Wi-Fi 6 Succesfully Used to Provide Connectivity in an Aerospace Factory

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), the organization that leads the development of next-gen Wi-Fi services, has announced the completion of its Phase 1 trial of Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure and services at the Mettis Aerospace factory in the UK. The trial was the first of its kind in the world and an important part of the WBA’s Wi-Fi 6 test and development program.

The tests included applications of 4K video streaming, large scale file transfers, messaging and voice/video communications as well as the first stage of IoT sensor and mixed reality testing. Previous implementation tests with Wi-Fi failed to work in Mettis’ challenging factory environment. During the recent trial, speeds of 700 Mbps using 80 MHz channels were achieved and low latency applications, like video calling and video streaming, performed well with results below 6ms.

These results proved that Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure can operate well in the presence of interference and noise in a complex and challenging factory environment as well as deliver high quality services for monitoring and maximizing machinery performance, minimizing downtime, and improving communications on the factory floor.

According to WBA CEO, Tiago Rodrigues, the Mettis facility is a challenging environment for wireless communications with furnaces, presses and heat, a lot of moving heavy machinery and the presence of dust and in-air particulates. Thus, the completion of this initial phase marks a significant milestone for the adoption of Wi-Fi 6. The field tests in this highly charged atmosphere have proven that Wi-Fi 6 technology works well and can play a vital role within the industrial enterprise and IoT ecosystem. Tiago believes, if Wi-Fi 6 can deliver highly reliable, high quality and high bandwidth communications in this type of factory environment, then it can deliver it almost anywhere.

According to Dave Green, Head of IT, Mettis Aerospace, the Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure installed as part of the trials has exceeded their expectations in terms of performance, reliable connectivity and consistent coverage across the target area. The facility is now also seeing immediate benefits in terms of the data being collected and used. Moving forward, Mettis will be able to vastly increase the data collected from devices across its business, enhancing the manufacturing processes, reducing variability and increasing productivity.

The WBA trial took place at the 27-acre Mettis Aerospace facility in the West Midlands in collaboration with WBA member companies including Broadcom, Cisco, iBwave and Intel as well as Concurrent Engineering and Keysight. Mettis Aerospace supplies companies such as Airbus, Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

The Wi-Fi 6 technology had to prove it was able to provide total connectivity across the factory floor and enable improved synchronization of factory floor machinery and equipment with centralized monitoring and control systems. This required the Wi-Fi network to deliver real-time high bandwidth communications, with very low latency and clear prioritization of data across a large-scale, complex factory environment.

As part of the project, Cisco provided 11 Catalyst 9100 access points (along with WLC and POE Catalyst switches) configured to ensure persistent and consistent signal reliability throughout the day under regularly changing conditions. To help achieve this, iBwave undertook a site survey of the manufacturing floor recorded noise level measurements (with machinery on and off) and gathered essential details about obstructions and the variability of the environment. This was critical to the success of the project due to the prevalence of metal surfaces that can disrupt radio (RF) connectivity.

Cisco and Mettis worked together using survey results to guide the deployment of the access points and to optimize the configuration for the environment. Using devices that included smartphones, tablets, laptops and webcams – equipped with the Broadcom and Intel Wi-Fi 6 chipset, a series of tests were performed using Ixia's (a Keysight company) Ix Chariot software to assess and troubleshoots the networks and the applications both before and after the deployment.

Concurrent Engineering’s PTC Vuforia augmented (mixed) reality software was used by the maintenance team to enable ‘walk- by’ machine monitoring. This test showed it was possible to position a tablet alongside a piece of machinery and get an instant reading of the real-time pressure and performance of the machine. In future, this will speed fault-finding and diagnosis, aid preventative maintenance and minimize machine downtime.

Using devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and webcams equipped with the Broadcom BCM4375 and Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 chipsets, the following tests were among those included in the Phase 1 trial:

  • 4k streaming from a webcam mounted on machinery within the factory
  • 4k YouTube streaming from a laptop with Intel AX200 chip
  • Uploads of very large video files over Wi-Fi
  • Roaming, Latency and persistent connectivity during Wi-Fi video calling using smartphones equipped with Broadcom’s BCM4375 chip
  • Augmented reality testing of machinery using devices with Wi-Fi 6 chipset

The Mettis factory also lies within the region selected by the UK Government as a 5G test bed for manufacturing. The WBA test results clearly demonstrate the important role Wi-Fi 6 can play within the broader 5G ecosystem. Phase Two of the trial will focus on further tests of the Mixed reality applications and IoT sensing of key assets.

Click here to view more such works being performed by WBA and its members with Wi-Fi 6.

Click here to know more about WBA’s Wi-Fi 6 Deployment Guidelines & Scenarios.

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