Wireless technology moves into motion control

Jan. 22, 2004
Wireless computer connections are no longer just for consumers or laptopped coffee hounds camped out in Starbucks. The technology is likely to have a prominent role in motion-control applications.

This is the picture emerging from presentations scheduled for the upcoming Industrial Wireless Automation Summit (IWAS) taking place March 8 through 10 in San Diego. Among other things, presenters will describe wireless applications that eliminate potentially hazardous wiring, add functions to conventional industrial controls, and implement RF ID for tracking work-in-progress through manufacturing and into end products.

Early industrial adopters of wireless technology have formed a group to serve as a forum for sharing experiences. The Wireless Industrial Networking Alliance (Wina) aims to let members discuss what's going on in the industry, products coming to market, and the potential impact of emerging wireless technologies on industrial measurements and manufacturing processes.

This according to Wayne Manges, a program manager for industrial wireless technologies at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. At IWAS, Manges will review the history of industrial wireless technology, outline pitfalls and likely future developments, and examine distributed intelligent sensor networks for manufacturing measurement and process control.

One of the first applications for wireless controls in an industrial setting is on mobile column lifts for automotive service stations. Described by Bill Baker of Gray Automotive Products, the lifts replace traditional in-ground hydraulic lifts. The mobile lifts use wireless controls to synchronize each of four to six columns when lifting or lowering a vehicle.

Gray Automotive did extensive testing to come up with a fail-safe scheme for the controls. The advantage of the system, says Baker, is that service technicians can get under a vehicle without tripping over wiring that would be necessary with conventional controls.

One reason more industrial controls haven't gone wireless is that development costs have been higher than for ordinary approaches. But this is changing rapidly, says DPAC Technology. There are several approaches that can now speed products in this area to market.

One of the wireless technologies under investigation by numerous companies is RF ID. Mandates by the retailer Wal-Mart and the Defense Logistics Agency have created a rush for knowledge about the technology. But there are reasons beyond these mandates to implement RF ID, says Joe Dunlap, RF ID program lead for Siemens Dematic. Speaking in the IWAS RF ID track, Dunlap says RF ID can provide much more information than bar codes and without a significant increase in cost. Dunlap will discuss integration testing of RF ID with a high-speed conveying/sortation system and an RF ID-enabled label applicator.

IWAS takes place at the San Diego Convention Center in conjunction with the Wireless Systems Design Show. More information about IWAS and its conference program is available at www.IWAsummit.com.

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