Three questions to ask before upgrading your radio remote control technology
By Andrew DierksHealth & Safety Industry Machinery and Equipment Maintenance Machine Building Conductix-Wampfler factory automation increases efficiency machine operators radio communications radio remote controls transmitter and receiver work environment
Effective and operational radio remote control technology enhances safety, streamlines vision for machine operators and increases efficiency.
In a world where mobility is an ever-growing challenge, both for humans and machines, remote controls offer a safe way of operating or monitoring machines from a distance. Whether on overhead cranes, on industrial vehicles, in automated warehouses, or for factory automation, practitioners rely on radio remote controls to keep businesses moving. But what if the technology fails, is outdated, or is no longer suited for operations?
The use of radio communications in industrial environments is marked by different factors that affect the transmission and influence the strength of radio waves, including the distance between the transmitter and receiver, atmospheric conditions, physical obstacles and antennas. A failure in radio transmission means a loss of security and increased downtime.
On the flip side, effective and operational radio remote control technology enhances safety, streamlines vision for machine operators and increases efficiency by allowing teams to do more with fewer resources or personnel.
For maintenance and asset managers looking to maximize these benefits, create a safer work environment, and boost revenue, it might be overwhelming to know where to start. The global remote control market has grown exponentially in the last few years – to CAD 411M. For guidance in navigating technology options, here are three questions to ask before investing your time and resources into new radio remote controls.
- What transmitter features are best for my business?
This step can be broken into three elements: equipment needs, protocols, and radio style. First, take inventory of the application and equipment that will need to be controlled. Do you need to control cranes, machines, or vehicles from a distance? Are there other specific, complex operations you’ll need a radio remote to execute? Once you know the use-cases, you can consider different transmitter features.
Consider the relay and protocol requirements – how the equipment and controllers communicate with each other. Do you need standard relays or PLC communication protocols? Some communication protocols for the process automation field include Modbus, CANopen, DeviceNET, EstherNet/IP, PROFIBUS, PROFINET, Ethernet Powerlink, and EtherCAT.
From there, you can think about the type and style of transmitter you’d like to use. There are several options in the market, each with their own range of features. Choosing a transmitter style boils down to personal preference. Some operators prefer a handheld radio similar to a pendant-style, and some look for something with joysticks and levers within a ‘belly box’.
Consider the ergonomics, button placement, how the remote will fit in your hand, and how long you’ll need to hold it to control your equipment. For example, a belly box is more like a videogame controller and is designed to control equipment for a longer period of time. Once you know your protocols and the style of transmitter you prefer, you’re ready to start thinking about the setup.
- What are my set-up options?
Before upgrading your radio remote control technology, consider the installation process. How do you want to set up and program your radios? Some vendor partners can only set radios up in a certain way and require sending the product back to the manufacturer if anything needs to be reconfigured. Others come with software integrated into each radio that can support changes in certain functionality.
For example, consider if your factory needed to use a traditional relay and it was wired incorrectly. When you move the joystick on the radio remote up, the crane is supposed to move north, but in reality, it moves south. Depending on the remote radio setup, these mismatched wires could require you to send everything back to the manufacturer to change the wiring. Newer solutions allow operators to flip the relays using software and upload the changes to the receiver without returning the product altogether.
This flexibility is incredibly valuable in the case that something changes on-site between the planning and installation process. New radio remote systems are configurable enough to accommodate a change if there’s ever a change in machinery or another element. Flexibility is key when considering a technology upgrade or investment like this.
- What does ongoing maintenance look like?
Ongoing maintenance requirements are the final thing to consider before upgrading your radio remote control technology. If something breaks, how easily will it be replaced, and what will that cost you and your business?
Depending on the radio remote control provider, you can standardize across your machinery and carry one transmitter across an entire line. For example, if you have seven cranes in your factory, each crane needs a spare receiver and transmitter in the case of a breakdown. If your cranes use a system that isn’t standardized, you need to order seven spares because they can’t be mixed. However, if your cranes are on a standardized remote radio system, you can order just one or two replacements to have on hand if any of the seven cranes stop working. This is cost-effective and convenient.
Lastly, consider what it looks like to troubleshoot channel challenges. When radios are set up, they can choose an automatic channel, but it’s typically beneficial to have radio remote controls on a set channel all the time. Your technology partner should be able to run a channel scan to see which channels are free to set up the radios and make necessary tweaks depending on any frequency issues that arise.
Your business’s radio remote control technology is an essential investment toward reliability, safety, and security. No two environments or applications are the same, so when you’re ready to move forward with an upgrade or initial purchase, look for a partner that offers flexibility, expertise, and ongoing support beyond the installation.
Andrew Dierks is the Director of Product Management at Conductix-Wampfler, a leader in the industrial electrification industry. With a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dierks has dedicated a majority of his career to product and system design.