Watties goes wireless in the kitchen

Wattie Foods has opted for a wireless network in its Hastings processing plant to avoid contaminating the baked beans.

Running networking cable into what amounts to a gigantic kitchen was something Wattie Foods wanted to avoid. So the Hastings-based firm decided to use wireless technology to connect PCs on the factory floor to its corporate network.

PC/LAN support Guy Rosvall says Watties had cut its wireless teeth with a microwave link connecting two of its sites. This year it decided to put PCs in the recipe room to gather statistical data but the environment was not conducive to cabling.

"We found that to be very successful, so when we decided to put a PC on the factory floor where all the cooking is done, we looked at wireless technology also. It's where our products like baked beans and spaghetti are cooked and so it has to be sterile and it's also a wet, dangerous environment. Originally we ran thin-net cabling running along a gantry and dangling down from the ceiling to the PC but it wasn't very satisfactory."

The company settled on Digital's radio frequency Roamabout wireless LAN solution.

"After testing the wireless technology we found that we could cover the entire area required with one access point for the workstations."

“As far as reliability and robustness goes we've found it to be very good. In areas where we thought we'd lose the signal it worked fine. We have two PCs on the factory floor which sit in stainless steel cabinets and the access point is in an office overlooking the recipe room, with the aerial stuck to the window. The signal has to go through glass and steel but we haven't had any problem with it."

Rosvall says the only drawback is the drop in speed. The connection runs at 2Mbit/s--quite a drop from Ethernet.

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