi and operates in the newly available 6 GHz band, which is a completely open spectrum. The 6 GHz band is clean, unused and will work only with devices capable of utilizing it.
All these technologies hold promise for mobile automation, and they can play complementary roles in automotive manufacturing connectivity. In other words, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 can be used together to offer the right combination of high throughput, low latency and high capacity to keep you productive and resilient.
Start Your Mobile Automation Journey
It’s crucial for automotive manufacturers to choose wireless technologies that offer a small RF footprint. Because IT and OT need to share a limited set of Wi-Fi channels with an increasing number of wireless devices, a fast roaming wireless solution using a single 20 MHz-wide channel per system will help preserve this finite resource—and we can help you do just that.
Belden focuses on both addressing the applications and challenges that mobile automation presents today, and helping you plan for whatever the future may bring. Together, we can help you reduce risk and increase throughput in your automotive manufacturing environment as you deploy mobile automation.
In these environments, it’s critical to leverage purpose-built wireless technology solutions that can transmit data as reliably as possible—and with as little latency as possible. Belden can design and create robust backbone network infrastructure and fast roaming solutions to support these initiatives. From initial system design and site surveys to launch and configuration support, your mobile automation project starts here.
Learn more about our automotive manufacturing team and solutions.