Wireless Sensing: Stopping Blind Spots in Their Tracks
by Mike Fahrion
I don’t brag about it at parties, but I’m a risk-based thinker.
I spend a fair bit of time thinking about what might go horribly wrong, how likely that particular scenario is and what I might do to avoid such a calamity.
Whether I’m mowing my lawn, changing out an electrical fixture, or working through a business decision, I’ll always dedicate at least a few beats of my thought process to risk-based thinking.
But every process has its nemesis. For risk-based thinkers that nemesis is known as The Blind Spot.
Blind Spots are sneaky. They represent the corner cases. Things you don’t see coming. In operations-focused businesses they’re massively expensive. Over time Blind Spots represent the difference between a competitive, profitable company and a forlorn “space for rent” sign.
The good news is that hunting down blind spots isn’t rocket science because they leave a trail of clues. Just search for the disruption they cause. Unplanned downtime? Unexplained manufacturing variance? Missed production dates? High service costs? Scrap? Inconsistent equipment utilization? Truck rolls for field service? The list is long and costly.
Once you identify a potential blind spot, it’s not uncommon to discover that the issue isn’t so much your lack of brainpower as it is a lack of important data—a little bit of critical info that would clue you into trouble before it escalates to the calamity state.
In the past, this is where so many opportunities to improve your business die on the vine. It was simply too difficult, too expensive or too disruptive to find a way to collect that data and integrate it into systems used for operational decision-making.
Why so hard? Traditional solutions require too many things that are hard to do. Reprogramming working control systems. Labor intensive installations of expensive systems and cabling. Taking production equipment offline. Getting cooperation between IT and plant operations. Each of these bumps in the road has the capacity to convert an opportunity for improvement into a line item to be considered on next year’s budget.
But it often doesn’t need to be that hard. Technology has been chunking away in the background reducing the cost, complexities and the learning curve of what used to be double black diamond difficulty. Now it’s down to skiing the green run… or maybe blue.
Wireless Sensing is one of those technologies that have come a long way. Wireless is a hugely attractive value proposition for eliminating blind spots because, well, its wireless. When you’re dealing with an existing operation, things like running wires, power or data can be ridiculously expensive.
Being able to install a wireless sensor node most anywhere, indoor or outdoor, is a leap forward. But you’re not quite done yet. That wireless sensor node needs to send its data somewhere. It needs a physical landing place. That could be your Wi-Fi network (ubiquitous and cost effective, but too power hungry for proper battery-operation). It could also be a Wireless Sensor Gateway—a piece of hardware you install somewhere on your network (or anywhere with access to an LTE signal), in range of the wireless sensor nodes. That gateway will require power—and it will be the aggregator of your wireless sensor nodes as well as the point of connection to your IP-based network.
That covers the physical solution, but you need the sensor data integrated into some useful software application. Maybe that’s as simple as receiving a text message or email when data goes outside of programmed limits. Or maybe that’s integrating the data into your plant-wide historian, SCADA or MES system.
Putting together solutions for the dreaded Blind Spot has been a focal point of our engineering teams for a few years now. A couple of months back we released a next generation solution that made it even easier, lower cost and lower complexity to fix your Blind Spot problems.
If you’d like to see more of our solution, click here.
What are the blind spots in your business or operation? Talk back or drop me a note, I love to hear from other risk-based thinkers—your challenges and solutions!
– Mike Fahrion
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July 10, 2018