Factory Adoption of Wireless Still Slow

Feb. 4, 2009
Hardware Prices Are Expected to Fall as Software and Services Revenues Increase

Obstacles exclusive to factory automation continue to hinder adoption of wireless technology, according to separate reports from two research firms. The use of wireless products in factory automation will remain dwarfed in comparison to its use in commercial applications, according to data from IMS Research. Frost & Sullivan reports similar findings. “Wireless devices are perceived as the next big technological wave in factory automation,” explains Khadambari Shanbagaraman, research analyst, industrial automation & process control,  Frost & Sullivan. “However, the current adoption trends are moderate at best, despite requirements for real-time data, remote access and flexibility in operation. This is mainly because the wireless devices are not found to be robust enough by end users due to concerns such as reliability, security and interoperability.”

Global Forecast for Discrete
The price of hardware is expected to fall as software and services revenues increase due to their complementary nature to hardware.
Source: Frost & Sullivan

How Slow Can You Grow?

In 2007, the worldwide market for wireless products in factory automation was only 500,000 units, according to IMS data. This total included products with built-in wireless functionality, such as sensors, operator terminals, PLCs, remote IO, drives and wireless access points. By 2013, shipments are forecast to approach 4 million units. The IMS findings corroborate Shanbagaraman’s claim that the biggest obstacle to adopting wireless communications for machine builders and end users alike is reliability. The presence of heavy machinery that can interrupt wireless signals, together with the increasing importance of gathering dependable, detailed machine data has convinced most, for now at least, that wired solutions are best, says the IMS report.

IMS expects worldwide shipments of wireless communication systems in factory automation to grow at an average of 40% each year through 2013. In part, this growth will be driven by automation component suppliers, who continue to see wireless technology as the next big step to increasing plant efficiency and safety, according to the IMS report.

To Whom It May Concern

“The major concerns toward wireless adoption in factory automation are reliability and security,” explains Frost’s Shanbagaraman. “End users perceive that for a plant to operate round-the-clock, the current wireless technology does not provide the necessary robustness. This is mainly because of the possibility of technical issues such as signal mismatch, electromagnetic induction, data loss in transmission and other interference problems that are quite common in a factory automation environment.”

End-user conservatism, evident in industries such as food and beverages and plastics, is restraining investments in wireless devices as the end users are less willing to try the new technology without being assured of its potential benefits, says Shanbagaraman.

The current adoption in factory automation arises from the demand for short-range devices for monitoring and alerting applications, according to the Frost report. “Hardware components accounted for a major portion of total wireless device revenues in 2008, followed by software and then services,” he says.