Volume III, Issue XI

Can Wireless Ever Really Change Us? Much has been written about the potential of wireless technologies on machining and manufacturing in recent years. The machine tool as "a node on the network" has been the battle cry over this period.

Columns From: 11/1/2002 Modern Machine Shop, ,

Can Wireless Ever Really Change Us?

Much has been written about the potential of wireless technologies on machining and manufacturing in recent years. The machine tool as "a node on the network" has been the battle cry over this period.

Up to this point, though, despite the obvious benefits that wait down the road, wireless has had little real impact on the shop floor, beyond communications between personal communications devices (cell phones, PDAs) and machines in the most basic ways.

But there is a relatively new storm brewing on the wireless horizon that is distinguishable to machining professionals. And regardless of your place in the metalworking industry—machine tool builder, business manager, shop owner, operator or student—you'll want to know about 802.11.

802.11 is a set of standards developed by the Institute of Electronic & Electrical Engineers (IEEE) back in 1997 that is maturing quickly. It is a milestone in wireless technology in that it addresses—and often has overcome—many of the obstacles of in-use wireless protocols, such as limited bandwidth and security.

So, just what specifically about 802.11 is so compelling to machining professionals? For starters, the operating speeds supported by 802.11 are 11 megabits per second (Mbps); that's awfully close to (if not much more than) what most hard-wire RS232 applications perform within today. And that opens up the potential to share drawings and more meaningful information between people and machines (and vice versa) more effortlessly (and cheaper).

802.11 also defines standards for what is called Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), which addresses the unique security needs of Wireless Large Area Networks (WLANs), especially in business and manufacturing environments.

802.11 is beginning to capture the attention (and R&D dollars) of the automotive builders (entertainment delivery, on-board communications between electronic systems, and so on) and appliance manufacturers (device-to-device communication).

And there are players in our industry—builders, DNC suppliers, controls manufacturers—that are beginning to marry existing software, hardware and protocol solutions to 802.11 with interesting results.

802.11 may not provide cataclysmic change to the machining industries. But something in the direction this points to most certainly will.

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