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An automotive factory sprawling over nearly 1,000 acres poses two fundamental communications challenges for its security, maintenance and emergency-response staffs: Metal machinery interferes with radio signals and ceilings block GPS signals, thwarting systems for tracking personnel.
Managers of a Mercedes-Benz factory that opened in Hungary in 2012 needed a wireless network that could overcome these challenges. The system they installed with radios, repeaters and software from Motorola Solutions and its technology partners illustrates how wireless digital communications technology is helping manufacturers make their plants safer and more efficient.
Analog radio signals are especially prone to interference from machinery in factory environments. While digital radio signals also face this hurdle, the microprocessors in digital radios that translate the human voice into packets of digital data can be programmed to compensate for some of these challenges.
Also, optimum placement of digital repeaters can ensure that signals go everywhere they need to go, reducing the likelihood of dead spots that bedevil analog radio networks. At the Mercedes-Benz factory, a single Motorola Solutions DR 3000 repeater (with full redundancy for backup) delivers integrated voice and data communications to the plant’s security, maintenance and emergency response teams, who rely on 26 MOTOTRBO DP3600 portable two-way radios.
Enabling indoor location tracking required some ingenuity. Signals from global positioning satellites generally do not pass through the ceilings of buildings, making it impossible to do the location tracking that many digital radio users enjoy outdoors.
Mercedes-Benz needed real-time location data on everyone carrying a radio. While the DP3600 radios can easily be programmed for GPS tracking, it takes a little more work to enable tracking indoors. The solution arrived from Neocom Software, a Motorola technology partner whose TRBOnet Indoor system essentially brings GPS capability indoors.
At the Mercedez-Benz plant, TRBOnet Indoor uses a web of 36 electronic beacons that communicate with option boards within the portable two-way radios. When a worker with a radio passes within range of one of the beacons, a signal goes out over the wireless network back to the control room, where NeoCom’s TRBOnet Enterprise dispatcher software transmits the data to a two-dimensional map of the plant that pinpoints the worker’s location.
Benefits of digital technology in factories
Factories start losing money the minute a production line shuts down, so it’s imperative to get technicians to the site of a shutdown as soon as possible. Location tracking allows the Mercedes-Benz maintenance team to identify repair people closest to the shutdown and dispatch them there immediately.
Much the same is true for the plant’s security and fire-control personnel. A few minutes in speedier response times can save lives in an emergency.
The DP3600 radios also enable a host of communications benefits. With LCD screens and full keypads, these radios can send and receive text messages, and store phone numbers and product data. With up to 13 hours of battery life, they can stay up and running for full production shifts.
Because these radios communicate digitally, their signals can be transmitted over IP (Internet protocol) networks, enabling users to talk with people far beyond the boundaries of the factory. If a large machine malfunctions and the engineers who know how to fix it are half a continent away, technicians on the factory floor can talk to them via their local wireless network. While a cellphone might be able to accomplish that — if there’s any reception in the factory — portable digital radios and a WLAN are more of a sure bet.