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Plug-and-Play WIFI-based URLLC: EchoRing

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A key hurdle to the adoption of industrial grade wireless networks is deployment. Many solutions like 5G - Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) require extensive infrastructure overhauls, creating a high barrier for entry for both small companies with tight profit margins and large companies with entrenched processes and operations. Thankfully, EchoRing was developed from the ground up for scalable, Plug-and-Play integration.

One of EchoRing’s key advantages is that it is a 100% software-based solution omni-compatible with existing hardware and industrial standards. These include PROFINET, PROFIsafe, EtherNet/IP, SafetyNet and more. Thanks to an array of first-party hardware products, an EchoRing deployment plan can be as large, small, simple or complex as the user requires and can be integrated into any use case with ease. One EchoRing product in particular is ideal for operators of existing processes who want to make the leap to industrial grade wireless.

The EchoRing Ethernet Bridge (EREB) device is R3’s flagship hardware product. While other EchoRing products like the System-On-Module and Reference Designs allow users to develop EchoRing-enabled solutions from scratch, the EREB allows for deployment into existing client applications. The devices function as wireless Ethernet cables, connecting to a standard M12 plug and bridging Ethernet traffic over the air. Combined with smart network planning, this simple change provides an enormous upgrade in both operating costs and flexibility. Weight and power consumption are reduced due to fewer heavy cables, while untethered machinery can now move around and reliably operate anywhere within signal range.

Innovative new business models and concepts are now possible thanks to this newfound mobility. These include easily reconfigurable shop floors that can produce a wide variety of goods at a small scale, or production lines that no longer require lengthy system changeovers and can assemble individualized products (such as cars) at a far lower cost to both the customer and operator. Before any of this can happen however, the first step is to determine an application’s requirements and draft an effective deployment plan. This entry will detail how EchoRing can be easily integrated and optimized to retrofit an existing wired Ethernet system.

1 - Identify Application RequirementS

The first step to deploying an EchoRing network is to identify the application’s requirements and design an individualized network infrastructure. This is done off-site though a series of meetings and consultations between the client and R3’s experts.

To start, application-side parameters are determined with the help of an R3 application engineer. These include traffic patterns, data packet size, acceptable packet loss rate, cycle times and target latency. Parameters are bound by the limits of the application’s hardware, infrastructure, location and intended use case.

Applying this data, an R3 wireless engineer designs a network infrastructure tailored specifically to the application. An important factor at this stage is the backbone network – a static, predictable series of wireless nodes providing coverage to mobile stations. Another factor is the total number of wireless nodes (such as EREB devices) required to cover the entire operations area. Another is the number and composition of rings – subnetwork cells of up to 20 nodes that together comprise an EchoRing network. An intelligent network plan that incudes all facets of operation is a vital component of industrial grade wireless networks.

On the EchoRing side, parameters like required reliability, traffic prioritization and frame length must also be defined. These are determined when the application engineer configures EchoRing to the application’s metrics.

2 – Conduct Performance Tests

With all parameters defined, initial performance tests can now be conducted with the EchoRing Performance Analyzer. These are devices paired with each EREB that generate dummy traffic configured to simulate the application. The client has the option to both conduct tests themselves onsite, or collaborate with the wireless engineer on R3’s side.

The Performance Analyzer is an incredibly useful tool, as it allows the user to evaluate how the proposed network design will perform and adjust the design where necessary. Potential errors or weak points are far easier to resolve while still in the development phase. Five of these devices are included as part of the EchoRing Rollout Kit, R3’s all-in-one hardware solution for deploying EchoRing within existing Ethernet applications.

To run a test, configure each Performance Analyzer to each EREB with the EchoRing Configuration Server (a software program also included in the Rollout Kit). The most important factor to evaluate during each test is the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) and whether it can be optimized further. SNR improvements and iterations can take the form of:

  • Reconfiguring the proposed network layout to reduce propagation effects 
  • Reconfiguring the MCS (Modulation and Coding Scheme) index for higher reliability.
  • Widening application parameters (such as cycle times) to find an ideal medium of reliability and speed that still meets application’s requirements

SNR is monitored with the EchoRing Health Monitor, another tool included in the Rollout Kit. It is used to make adjustments where necessary in the setup phase and monitor operations post-deployment.

3 - Deploy Application

Once an optimal signal configuration is set, R3’s wireless engineer installs the network on-site according to the finalized network plan. If the network was developed on R3’s side, another test is performed in the actual propagation environment to ensure connectivity is solid.

4 - run final system test

Once all hardware is installed and all software is configured, a full system test is performed on the application’s actual hardware. In the case of a car production line this would be a complete line run from start to finish.

If this first test run is unsuccessful, it is important to determine whether this is a wireless communications fault (such as unforeseen interference), the channel’s traffic is overloaded, or whether it is a non-network-related issue. R3’s experts are happy to assist in this regard.

If and when the test is successful, then congratulations - you have officially joined Industry 4.0.

To see the deployment process in a video have a look here

Have any further questions about industrial wireless deployment, or are interested in an initial consultation? Feel free to reach out to us at our contact page.