The digital age that we live and work in provides each of us with a host of easier ways to get the daily ins and outs accomplished. This, of course, includes the day in the life of a warehouse manager and employee. From the receiving dock, to the lift operator putting the goods away, the picker, and the outbound department, WiFi has virtually eliminated the paper trail.
This does not mean that WiFi does not present a unique set of challenges in the warehouse environment. What are the difficulties that can arise with WiFi in the warehouse, and is there a solution?
The identification of a problem is the first step in working towards a solution. Hence, the necessity of understanding what the problem is enables the warehouse manager to quickly move towards a viable fix.
Warning Signs of Trouble with the WiFi in your Warehouse
- Inconsistent service in different locations
- Sporadic WiFi coverage during certain time periods
- Slow connectivity
- Scanners that freeze up
- Unusual battery drainage
This list provides a general overview of the symptoms of WiFi trouble, it certainly is not fully inclusive of every possible symptom. However, a step back is necessary to better understand what has brought about these types of symptoms. Could it be that decisions that were made, or oversights, have led to this difficulty?
Common WiFi Problems and Mistakes
Crank up the Power
A picker reports that the scanner is freezing up. So, what do we typically do? We look at the power setting on the access point for the scanner, and turn it up all the way. Lack of power is the problem, surely this will solve it.
This is a well intentioned, yet inefficient way to handle the coverage issue. By cranking the power to full, this actually causes more difficulty in accuracy. Start with the standard “50%” and then make small, incremental adjustments up or down as needed.
Have you Updated Firmware?
Warehouses have numerous access points, this is a given with the physical layout. With older, out of date firmware the correct access point may be inaccessible. What happens when firmware is not updated is it “sticks” to a particular access point, rather than connecting with one that is more optimal.
A simple solution to this problem is ensuring your firmware is updated regularly.
Antenna Type and Direction
There are 2 types of WiFi antennae primarily used in warehouses, directional, and omni-directional. The directional antenna is designed to focus the signal into specific areas, while the omni-directional antenna provides the user with 360 degrees of coverage.
This is a common mistake, we assume that 360 degrees is better than a focused coverage. If the antenna is placed in the ceiling, it is better to have a focused coverage area to the ground. The reason? The omni-directional lacks sufficient coverage at ground level. The end result is a “cone” of coverage down when the directional antenna is used, rather than good coverage up high and little to no coverage at ground level with the omni-directional.
There is more to take into consideration. Let’s assume that you are using directional. If they are aimed in “direct, opposing locations” this can create what is known as the “hidden node” effect.
This “hidden node” effect occurs when they are trying to communicate with the same access point. The result is that they can not “see each other” and a loss of coordination occurs. Ultimately, a corruption and disruption of data occurs at the access point.
To prevent the “hidden node” effect from occuring, simply point the antennae on the same access point in the same direction.
The Trouble with the Cages
In the name of safety, the equipment that is used in the warehouse often has some form of a protective metal cage. Inside of this equipment we have wireless devices, including computers, that rely on a WiFi signal to communicate.
The placement of the computer, or other devices, is not what is in question here. The placement of the antenna, however, is. When the antenna is located within the metal protective cage, this inhibits or potentially prevents proper RF communication.
A simple solution exists with this problem as well. Place the antenna outside of the metal cage to allow for proper, uninhibited RF communication with access points.
The material that your warehouse inventory is made of can, and usually does, have an effect on your WiFi performance. A warehouse that, for example, holds bedding materials will be different from one that houses automotive parts.
Metal shelving also plays a pivotal role in WiFi communication. A well executed and thought out site survey will reveal the weak areas in your WiFi signals due to inventory interference. Then, you can look at antenna and access point placements.
Thinking outside the Box
Another option for warehouses is to make the positioning of your printers and computers flexible. As with a Newcastle mobile powered workstation, workers can literally work in any place of the warehouse. This can be a creative and productive solution for warehouses that have issues with Wi-fi coverage throughout a large warehouse.