Cellular and Wireless Backhaul Support Non-Stop Manufacturing Operations

Ryan Spurr

In manufacturing, we have long focused on the concept of always-on operations to keep critical processes and production online. More recently, the pandemic reminded us of some other vital principles: mainly resilience, flexibility, and planning for any potential disruption. Add in long lead times for hardware, materials, and workforce shortages, and there are more risks being realized simultaneously than perhaps any other time. With so many challenges in play, infrastructure shouldn’t be an obstacle to meeting customer demand or keeping organizations connected.

So how is your organization providing more redundant connectivity options? With long lead times for services and hardware, how is your organization ensuring future expansions or remote facilities get the connectivity essential to meet the pace of business?

Alternative Connectivity for Manufacturers

Whether your organization is trying to build out a more reliable infrastructure or expanding facilities in support of growth objectives, you need flexible solutions that will allow you to stand up and preserve connectivity in the ever-increasing digitally connected manufacturer.

Networks fail, fiber is expensive, and connectivity services can delay new facility go-live dates. Fiber can cost as much as $26k per mile for aerial and $173k per mile for buried. So what alternatives exist to allow your organization to layer connectivity and redundancy in critical operations? Let’s take a look at a few solutions manufacturers implement to meet these challenges.

  • Device-level Cellular Backhaul: End-point-based cellular backhaul can provide a single device with direct cellular connectivity, either as the primary connection or as a failover. And many of these devices also offer edge-compute options, allowing your organization to deploy containers or edge intelligence to provide for data acquisition, orchestration, and automation, among other things. This technology can provide devices, regardless of location or purpose, with flexible connectivity.
  • Network-level Cellular Backhaul: Similar to device-level, these network-based devices can provide cellular connectivity to a limited number of endpoints, such as a critical manufacturing line with production equipment and PLCs, that may require non-stop operation even when traditional networks fail. Some of these networks also support containers and integrated security capabilities to help keep critical infrastructure safe, online, and resilient.
  • Site-level Cellular Backhaul: This technology comes in different shapes and sizes, and leverages cellular backhaul connecting the site with network switches or wireless access points, providing a modest-sized environment or remote facility with connectivity in lieu of traditional wide area network connectivity. This option can quickly connect remote facilities, equipment, or critical production equipment with dedicated connectivity or act as a backup option in a networking failure.
  • Point-to-point/Multi-point High-speed Wireless: Depending on the brands and products chosen, this technology can provide point-to-point connectivity, point-to-multiple-point connectivity, and speeds ranging from 50 MB/S to 500 MB/S across distances up to 15 miles. Unlike its cellular counterpart that allows connectivity to carrier services, these technologies leverage an unlicensed spectrum, allowing manufacturers to connect facilities or multiple devices at ultra-high wireless speeds without wired or fiber-based solutions or third party carrier services. Other benefits include low latency, fast and accurate handoffs, and rapid deployment at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions.

Fiber Alternative: Not all situations require fiber to be deployed, especially for remote locations or facilities that don’t need much capacity. In some cases, fiber installation and its associated service may take longer to deploy than a facilities plan can support. Leveraging cellular or wireless backhaul solutions may be a solid alternative to quickly connect those early third party and employee resources standing up the new facility or production line.

It might also be a more viable option if a new facility is acquired with a direct line of sight. Or perhaps, that scenario where your business acquires the building across the street but still requires fiber services or installation to be deployed. Leveraging wireless backhaul or point-to-point solutions can provide high speed and rapid connectivity at lower costs.

Campus Networks: Many manufacturers have multiple buildings or buildings close to an existing facility with fiber and carrier services. Leveraging wireless backhaul, your organization can quickly deploy a high-speed point-to-point or point-to-multipoint network connecting various buildings, test sites, or equipment anywhere on campus.

Temporary or Outdoor Structures: This could be an outdoor event where connectivity doesn’t exist, nor is it feasible to deploy. It could be security cameras in parking lots, entrances, and other facility-related situations requiring reliable high-speed networks. Or it could be as simple as providing connectivity to safety towers across the facility’s property, ensuring reliable safety anywhere on the property.

Backup Connectivity: We have all been there—connectivity events that should never have happened but do. Your factory is hard-wired with fiber coming into the building. The facility team is building out a new cooling system or extending the building to accommodate business growth. The construction company responsible accidentally severs the underground fiber coming into the building, and production goes down indefinitely. Connectivity with a regional data center, cloud, or co-location services is now unavailable, and all critical operations dependent upon business systems are impacted.

Your experiences might be different. Perhaps it’s an issue with the local carrier or a wide area network hardware failure without redundancy in place. Whatever the root cause, it sends support staff home and may result in loss of production. But what if the building had cellular backhaul capabilities and could run the most critical connections keeping the plant operational? What if other buildings on the campus still had connectivity and you had wireless backhaul stood up as a backup? In either case, you would have the capacity to operate some or all of your operations without impacting production.

Affordable and Resilient Connectivity Solutions for Manufacturers

Cellular and high-speed wireless backhaul solutions offer an array of options to meet the needs of today’s modern manufacturers. These technologies support many everyday business use cases and allow manufacturers to implement affordable and resilient connectivity solutions to support growth and operational excellence. If your business is looking to explore cellular or high-speed wireless backhaul solutions, or other industrial infrastructure technologies, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Ryan Spurr is the Director of Manufacturing Strategy at Connection with 20+ years of experience in manufacturing, information technology, and portfolio leadership. He leads the Connection Manufacturing Practice, go-to-market strategy, client engagement, and advisory services focusing on operational technology (OT) and information technology that make manufacturers more digitally excellent.