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What is warehouse Wi-Fi?

A Wi-Fi system in a warehouse works the same way as Wi-Fi in your home, but on a much larger scale and with several important considerations. In a warehouse, the number of devices that are connected will be significantly higher than in your home, the physical space that the Wi-Fi is required to cover will be much larger, and there are additional complications around interference from other networks and devices, physical objects such as steel racking and walls, ongoing maintenance and optimisation, and the significant subject of network security.

Because of these factors, it is imperative that the Wi-Fi system you install in your facility is fit for purpose and designed specifically for the warehouse environment.

The importance of a reliable high-speed Wi-Fi network in a warehouse

As consumer and customer demands have escalated over recent years, so too has the pressure on supply chains to invest in systems and technologies that deliver increased efficiency, speed, accuracy and visibility of products, orders and customer information. Manual systems are no longer fit for purpose in keeping pace with the requirements of the market in Australia today and in the future. The technologies and systems now standard in warehouses rely on a stable internet connection and many are mobile technologies that must have a reliable Wi-Fi network to connect to.

Many Australian businesses, though, focus on the advanced technologies and systems they are integrating when upgrading or moving into a new site and brush over the specifics of what is required of a wireless network in the warehouse. It’s something they know they need by default, but it’s not something they often spend a lot of time assessing. If warehouse operators get their Wi-Fi wrong, however, and have constant black spots or network congestion that cut or slow connectivity between workers, mobile technologies and the warehouse’s centralised software system, the consequences are costly. Most workers on the warehouse floor rely on a Wi-Fi connection and if there’s an outage or slow-down then that worker offers low to zero productivity or is forced to switch back to old manual processes that are slow, highly inaccurate and lead to duplication in having to later update system information. Additionally, if there is not a reliable Wi-Fi connection, rather than their device being remotely tracked, accessed, and updated, workers need to physically take the device to IT to be updated, which is another hit to worker productivity.

Productivity loss is something that warehouses cannot afford with the current high demands of the supply chain, yet that’s what will happen if a worker’s RF terminal, Voice headset, vehicle terminal or mobile printer cannot connect to the Warehouse Management System (WMS). This loss of worker productivity not only means product fulfilment is halted or slowed and orders aren’t getting to customers, stores or consumers on time – which has dire consequences for customer service – but it also means workers are getting frustrated with and losing faith in the technologies they are tasked with using on a daily basis, and with labour currently in high demand but short supply this risks high employee turnover or staff shortages. Another major cost to the business is not receiving a good return on investment (ROI) for all the technology endpoints that were predominantly acquired to achieve productivity gains in the first place.

Network Security

Another important focus for the entire warehouse IT network, which is often a complex system made up of numerous wired and wireless technologies, which process and store sensitive data, is security.

Cyber threats are at an all-time high. Any time data is created, there is risk involved. This puts pressure on many industries, including the supply chain, to come up with solutions for privacy and security, especially as the dependency on mobile devices and automation within supply chains grows.

Warehouse operators should invest in IT security that delivers multiple layers of security and encryption for Wi-Fi networks, and it is important to constantly update the security system to protect the business from any cyber threats. Ask yourself:

  • When was the last time you updated your wireless access points? Regular software updates plug newly discovered security holes which may otherwise be vulnerable to attack.
  • Are your access points still supported by the manufacturer? Older models may have passed end-of-life support, so even if they were set up for regular updates originally, they may have stopped coming through, leaving hardware vulnerable.
  • Does your Wi-Fi software include intrusion protection & detection and automatic threat mitigation? These services constantly monitor network activity and screen connected devices, essentially keeping an eye on the security of your wireless network for you, alerting you as soon as any potential threat is detected, and automatically taking defensive measures.

If your system is out-of-date or under-protected it will leave your business exposed. Your security system needs to be regularly assessed to identify any potential areas of weakness and ensure they are addressed early.

Wi-Fi management and security are crucial for the supply chain industry. Without it, you leave your systems open to risks that could cause you extended downtime or stolen data if you do have a security breach.

How a good Wi-Fi network can improve productivity and efficiency in a warehouse setting

A Wi-Fi network which is designed specifically for the challenges of a warehouse can ensure that these issues are addressed from the outset and set your business up with a strong and reliable connection. An optimised warehouse Wi-Fi network provides a number of valuable benefits:

  • Improved inventory management through real-time tracking and monitoring
  • Faster and more accurate order picking and fulfilment.
  • Enhanced communication and collaboration between warehouse staff
  • Reduced operational costs through automation and optimisation.
  • Improved customer satisfaction through faster and more accurate order processing
  • Better visibility and control over warehouse operations
  • Improved safety and security through real-time monitoring and alerts
  • Enhanced ability to adapt to changing business needs and growth.
  • Improved overall warehouse performance and profitability.

Applications of warehouse Wi-Fi networks

Wi-Fi is used in a warehouse to provide wireless connectivity for a variety of applications and devices, including:

  • Inventory management systems: Wi-Fi allows for real-time tracking and monitoring of inventory, enabling warehouse staff to quickly locate and retrieve products.
  • Mobile devices: Warehouse workers can use mobile devices such as handheld scanners, tablets, and smartphones to access inventory data, track orders, and communicate with colleagues.
  • Voice picking systems: Voice-enabled picking systems use Wi-Fi to enable warehouse staff to receive verbal instructions on where to pick items and report back when an order is complete.
  • Automation systems: Wi-Fi is often used to connect automated equipment such as conveyor systems, sorters, and robots, enabling them to communicate with each other and with the warehouse management system.
  • Security and safety systems: Wi-Fi can be used to connect cameras, sensors, and alarms, enabling real-time monitoring and alerts in the event of security breaches or safety hazards.

