Wireless technology has become reliable enough to handle nearly any kind of network traffic. Even mission-critical production operations and vital safety systems information can transmit wirelessly with little concern for any deficit between wired and wireless performance. As a leader in wireless Wi-Fi connectivity products—such as the Hirschmann BAT industrial wireless Ethernet radio LAN client line—Belden is proud of its role in the industry, giving operations technology (OT) professionals greater flexibility in their network design options.
However, not all applications have found wireless to be practical using existing wireless technologies. After fielding many inquiries from two of these growing areas—autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) and machine builders—Belden is pleased to introduce a new addition to its BAT line: the BAT-C2, the most compact wireless LAN client available anywhere.
Small size, outstanding connectivity for AGVs
With manufacturing facilities working hard to become increasingly automated, more and more manual functions are being replaced with robots. In my opinion, one of the most interesting applications is the growing use of autonomous guided vehicles on the factory floor. These AGVs often deliver goods and parts around the plant floor and can also perform remote maintenance. If you’ve seen them, they are quite impressive. One of our automotive clients uses AGVs large enough to carry an entire vehicle. Another client operating a warehouse uses a fleet of small AGVs only a foot or two long—they even have their own elevator system to travel up and down through the numerous levels of the facility!
When you have vehicles of any kind driving alongside people, safety is vital.
AGVs have sensors that stop the vehicle immediately if wireless connectivity is ever lost to ensure that real-time monitoring capability remains constant. The issue with using wireless often has been related to the hand-off points, as vehicles move greater and greater distances. With older technologies, the signal could be lost long enough for the vehicle to stop, causing productivity issues. These devices need to be continuously connected in order to communicate with the control room to receive routing information and share upwards of hundreds of parameters and other data points. BAT-C2 uses two antennas for multi-directional connectivity as well as the newest WiFi standard: IEEE 802.11ac, providing fast, high-throughput wireless on the 5 GHz band to keep hand-offs seamless so there is no interruption. I often point out to people that the Belden/Hirschmann wireless experience was built in the rail and bus industries, where our products are providing uninterrupted connectivity on vehicles moving upwards of 100 mph or more.
The BAT-C2 has a number of other features built with the needs of AGV users in mind as well. For example, vehicles moving through industrial areas—and all devices onboard them—need to be protected against environmental hazards such as dust, water, temperature and humidity. The BAT-C2 housing is ruggedized engineering plastic, which is both tough and lightweight.
The low weight of the device—less than 250 grams—helps conserve battery power and maximizes operational time between recharges. Speaking of this need in the application, the BAT-C2 also includes a relay that allows the operator to power down motors, sensors, PLCs and other onboard equipment to further extend battery life. Another factor on the AGV wish-list that the BAT-C2 delivers is a second access point which allows service technicians to connect remotely for diagnostics, separate from the Wi-Fi infrastructure.
Wireless for any machine
The features of the BAT-C2 are in demand in machine applications as well. Interestingly, in this case the object is stationery but people want to increase their mobility in relation to it—the opposite of AGVs in a way. Machine users want to be able to monitor machine operation, diagnose and repair issues and perform other functions remotely, using their tablets, PCs or phones, from elsewhere in the factory, or from 1000 miles away. Proactive machine builders want to include capability for their customers. At first, only larger and more complex machines found it practical. Now, with the compact BAT-C2, the LAN device is small enough to be integrated into nearly any type of machine. The device is easy to configure for builders and users as well. Builders can easily set the channel and password and shut down the connectivity to avoid interference and vulnerability until the end user is ready to take control of the machine. Of course, the IEEE 802.11ac protocol, with its fast, high-throughput connectivity, is a boon for machine users too.
Another benefit of special value to machine builders is the fact that the BAT-C2 provides certifications for every geography, so machine builders can ship their products worldwide without having to worry about different equipment for different locations; whether in the U.S., Europe or China, the proper certifications ensure the Wi-Fi is ready to go—and so are your machines.
Full product line for any application
As noted, the BAT-C2 is specially geared for these applications, each of which lacked optimized solutions in the past. The industry-leading BAT line also provides other existing devices to meet different needs. For example, the BAT867 product line excels in applications where even greater throughput is needed, and the BAT-R line provides two radio modules and parallel redundancy functionality.
All three products are successfully deployed in automated factory applications around the world. Which one is right for your application? We would be glad to discuss the possibilities with you. Contact us anytime.
Friedrich joined the product management team in 2018 to renew the WiFi, Cellular and Cloud portfolio of Hirschmann. Prior to this he worked as a manager for the pre-sales department Commercial Projects specializing in critical global WiFi projects. He first found his way to Belden as a software engineer working on cybersecurity, wireless technologies, switching and cloud solutions. He has a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Applied Sciences Esslingen and lives with his daughter and wife in Stuttgart.