Mettis Aerospace completes world’s first phase-one Wi-Fi 6 4.0 trials

Next-gen Wi-Fi is successfully put through its paces streaming critical engineering information in “hostile” engineering environment

Engineering firm Mettis Aerospace has successfully concluded the phase-one trial of Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure and services at its UK factory.

News of the successful test was confirmed by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), which is leading development of next-generation Wi-Fi services. The trial was the first of its kind in the world and was described as being an important part of the WBA’s Wi-Fi 6 test and development programme.

Mettis Aerospace supplies companies such as Airbus, Boeing and Rolls-Royce and the trial took place at a 27-acre facility in the West Midlands in collaboration with WBA member companies including Broadcom, Cisco, iBwave and Intel, as well as Concurrent Engineering and Keysight.

The Wi-Fi 6 technology had to prove it was able to provide total connectivity across the factory floor and enable improved synchronisation of factory-floor machinery and equipment with centralised monitoring and control systems. This required the Wi-Fi network to deliver real-time high-bandwidth communications, with very low latency and clear prioritisation of data across a large-scale, complex factory environment.

Tests included applications of 4K video streaming, large-scale file transfers, messaging and voice/video communications, as well as the first stage of internet of things (IoT) sensor and mixed-reality testing. Previous implementation tests with Wi-Fi had failed to work in the Mettis factory environment, but during the latest trial, speeds of 700Mbps using 80MHz channels were achieved and low-latency applications, such as video calling and video streaming, performed well, with results below 6ms.

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.

Cisco and Mettis also worked together using survey results to guide the deployment of the access points and to optimise the configuration for the environment. Concurrent Engineering’s PTC Vuforia augmented (mixed) reality software was used by the maintenance team to enable “walk-by” machine monitoring and show if 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.

Using a number of real-world devices, the phase-one trial included: 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.

WBA declared that the 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 to monitor and maximise machinery performance, minimise downtime and improve communications on the factory floor.

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“The completion of this initial phase marks a significant milestone for the adoption of Wi-Fi 6,” said Tiago Rodrigues, WBA CEO. “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.”

Dave Green, head of IT at Mettis Aerospace, 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. 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.”

Given that the Mettis factory also lies within the region chosen by the UK government as a 5G test bed for manufacturing, the WBA said the test results clearly show the important role Wi-Fi 6 can play in 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.

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