First phase WiFi 6 industry 4.0 trials successful

10th December 2019
Alex Lynn

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), the body leading development of next generation WiFi services, today confirmed the successful completion of its phase one trial of WiFi 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 WiFi 6 test and development program. 

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 WiFi failed to work in Mettis’ challenging factory environment. During the trial, speeds of 700Mbps using 80MHz channels were achieved and low latency applications, like video calling and video streaming, performed well with results below 6ms.

These results proved that WiFi 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 maximising machinery performance, minimising downtime, and improving communications on the factory floor. 

“The completion of this initial phase marks a significant milestone for the adoption of WiFi 6,” said WBA CEO, Tiago Rodrigues. “The Mettis facility is an especially 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. Nevertheless, the field tests in this highly charged atmosphere have proven that WiFi 6 technology works well and can play a vital role within the industrial enterprise and IoT ecosystem. If WiFi 6 can deliver highly reliable, high quality and high bandwidth communications in this type of factory environment, then it can deliver it almost anywhere.”

“The WiFi 6 infrastructure installed as part of the trials has exceeded our expectations in terms of performance, reliable connectivity and consistent coverage across the target area,” said Dave Green, Head of IT, Mettis Aerospace. “We are seeing immediate benefits in terms of the data we’re now able to collect and use. Moving forward, we will be able to vastly increase the data we collect from devices across our business, enhancing our manufacturing processes, reducing variability and increasing productivity.”

The 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 WiFi 6 technology had to prove it was able to provide total connectivity across the factory floor and enable improved synchronisation of factory floor machinery and equipment with centralised monitoring and control systems. This required the WiFi network to deliver real-time high bandwidth communications, with very low latency and clear prioritisation 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 optimise the configuration for the environment. Using devices that included smartphones, tablets, laptops and webcams, equipped with the Broadcom and Intel WiFi 6 chipset, a series of tests were performed using 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 minimise machine downtime. 

Using devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and webcams equipped with the Broadcom (R) BCM4375 and Intel AX200 WiFi 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 WiFi
  • Roaming, Latency and persistent connectivity during WiFi video calling using smartphones equipped with Broadcom’s BCM4375 chip
  • Augmented reality testing of machinery using devices with WiFi 6 chipset

Commenting on the successful completion of the trial, Gabriel Desjardins, Director of Marketing for the Wireless Communications and Connectivity Division at Broadcom Inc, said: "These results are so exciting because they openly demonstrate the superior performance, scalability and reliability of WiFi 6 and that this generational upgrade of WiFi technology will enable many new use cases at low cost for enterprises worldwide."

"Mettis is a great example of a ‘hostile’ WiFi environment. That's why manufacturing and other industrial organisations should be so excited by these results," said Matt MacPherson, CTO Wireless at Cisco. "Using Cisco wireless technology, Mettis was able to reliably use WiFi for truly game-changing applications. This is a testament to the capabilities of WiFi 6 for industrial use cases, as well as the innovation of the WBA, Cisco and partners. The lessons we've learned as part of this trial will help so many other companies as they look to digitise."

Eric A. Mclaughlin, GM Wireless Solutions Group, Intel Corporation, said: “We are really proud of what has been achieved in collaboration with our WBA partners in these initial Mettis Aerospace pilot tests. The Intel WiFi 6 enabled laptop successfully delivered 4K video streaming and high-speed, low-latency throughput in real-world factory conditions. These results help confirm WiFi 6 benefits for PC clients in challenging industrial wireless environments.”

“With demand for WiFi 6 connectivity set to take-off, iBwave intends to lead the way toward creating high standards for designing business critical applications on top of this burgeoning technology. Our software helped provide an accurate design that accounted for possible signal interferences such as metal material, ensuring maximum connectivity could be achieved for a project of this scale,” said Ziad Akl-Chedid, of iBwave’s product management team.

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 WiFi 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.

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