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Serious solutions

A single chip ZigBee approach may not cut the mustard on the shop floor. By Mike Dormer.

Many of the semiconductor firms developing solutions for use in the wireless market would have you believe that a single chip ZigBee design is the answer to everyone’s prayers when it comes to developing an industrial control system. However, although chip based solutions work well within a laboratory environment, they lack several attributes necessary to make them successful on the factory floor.
Firstly, the issue of interference needs to be considered seriously. A wireless control implementation that is truly capable of proving itself worthwhile will need to exhibit strong resistance to the various electromagnetic sources that are found in the average industrial setting, with the ability to easily move between different channels. With the ZigBee standard occupying the already over cluttered 2.4GHz band – which is also used by WiFi and Bluetooth – it is left at a disadvantage from the start.
Then there is the question of robustness. Any control solution must be able to cope with both extremes of temperature and a certain degree of mechanical stress, as life in the world of heavy industry is generally far less forgiving than most semiconductor solutions will be used to. And industrial locations tend to be very ‘lossy’, with a great deal of metal around which can not only affect the strength of the signal, but also reduce expected performance levels.

Graham Pitcher

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