The Wi-Fi network is the manufacturing industry’s best business partner. Without it, today’s smart, connected environments wouldn’t exist, and it’s these environments that are crucial for easing supply chain issues. That makes it critically important that all Wi-Fi networks are a partner, a resource that every employee can depend on, one that works with them to keep productivity high and issues low.

Here is a look at exactly why these networks are required for business success and how to optimize them now and into the future.

Technology in warehouses and manufacturing facilities

While technology isn’t brand-new to manufacturers, today’s dependence on it is unprecedented. Technology is used to monitor complex machinery and identify performance issues in real time, continuously gather metrics from user devices to improve the user experience (UX), run security, and more. There are handheld devices, like inventory scanners, tablets, and phones, as well as devices that attach to machinery. Most of these technologies are AI-based and automated to support business continuity. After all, the point is to have technology that can relieve job stress for human employees, not add to their workload.

With so much success, the market is bursting. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices are more prevalent, helping with everything from automated to manual assembly lines, inventory management, and general operational efficiency. At this point, the question isn’t whether or not to adopt technologies, but, rather, which technologies will have the best ROI.

How to Make the Right Choice for Your Business

Not all technologies are right for all facilities and warehouses. Companies need detailed insights into their specific pain points as well as into the finer points of all smart tech options. How exactly will the business pain point be resolved? Will the new technology seamlessly integrate into a company’s processes and practices? Will there be unnecessary disruption? How will users be impacted?

Answering these questions will take time. Companies need to speak with employees to get feedback from them, and also need to study machinery and infrastructure to understand exactly what processes need to be optimized. Oftentimes, even when it comes to the human side of things, gathering these insights requires the use of technology.

This is because certain technologies can get to the root of performance and behavior factors with a level of detail that is difficult for end users to provide. They can track network utilization in real time by analyzing tens of thousands to billions of data packets from hundreds of touch points. This includes providing analytical insights into user devices, applications, machinery, software, and more. Additionally, these technologies work remotely, gathering all the necessary data without ever impacting productivity. To achieve even a percentage of the same analytical insights, human IT professionals would have to hover over employee shoulders. As that is obviously no one’s preferred choice, technology is the necessary go-to.  

With these solutions providing insight into what the rest of the network and manufacturing infrastructure requires, it’s these technologies that should be adopted first. With their insights, administrators can make the most informed and budget-friendly decisions as to which IIoT and other automated technologies to bring on board.

Designing a network that lasts

So, we can see that Wi-Fi networks must not only support hundreds or thousands of devices that are necessary for supply chain operations but also the technologies that help optimize those devices. This is a continuous, nonstop job. Any Wi-Fi issues can have far-reaching effects, touching every aspect of the manufacturing process, including machine issues going unidentified, website downtime, order fulfillment delays, communication errors — both internal and external, and problems for financial departments 

Any one of these issues is unacceptable. The Wi-Fi network must be optimized so that these issues become a problem of the past. These are the necessary steps to take to do just that.

  1. Gain complete visibility into the entire RF ecosystem — The radio frequency or RF ecosystem is the space in which Wi-Fi networks live and breathe. Any element of this ecosystem can affect Wi-Fi behavior. This includes the Wi-Fi network itself, all connected devices, and backend and frontend infrastructure, but it also extends to nearby networks, wired and wireless sources of interference, and non-Wi-Fi interference.
    Manufacturing facilities must have an analytics tool that provides visibility into every one of these elements so that there are no network mysteries.
  1. Provide IT with 24/7 analytics — Wi-Fi networks are dynamic, not static. This means there is no such thing as optimizing them once and then walking away. They require constant supervision if optimization is to be long term. With hundreds or thousands of devices requiring supervision, this task cannot be completed by human employees alone.
    An analytics platform that can operate night and day without pause is ITs best-friend. The most efficient thing to do is ensure that IT has 24/7 analytics, not merely 24/7 data. When it comes to optimization, every second counts. Handing IT ready-to-go analytics rather than needing-to-be-analyzed data is one way to streamline this process.
  1. Schedule continuous testing for consistent end user quality metrics — Running tests on a continuous, scheduled basis allows issues to be identified proactively. This means they can often be resolved before UX is impacted. Whenever possible, the metrics gathered should be end-user quality metrics. This requires working with a testing tool that can connect to the network and run tests as an end-user device. This ensures IT teams know exactly what the UX is at any given time.
    How often to run tests depends on what network element is being tested. Manufacturers should work with a testing tool that provides different scheduling times, with options ranging from multiple times an hour to once a day. The entire network should be tested. This includes wireless connectivity and internet connectivity, applications, devices, security systems, servers, and SSIDs.
  1. Combine real-time and historical analytics — Most of the analytics shared so far are captured in real time. These types of analytics are clearly valuable, but they aren’t the only analytics to include in network optimization. Historical analytics provide insight both into network performance when no one is on-site and long-term performance trends. It’s these long-term trends that can provide critical insights into what is needed to future-proof a network.
    Historical analytics can be collated manually, or manufacturers can work with a tool or platform that will perform the service automatically. 
  1. Adopt remote troubleshooting tools — Whether responsible for one facility or many, IT teams cannot always be on-site. Working with an automated, remote troubleshooting tool is a critical way to maintain Wi-Fi network optimization. With this support, it doesn’t matter if teams are on-site or not. Issues can still be identified and resolved in near-real time, keeping productivity on track and reputations intact.
  1. Consider vendor-agnostic solutions — These can be used at all sites, even ones that are found in different countries. This significantly reduces the amount of time and money that must be spent training IT teams. These solutions also ensure that there is continuity with analytical insights as they won’t stop working no matter how often Wi-Fi and AP vendors change. 

Start with Wi-Fi for long-term success

Manufacturing processes and Wi-Fi networks are intertwined. Success in the former depends on the latter, and that isn’t going to stop. Now is the time to shore up and future-proof your Wi-Fi network so that it reliably and optimally supports all business goals.