No Signal? No Problem: LoRaWAN Can Reach All Corners of Your Manufacturing Facility

Ryan Spurr

I have written many blogs about wireless technologies like WiFi, BLE, ZIGBEE, and RFID—but what about the lesser discussed Long Range Wide Area Network or LoRaWAN? LoRaWAN isn’t new but perhaps only considered suitable for outdoor applications like agriculture or construction, where sensors might be distributed across vast geographies. The truth is that LoRaWAN can be a great technology within manufacturing, as it has some outstanding benefits that other technologies don’t.

So what benefits does LoRaWAN have over its peers? What technologies might we connect with LoRaWAN? And what use cases might we leverage LoRaWAN for in manufacturing?

LoRaWAN in Action

First, as its name suggests, LoRaWAN is a long-range technology. LoRaWAN utilizes narrow bands and has a higher link budget than traditional wireless protocols, including LTE. It’s ideal for delivering small amounts of data over very long ranges. How long? Like any signal, this depends on the antenna and how much interference exists in the environment (trees, buildings, structures). Typically speaking, LoRaWAN ranges up to 10 miles in rural areas and three miles in urban areas. With the ability to reach far, you can imagine how this technology might be helpful inside warehouses, factories, outdoor yards, or other large operational environments. With a typical WiFi or BLE installation, you’re lucky to get up to 5–50 yards, let alone cover an entire facility. Still, with a single LoRaWAN gateway, you can cover an entire facility.

Second, low power consumption is another benefit of technology running atop LoRaWAN. Devices can run up to 10 years on a single charge, meaning this technology is ideal for any situation, as it can run for years with little maintenance and can be reliably leveraged when power is lost or non-existent.

Third, LoRaWAN is a wide area network protocol that supports end-to-end encryption, receives firmware updates over the air, allows for device roaming across gateways, and can support high volumes of devices and messages, making it useful for IoT-based use cases.

How to Acquire a LoRaWAN of Your Own

There are many ways to acquire LoRaWAN-based devices, and the choice of which to leverage depends on the use case you’re trying to solve.

  1. Create Your Own: As LoRaWAN is an open-source protocol and leverages an unlicensed spectrum, you can create your own LoRaWAN gateways and devices or tap into an open-source network of “shared gateways” located all over the world. For example, people are known to create LoRaWAN gateways using a Raspberry Pi and open-source software. This might be a fun learning activity if you’re an engineer, but it’s probably not ideal for commercial purposes.
  2. Public LoRaWAN: A popular option is the use of public LoRaWAN services. While coverage isn’t available everywhere, public LoRaWAN allows companies with use cases that require coverage across large geographic areas to contract with a carrier. This might be an outstanding option if you seek not to procure and maintain your own LoRaWAN hardware or if your use cases require coverage beyond your corporate offices.
  3. Private LoRaWAN: LoRaWAN public services are not available everywhere. If you leverage use cases that optimize corporate plant operations (vs., say, supply chains and logistics), then the purchase of a LoRaWAN gateway from trusted hardware partners is a viable option. It’s easier than ever to acquire LoRaWAN gateway options that plug and play with your existing network brands and provide IT and cybersecurity teams with the maximum control and visibility into this protocol and management of the more extensive network infrastructure. Most LoRaWAN gateway brands utilize open standards, making it easy to acquire a broad range of affordable sensors and connect them to a common LoRaWAN infrastructure. And many of the gateway makers also provide LoRaWAN sensors, software, and even proof of concept packages, allowing you to jumpstart a LoRaWAN project, implement use cases, and obtain quick time to value.

Popular LoRaWAN Use Cases

Equipment Monitoring: Not all facilities or process equipment support modern technologies, communication standards, or can provide status. For example, vibration monitoring of pumps, motors, and fans requires multiple dimension vibration and temperature monitoring to determine the health of the equipment. With LoRaWAN-based vibration sensors, a manufacturer can quickly install, connect to a gateway, and integrate data with business systems like CMMS, MES, ERP, SCADA, or reporting platforms.

Monitoring and Safety: While every manufacturing environment is different, leveraging LoRaWAN-based sensors even where Wi-Fi or other traditional infrastructure doesn’t exist implies manufacturers can install sensors reliably anywhere for collecting data such as temperature, humidity, particulates, liquids, location of sensitive chemicals, or materials, light, and much more.

Sustainable and Efficient Operations: Collecting data about the environment with LoRaWAN-based sensors and integrated data can lead to more innovative facilities. Utilizing occupancy, temperature, humidity, and open/closed sensors, a manufacturer can integrate data with building management systems, intelligent lighting, and other facilities resources to optimize energy consumption and improve employee experiences.

Supply Chain-based Traceability: With the availability of public and private LoRaWAN installations across the globe, this technology lends itself to use cases such as tracking essential products in transit. Think cold chain monitoring of food or vaccines. This level of reach means that a diverse range of sensors can be applied to cargo, vehicles, or other logistical situations where you want to provide traceability data outside of your corporate offices’ walls and gather insights that enable monitoring and improvement of your supply chain operations.

LoRaWAN: An Effective Smart Manufacturing Initiative

LoRaWAN is an excellent alternative to many other popular wireless communication protocols. Its strengths include long-range, lower power, and a diverse list of affordable IoT devices. This makes it an excellent technology for outdoor and indoor plant operations, offering deep coverage where other technologies struggle. Its ecosystem of devices and business-based use cases make it a great consideration for your smart manufacturing initiatives. If your business is looking to explore LoRaWAN or other smart manufacturing technologies, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization. Contact an Account Manager today to get started!

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.