A wireless I/O control cabinet from Opto22, Temecula, Calif.
A wireless I/O control cabinet from Opto22, Temecula, Calif.
 
a wireless access point from Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, N.Y.
A wireless access point from Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, N.Y.
 
an RF ID tag used by Siemens Dematic USA, Grand Rapids, Mich.
An RF ID tag used by Siemens Dematic USA, Grand Rapids, Mich.
 
A Nokia phone displaying parking information via SMS messaging, as implemented with Opto22 wireless controls.
A Nokia phone displaying parking information via SMS messaging, as implemented with Opto22 wireless controls.

Technological advances may soon relegate to the ashbin of history the bundles of cables that characterize factory-floor machinery.

This is one of the conclusions that can be drawn from speakers making presentations at IWAS (Industrial Wireless Automation Summit), an upcoming conference on industrial wireless technology. Speakers from such companies as Mesh Networks, Millennial Net, and Ember Corp. point out that developments in wireless so far have focused on such high-data-rate uses as cellular phones. But the picture is starting to change as the cost of the technology comes down. It now looks as though inexpensive low-data-rate networks will soon begin showing up in industrial applications ranging from equipment on factory floors to fleets of trucks.

The changes these networks bring could be far ranging. Among the first areas to benefit from industrial wireless technology is that of sensors and I/O. The idea: Get rid of the bulky network cables and wiring now needed to route sensor signals back to motion and process controllers. Use instead small, light wireless transceivers powered by battery or which pick up operating power inductively.

The proposition is particularly attractive for sensor-studded end effectors that are constantly in motion. They typically perform operations such as cutting and grinding, pick-and-place assembly, and related tasks. Troubles associated with connectors and cabling going out to moveable actuators can be a sore spot at plants striving for minimum downtime.

Work taking place at think tanks such as Darpa (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and at university labs promise to eliminate such woes. Researchers are figuring out ways of configuring small and inexpensive sensors able to communicate amongst themselves in what are called ad hoc networks. These networks are typified by the lack of one single controller that manages transmissions between network devices. Instead, sensors obey a protocol that dictates who gets access to the airwaves and for how long.


I/O, sensor networks, and tutorials headline upcoming wireless summit

The Industrial Wireless Applications Summit (IWAS) runs March 8 through 10 in conjunction with the Wireless Systems Design Expo at the San Diego Convention Center. Key themes include wireless industrial I/O, wireless sensor networks, mobile industrial applications, and RF ID in industrial applications.

A special "supersession" on the first morning of the conference covers the basics of wireless systems and propagation. It is oriented toward nonelectrical engineers and non-RF specialists. It is sponsored by National Instruments Corp. with help from speakers hailing from the University of Texas and Wireless Valley Communications Inc.

For more information on the speakers and on the IWAS conference, visit the conference Web page at www.IWASummit.com.




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