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Wireless data communication is getting a lot more attention these days because of some significant benefits it offers over wired communications. Fast, low-cost installation, easy access and mobility of equipment are bringing this technology to the forefront. At the same time, the use of wireless technologies presents a number of security and reliability concerns for today’s manufacturing environment, including the impact of heavy machinery on the wireless media, the reliability of the wireless equipment itself, the overloading of available bandwidth and the security of communications.
Shops, therefore, are smart to be cautious when introducing wireless communications, making sure all potential pitfalls are considered and closely monitored. The advantages of wireless, though, cannot be overlooked as they can bring new levels of productivity in the right applications, and new technologies offer new solutions designed specifically for the manufacturing environment.
One area where wireless might provide an attractive alternative to wired solutions is in gaging for quality control. Collecting and analyzing data is becoming more and more pervasive. Cabling from gages can often prove cumbersome or even impossible. Wireless provides a solution for users whose applications were previously bound to error-prone manual data recording.
Mike Kryder, sales director at MicroRidge Systems, Inc. says, “Wireless is not for every application, but it is a great option for those who need it. In its simplest form, a wireless data collection system consists of a base unit (connected to a PC) receiving wireless data from a remote unit. It can be as complicated as multiple bases receiving data from dozens of remote units.”
MicroRidge offers a wireless data collection solution for gages with Mitutoyo output and RS-232 devices. Before wireless technology was available to the shop, MicroRidge staked its claim in true universal interfaces. “Our interface has the technology built in to identify different kinds of gages,” Mike says. “As long as the gage is connected properly, our interface can accept the data from many different sources.”
Now, the GageWay Wireless System is available for the factory floor, the lab or any location where Mitutoyo-output gages and RS-232 devices need to connect to a computer through a wireless connection.
A 1.3-ounce Mobile Module—a wireless, battery-operated transmitter—attaches directly to the gage to capture the measurements and send them to the Base unit. When the user presses the “read” button, the transmitter turns on, captures the gage reading, sends the reading to the Base unit, notifies the user that the measurement was received and turns itself off. This entire process takes approximately 300 milliseconds (0.3 second). The Mobile Module automatically turns off after every reading to conserve battery life.
Good for as many as 100,000 readings, the batteries may die of old age before they die from usage because the unit usually is only on for less than a half second per measurement—only when it is transmitting data. It turns on, sends the reading, accepts the signal that everything transmitted accurately (or not) and then turns off immediately, using almost no battery power.
According to Mike, “What people in the gaging industry get most excited about is the fact that it’s not a press and pray system. On the older systems, when you press the button to transmit the data, you never know for sure if the data is getting through to the computer. With this system, user feedback tells the operator that the data definitely made it to the computer.” They add one more step. When the data is sent, it goes with a checksum. The base unit does a mathematical equation comparing the data and the checksum and identifies the data to determine not only that it has been received, but that it has been received accurately. So when the gage user gets the feedback, he not only knows that the data made it, but that it made it accurately.
Using the standard GageWay Wireless System setup program, the user can easily configure the system. Once it’s configured and downloaded into the hardware, no special operating system is needed and no special software is needed. Data comes into the computer as standard serial or USB input. Virtually any software can be used. The company offers software called WedgeLink, designed for easy portability of the data into applications such as Excel or other Windows-based programs. If users are hooking up to their existing SPC program, WedgeLink usually is not needed.
The Mobile Module has a range of 100 feet and operates on 2.4 GHz, providing good compatibility within the framework of other wireless systems on the manufacturing floor. The wireless communication is cryptic in nature, so as not to conflict with any other systems.
Wireless data communication is becoming more affordable to purchase and maintain. The GageWay Wireless System is designed to allow the user to integrate the latest wireless technology into the shop’s existing system, eliminating cumbersome cabling issues, allowing the gage to go wherever it is needed and reducing human error by eliminating manual data recording. It provides the ability to take gage information in a manufacturing environment and process it wirelessly and accurately.