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WLAN the retrofit revolution

Gareth Chamberlain, product manager- cyber security and it automation, Phoenix Contact explains that over the last year, there have a lot of retrofit projects asking for help to bring older technology up to date. Most commonly, the requests are to replace serial systems with an ethernet based topology.

When it comes to legacy projects the most common application is retrofitting communications to overhead cranes. These faithful work horses play such a crucial role in everyday production that there is no leeway for a critical piece of equipment to be down due to component failure. A lot of maintenance departments spend thousands on spares that are depleting at an alarming rate due to obsolescence, or the OEM that commissioned the crane originally simply does not exist anymore.

The product of choice is based on certain criteria and the environment they are situated in. However, sometimes there needs to be a more complex solution to achieve the expectations of the customer. Range plays a big role in which product to choose, also WLAN airspace; if there are 5-6 WLAN networks already in place these can cause issues.  This is where Phoenix Contact can help in surveying and planning a WLAN network in an application.

For this application, a serial based overhead crane, the customer was really struggling to source spares for the crane and needed a more off-the-shelf solution to keep his production efficient and downtime to a low. The range required was a hall of 100 metres long with two cranes on the same crane track.

The customer had already had an idea where one access point was placed in the 50-metre mark in the middle so both cranes that can be connected via a client device on the crane connected to the access point with Omni antennas. In a perfect world this would work, but in practice the customer would soon experience problems. If the cranes were to be close together at either end of the crane rail there is a high possibility that there would be very low signal or no signal due to the two huge chunks of steel.

To solve this issue, we had to create a network within a network. We proposed two networks that are independent but would still work on the Layer 2 structure of the network. The first network would be comprised of 1 FL WLAN 5110 (1043193) with two directional antennas that would handle the more extreme distance the cranes could travel 80/90 meters.

This access point would then be connected to a single client. An ethernet cable would then connect to a second Access point that would handle the second network FL WLAN 2100 (2702535). An ethernet cable would then be connected to a second FL WLAN 2100, the difference here is that this will be the Access point to the second WLAN network. This would be connected to a client that is installed on the second crane.

This would create a stable and strong link on these two moving cranes eliminating the environmental challenges presented to us.

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