Not just the holiday shopping season is driving warehouses and logistic centers to become busier. Online purchases are increasing in number, and fulfillment centers are overwhelmed by these e-commerce transactions. Human operators are finding it difficult to keep up with the massive increases in year-over-year shipping volumes. Companies in this industry are actively looking for and testing new technologies that can help them deal with the increasing volume of shipping units. Automation systems and robotics are key technologies that can be leveraged to improve warehouse efficiency and logistic center efficiency.
Next-generation wireless communications are required to manage the massive increase in traffic generated by distributed humans and automated systems. Current Wi-Fi(r) 5 wireless networks simply aren’t up to the task of providing the necessary throughput and latency needed for machine-learning/artificial intelligence (ML/AI) powered autonomous guided vehicles (AGV), robots, myriads of Industry 4.0 wireless sensors, and other automation systems all communicating through the same wireless network.
This blog discusses the current realities of wireless networks in warehouses and logistic centers. It also discusses how Wi-Fi 6E wireless edge network solutions can increase throughput, reduce latency and provide reliability benefits over legacy Wi Fi 5 solutions.
AGV Operation and Definition
AGVs, or autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs), are the latest development in industrial robotic systems. AGVs are able to navigate themselves through difficult and changing environments, and follow predetermined routes. They also avoid the need for operator intervention. AGVs can be programmed/trained and equipped to perform their tasks. They will then automatically recharge as needed and continue fulfilling those tasks until they are completed. This is an enormous boon for logistic centers and warehousing, who now have to deal with endless quantities of different types of packages. It is difficult to program every function in order to handle all types of packages and navigate all floorplans. This is especially true when there are new safety concerns due to human operators being near autonomous systems.
The newest AGVs offer significant improvements in efficiency and safety. However, they require high throughput and low latency wireless interfaces to facilitate coordination between AGVs.
Wi-Fi 5 Versus Wi-Fi 6
Wi-Fi 5 was adequate for legacy industrial robot systems. However, Wi-Fi 6E is capable of supporting other autonomous systems and hosts of Industry-4.0 sensors. Wi-Fi 5’s capabilities are far greater than that of Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6E offers much greater real data rates than Wi Fi 5, ranging from 700Mb/s up to 1.5Gb/s ( Figure1 for maximum throughput). Wi-Fi 6E uses 1024 quadrature ampltude modulation (QAM) instead of Wi-Fi 5’s 256 QAM.
Although the increase in data rate may not seem significant in certain situations, it can make a difference in industrial settings where there are hundreds to hundreds of wireless access points, and possibly hundreds of edge networking devices, and that the capital costs for access points and infrastructure may be lower. Or that more devices can deploy in the same area. Wi-Fi 6E is more suitable for multi-user environments than Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6E has an additional advantage in multi-user situations over Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6E offers an unutilized frequency band in the range of 6GHz. This frequency band is much larger than what is available for other wireless networking applications. It can be beneficial to systems already experiencing congestion, or will in the future.
Figure 1: Wi-Fi 5 versus Wi-Fi 6 versus Wi-Fi 6E throughput at 15 feet in Mb/s (Source: Brian Nadel/Future)
Logistic Center Wireless Bandwidth Challenges
Advantech’s WiFi 6E industrial wireless solutions are a game-changing solution for AGVs and other Industrial 4.0 devices that require high throughput. They increase safety and efficiency. Advantech’s AIW166K series of wireless edge communications kits is fully IEEE 802.11 compatible (2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz), and has the most recent Bluetooth (r). 5.2 connectivity. These kits include a 2×2 MIMO unit with interconnects and antennas. They also support Wi-Fi 6E 1024 and 160MHz wide channels. The AIW166k1 kit includes the Intel (r]Wireless6E AX210 8002.11ax module (no Vpro), while the AIW166k2 kit includes the Intel (r)Wireless6E AX210 8002.11ax module (Vpro).
The latest wireless network technology is required to achieve the highest AGV efficiency levels and safety in warehouse and logistic center applications. Advantech AIW166K series wireless communication kit offers exceptional Wi-Fi 6E networking performance and compact modules that eliminate the guesswork when deploying AGVs or other industrial robot systems.
Principal of Information Exchange Services: Jean-Jacques DeLisle
Jean-Jacques (JJ) DeLisle attended the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a BS and MS degree in Electrical Engineering. While studying, JJ pursued RF/microwave research, wrote for the university magazine, and was a member of the first improvisational comedy troupe @ RIT. Before completing his degree, JJ contracted as an IC layout and automated test design engineer for Synaptics Inc. After 6 years of original research—developing and characterizing intra-coaxial antennas and wireless sensor technology—JJ left RIT with several submitted technical papers and a US patent.