Overall, a good warehouse Wi-Fi system provides reliable and fast wireless connectivity that is essential for many critical warehouse operations and applications.

Unique Warehouse Wi-Fi Considerations

Setting up a wireless network in an office environment is one of the most common commercial Wi-Fi deployments. Yet, the wireless network needs and setup of an office environment are completely different to what is needed within a warehouse environment. That’s because an office environment is often much more static than a warehouse environment; a warehouse is more dynamic and has much more movement of workers and the technologies they use to perform their roles, as well as products.

Many warehouse operators, though, find themselves setting up their network through external IT professionals or in-house IT departments who often have little experience in setting up Wi-Fi in an industrial environment such as a warehouse. They quickly find that their Wi-Fi is not optimised for the demands of the warehouse and often need to call in more specialised support to reconfigure the network for the unique attributes of their facility.

Some of the unique features of a warehouse that impact the design and setup of Wi-Fi include:

  • Racking and Product Considerations: What are the dimensions of the racking and what material is it made of? What are the products being stored (plastic, metal, cardboard, fabric, liquids, etc) and what is the pallet or box they’re transported in made of? Different types of materials used in the warehouse can cause varying levels of Wi-Fi signal interference – for example, metal products reflect Wi-Fi signals while liquids absorb them, so it’s important to look closely at this. Also, has the W-Fi been designed for the current storage levels or a fully stocked warehouse, as fluctuations are likely to happen in future?
  • Endpoints: What are the devices that will need to connect to the Wi-Fi in the warehouse – RF devices, voice picking devices, printers, vehicle mounted terminals, smartphones, automated guided vehicles (AGVs)? And how many will be used at peak and in which specific areas of the warehouse? This will determine the number of access points and Wi-Fi signal strength needed in different areas of the warehouse.
  • Interference: Is there a potential for interference to the Wi-Fi connection from a facility’s existing outdoor Wi-Fi connections? Should certain warehouse devices be locked to one band to not interfere with other connections and cause dropouts? Or are there nearby industrial sites that are heavy electricity users, which is causing an electromagnetic field that is impacting the Wi-Fi?
  • Warehouse Environment: Many warehouses have a mixture of environments – ambient, chilled, frozen etc. Issues such as condensation, operating below freezing point and reflection off metal cool rooms need to be taken into consideration when installing Wi-Fi.

How to Optimise Warehouse Wi-Fi

An off-the-shelf or cookie-cutter approach to warehouse Wi-Fi is rarely going to deliver a good result. Not only do warehouses have different factors across the board to consider, but each individual facility will have its own unique characteristics that a Wi-Fi network needs to be tailored to.

The best way to do this is for a business to partner with a warehouse IT specialist who has the engineering expertise and will put the time into a detailed site survey, as well as run a simulation of the recommended network design. This will help to determine the best Wi-Fi installation for the current warehouse environment, in order to guarantee the network is performing at its optimum level. Then, following installation, a warehouse specialist will also thoroughly test and monitor (on-site and remotely) the Wi-Fi and devices being used by workers on an ongoing basis to ensure it is fine-tuned to best meet the needs of the facility.

It’s best to work with a warehouse specialist from the outset when the Wi-Fi network is first integrated, otherwise, there is a high likelihood of cost duplication from having to bring in a specialist at a later date to reconfigure and upgrade the network installed by a non-specialist. Site plans carried out and designed by best-in-class engineers, with many years spent developing specialised knowledge and experience in warehouse environments, offer the most cost-effective approach to Wi-Fi integration simply because it ensures the job is done right the first time.

Furthermore, it’s not a case of setting the network up within the warehouse once, then the Wi-Fi is set for life. Warehouses are constantly evolving as new technologies are deployed, new racking and shelving is installed, different products and materials are stored and moved through the warehouse, or the warehouse building or systems are extended. That’s why regular site surveys are required to ensure Wi-Fi needs are reconfigured as the warehouse changes.

Making Warehouse Wi-Fi a Priority

We all take Wi-Fi and data connectivity for granted in our daily lives as it’s largely invisible to us, that is until it’s not working properly and many of the devices we rely on to get through our day – our smartphones, apps, online calendar, emails, messaging, smart home devices like security, speaker etc – suddenly stop working.

The warehouse is no different, except that the impact is reduced productivity for many workers (hundreds in large facilities), rather than just a few people. The costs to the business can be huge in dollar value but also a reduction in worker and customer satisfaction.

That’s why warehouse operators invest in optimal Wi-Fi networks as a priority rather than just an afterthought. The same time, energy and specialist expertise that is put into designing the set-up, automation, and technologies in a new or upgraded warehouse must also be given to Wi-Fi to ensure all warehouse investments are reaching their full productivity potential and delivering their true return on investment.

Helping you choose a warehouse Wi-Fi system

Dematic has extensive experience in implementing wireless networks throughout the supply chain. Our team of experts will carry out a comprehensive audit of your warehouse to identify the best solution for your unique requirements. We will then design a robust and reliable system that ensures maximum coverage and seamless connectivity. Our team will configure the system and provide ongoing monitoring and updates to ensure that it continues to meet your evolving needs. With Dematic, you can rest assured that your warehouse will have a Wi-Fi system that is optimized for peak performance, enhancing your operations, and boosting productivity.

Click here to discuss your optimised warehouse Wi-Fi today