3 Tips for monitoring wireless industrial LANs

Network switch

March 23, 2023

Machines, systems and appliances interact with each other, and production is mostly automated: Welcome to the Smart Factory! But of course, it’s not quite that simple. For everything to run smart in the factory environment, the technical basics must be right. This also includes wireless networks. The modern manufacturing process can only run without troubles if data is reliably recorded and transmitted. In addition to wireless technologies such as 5G and Bluetooth, Industrial WLAN (IWLAN) is also a common approach. But what actually is IWLAN and how can it be monitored?

Comment by Felix Berndt, Business Development Manager for IIoT and Data Centers EMEA at Paessler AG

Wireless networks in industrial environments are similar to WLAN in companies and in private areas. The biggest difference: IWLAN is used under extreme conditions in factory floors and must therefore be much more robust and resistant. Very high and very low temperatures, high humidity, dust and strong vibrations should not affect the industrial LAN.

Challenges and advantages of IWLAN

In addition, a resilient wireless network is often more critical in industrial environments than in other businesses – especially if process and safety controls are applied over them. While the latest WLAN standards offer features that increase the efficiency and reliability of the signals, it is still essential to constantly monitor the wireless connections and the enabling infrastructures. This is the only way to quickly detect mis-connections and eliminate problems. If this is guaranteed, the integration of IWLAN offers many possibilities. For more flexibility, mobile devices can be connected, for example. Technicians can access production data via their smartphone or tablet or even communicate with moving machine parts. Another advantage is the use of various common industrial protocols such as PROFINET, SafetyBridge, MODBUS TCP/IP, through which communication is possible.

Monitoring industrial LANs: but how?

With an appropriate monitoring tool, IWLANs can be monitored easily, safely and reliably. These tips make it easier to get started with monitoring industrial LANs:

1. Monitor the wireless networking devices

Routers, access points, switches and other network devices should be monitored 24/7. Many network devices offer SNMP functions and/or a REST API that can be used to get status information. This information provides the basis for notifications if, for example, the hardware has failed. In addition, many manufacturers now offer integrated tools that inform the responsible persons about the status of the respective device connection.

2. Monitor the connected devices

Are the connected devices reachable? Already this test can provide information about the status of the IWLAN. A simple ping can already be sufficient: If a device does not respond to a ping, it could have a malfunction – or this could even be an indication that the wireless network has gone down.

3. Collect monitoring data in one place

A general best-practice tip for monitoring, which of course also applies to the monitoring of wireless networks in industrial environments: It takes a lot of pressure off the day-to-day work if all the monitoring data collected is managed centrally in one tool. In this way, those responsible in the company have a holistic overview of the entire infrastructure – across all locations, the OT environment, IIoT sensors, LAN and WLAN networks and classic IT devices and systems.

Felix Berndt, Business Development Manager for IIoT and Data Centers EMEA bei der Paessler AG