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Is Your Wireless Infrastructure Hurting Your Warehouse Operations?

Do your staff complain of data capture devices or mobile printers losing their WiFi signal, meaning that they can't perform tasks? Is important data lost, causing administrative issues? Or is frustration with a slow connection causing device damage or a loss of faith in your ERP or WMS? If the answer to any of these questions is YES!, then it might be time to health check your wireless infrastructure.

This week, our Technical Manager attended one of our customer's premises to try to discover why their mobile devices were running slow and losing connectivity, which was affecting order picking within their Dexterity WMS solution. The conclusion? Access points that weren't suitable for industrial environments, access points installed behind mesh and crucially 5GHz radio having been enabled. In fact, just by switching off the 5Ghz radio frequency, which had been turned on accidentally following a system reset, the connection issues immediately improved.

Following the initial wireless network being installed using Cisco APs, an external IT provider, had been tasked with providing support and supplying a new wireless network into certain areas of the business and moving some of the existing access points. Sadly, in terms of Wireless Networking, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Even with the best of intentions, changes and recommendations from IT solutions provider, who are more proficient in office based networks than industrial networks, can actually lead to a poorer wireless network and exacerbate issues, rather than fix them.

Modern mobile devices are designed to WiFi roam within the warehouse, which means that moving between WiFi Access Points (APs) should not cause the signal to be dropped, but continue to work seamlessly and transmit information to/from the ERP or WMS.  However, as many businesses find out to their detriment, this depends on whether the network is using industrial WiFi, where the APs work behind the scenes to manage the data, so that the user is never disconnected, or a wireless infrastucture designed more for laptops and mobile phones. 

The network should be designed with redundancy in mind, so that if there is a problem with a single AP, mobile devices can quickly roam to a neighbouring AP and minimise downtime.

If you're reading this with a view to implementing a new WLAN or expanding your existing network, the process should start with a full wireless site survey, using the mobile data capture devices you intend to use within your logistics process. The success of your WiFi network will depend on the vendor or systems integrator knowing how the warehouse is laid out, what potential sources of interference exist, and what types of stock will be stored there. For highly dynamic warehouses, all potential stocking and staffing scenarios should be considered in advance to ensure the network can perform under all circumstances.

Once the network is up and running, it should be regularly audited and tuned. This requires additional site surveys, which can uncover new sources of interference or additional coverage problems.

If your wireless network is letting you down and needs a health check or replacing completely, call for a free consultation on 01200 441977.

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