LONDON — The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), the body leading development of next-generation Wi-Fi services, confirmed the successful completion of its phase-one trial of Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure and services at the Mettis Aerospace factory in the U.K. The trial was the first of its kind in the world and an important part of the WBA’s Wi-Fi 6 test and development program.
Tests included applications of 4K video streaming, large scale file transfers, messaging, and voice/video communications as well as the first stage of IoT sensor and mixed reality testing. Previous implementation tests with Wi-Fi failed to work in Mettis’ challenging factory environment. During the trial, speeds of 700 Mbps using 80-MHz channels were achieved and low latency applications, like video calling and video streaming, performed well with results below 6ms. These results proved that Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure can operate well in the presence of interference and noise in a complex and challenging factory environment as well as deliver high-quality services for monitoring and maximizing machinery performance, minimizing downtime, and improving communications on the factory floor.
“The completion of this initial phase marks a significant milestone for the adoption of Wi-Fi 6,” said Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, WBA. “The Mettis facility is an especially challenging environment for wireless communications with furnaces, presses, and heat, a lot of moving heavy machinery and the presence of dust and in-air particulates. Nevertheless, the field tests in this highly charged atmosphere have proven that Wi-Fi 6 technology works well and can play a vital role within the industrial enterprise and IoT ecosystem. If Wi-Fi 6 can deliver highly reliable, high-quality, and high-bandwidth communications in this type of factory environment, then it can deliver it almost anywhere,” he added.
“The Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure installed as part of the trials has exceeded our expectations in terms of performance, reliable connectivity, and consistent coverage across the target area,” said Dave Green, head of IT, Mettis Aerospace. “We are seeing immediate benefits in terms of the data we’re now able to collect and use. Moving forward, we will be able to vastly increase the data we collect from devices across our business, enhancing our manufacturing processes, reducing variability, and increasing productivity.”
The trial took place at the 27-acre Mettis Aerospace facility in the West Midlands in collaboration with WBA member companies including Broadcom, Cisco, iBwave, and Intel as well as Concurrent Engineering and Keysight. Mettis Aerospace supplies companies such as Airbus, Boeing, and Rolls-Royce.
The Wi-Fi 6 technology had to prove it was able to provide total connectivity across the factory floor and enable improved synchronization of factory floor machinery and equipment with centralized monitoring and control systems. This required the Wi-Fi network to deliver real-time high bandwidth communications with very low latency and clear prioritization of data across a large-scale, complex factory environment.
As part of the project, Cisco provided 11 Catalyst 9100 access points (along with WLC and POE Catalyst switches) configured to ensure persistent and consistent signal reliability throughout the day under regularly changing conditions. To help achieve this, iBwave undertook a site survey of the manufacturing floor recorded noise level measurements (with machinery on and off) and gathered essential details about obstructions and the variability of the environment. This was critical to the success of the project due to the prevalence of metal surfaces that can disrupt radio (RF) connectivity.
Cisco and Mettis worked together using survey results to guide the deployment of the access points and to optimize the configuration for the environment. Using devices that included smartphones, tablets, laptops, and webcams — equipped with the Broadcom and Intel Wi-Fi 6 chipset — a series of tests were performed using Ix Chariot software to assess and troubleshoots the networks and the applications both before and after the deployment.
Concurrent Engineering’s PTC Vuforia augmented (mixed) reality software was used by the maintenance team to enable ‘walk- by’ machine monitoring. This test showed it was possible to position a tablet alongside a piece of machinery and get an instant reading of the real-time pressure and performance of the machine. In future, this will speed fault-finding and diagnosis, aid preventative maintenance and minimize machine downtime.
Using devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and webcams equipped with the Broadcom (R) BCM4375 and Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 chipsets, the following tests were among those included in the Phase 1 trial:
- 4k streaming from a webcam mounted on machinery within the factory;
- 4k YouTube streaming from a laptop with Intel AX200 chip;
- Uploads of very large video files over Wi-Fi;
- Roaming, Latency and persistent connectivity during Wi-Fi video calling using smartphones; equipped with Broadcom’s BCM4375 chip; and
- Augmented reality testing of machinery using devices with Wi-Fi 6 chipset.
Commenting on the successful completion of the trial, Gabriel Desjardins, director of marketing for the wireless communications and connectivity division at Broadcom Inc, said, "These results are so exciting because they openly demonstrate the superior performance, scalability, and reliability of Wi-Fi 6 and that this generational upgrade of Wi-Fi technology will enable many new use cases at low cost for enterprises worldwide."
"Mettis is a great example of a ‘hostile’ Wi-Fi environment,” said Matt MacPherson, CTO wireless, Cisco. “That's why manufacturing and other industrial organizations should be so excited by these results. Using Cisco wireless technology, Mettis was able to reliably use Wi-Fi for truly game-changing applications. This is a testament to the capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 for industrial use cases as well as the innovation of the WBA, Cisco, and partners. The lessons we've learned as part of this trial will help so many other companies as they look to digitize."
Eric A. Mclaughlin, general manager, wireless solutions group, Intel Corp., said, “We are really proud of what has been achieved in collaboration with our WBA partners in these initial Mettis Aerospace pilot tests. The Intel® Wi-Fi 6 enabled laptop successfully delivered 4K video streaming and high-speed, low-latency throughput in real-world factory conditions. These results help confirm Wi-Fi 6 benefits for PC clients in challenging industrial wireless environments.”
“With demand for Wi-Fi 6 connectivity set to take-off, iBwave intends to lead the way toward creating high standards for designing business critical applications on top of this burgeoning technology,” said Ziad Akl-Chedid, of iBwave’s product management team. “Our software helped provide an accurate design that accounted for possible signal interferences, such as metal material, ensuring maximum connectivity could be achieved for a project of this scale.”
The Mettis factory also lies within the region selected by the UK Government as a 5G test bed for manufacturing. The WBA test results clearly demonstrate the important role Wi-Fi 6 can play within the broader 5G ecosystem.
Phase Two of the trial will focus on further tests of the Mixed reality applications and IoT sensing of key assets. For more information, visit www.wballiance.com.