Wrightbus moves forward with Zetes wireless solution

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Zetes, the systems integrator specialising in wireless technology and data capture solutions, has upgraded a business critical wireless network run by bus manufacturer Wrightbus at its Ballymena, Northern Ireland, business campus.

Wrightbus new wireless communications backbone provides quicker and more accurate stock control, improved security and extended coverage across the companys site including guest access to the internet for visitors laptops.

Family-run Wrightbus prides itself on its innovative products and business processes, which enable the company to remain one of the top independent manufacturers in Europe in the competitive market for public transport vehicles. The companys workforce of over 900 people manufactures up to 22 buses per week. Customers include bus operators in the UK and Ireland, and also further a field, with recent orders including contracts from companies in Las Vegas and Hong Kong. Wrightbus is a major supplier of the iconic double deck red London buses.

When it comes to information technology, Wrightbus is also at the cutting edge.

At Manufacturing Excellence Awards (MX2008), a prestigious annual awards programme organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (ImechE), Wrightbus were star performers winning the BERR Manufacturing Advisory Service Overall Award for Manufacturing Excellence and the National B2B Centre award for Integrated e-Business

The bus maker was an early adopter of bar codes after co-founder William Wright saw scanning in action in his local store and decided the technology could help his manufacturing business. In the early days the company printed out bar codes and sent them to suppliers to apply to their goods.

At the same time Wrightbus put in a simple wireless network to gather bar code data from hand held scanners that the company used to track stock movements and carry out stock takes in its Stores department.  And although Wrightbus upgraded and extended its network to support stock control on the factory floor and to link PCs on Wrightbus manufacturing lines with central servers, the system was reaching its limit.

 We were supporting around 20 scanners and up to 15 PCs on an old 11 Megabits per second (Mbps) network. You can imagine that performance had started to suffer - there just wasnt enough capacity on the old wireless network, explains Brian McCulloch, IT Team Leader at Wrightbus.

We needed to renew, update and extend our wireless network across a campus of four buildings and we needed to make it highly available. We were determined to tick quite a lot of boxes with the new system, and developed a specification that included core improvements in capacity and security, and would also allow the addition of new features such as guest access by visitors in our conference rooms.

We chose Zetes because they met all our requirements, were competitively priced, have the necessary expertise and they provide a local service says McCulloch.

Zetes implemented an enhanced 54 Mbps wireless network with 30 access ports connected to a pair of RFS 6000 wireless controllers from Motorola and supporting 20 handheld scanners, also from Motorola.

An additional 15 PCs in the factory are connected to a Material Requirements Planning (MRP) manufacturing inventory system. Frequent changes to the layout of production lines mean that wireless technology is vital in maintaining an IT service to the shop floor.

The advantage in finding a local Motorola Solutions Partner was that Zetes could carry out the installation on a phased basis to minimise disruption, says McCulloch. We didnt have to shut down at all during the upgrade. Many of the access ports were mounted at a high level in the factory, so IT staff used a cherry picker platform to reach them, but even that didnt interfere with production.

Security was another key issue for Wrightbus. The Zetes networks security is based on the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) algorithm which provides a secure wireless network.

Wrightbus has covered every possible contingency. Not only does the company have two Motorola controllers one of them redundant - but these are connected to two central servers which are housed in separate buildings. Our wireless network has become such a central part of our business - managing 1-1.5m-worth of stock - that we cannot take any risks with it, maintains McCulloch.

Zetes provides support around the clock, although Wrightbus IT Team handle first line technical issues. As an IT department we need to know how things work so that we can handle day-to-day issues ourselves, since that provides a better level of service to our internal customers explains McCulloch.

A site survey by Zetes that preceded the installation of the network was a crucial element in planning the layout of the system to eliminate dead areas and ensure a strong connection throughout the logistics building, factory floor and offices. Zetes recommended that some of the existing ports be moved to improve coverage of the facility.

Using wireless communications in a factory like ours does present challenges, says McCulloch. There are plenty of girders and, of course, our product is a big metal box. Metal reflects signals which can cause interference, but materials such as timber and fibreglass present a different challenge. They absorb radio waves which can be even more challenging.

Wrightbus was also adamant that the network should have enough capacity to cater for additional wireless applications. The company is considering moving to unified communications, with the network handling some telephone calls in addition to data traffic. If we dont innovate, we die, observes McCulloch. Wrightbus is also exploring the possibility of using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on bus chassis so that they can be tracked in the plant, involving a further upgrade of the network.

We are very pleased to have been selected by Wrightbus as their wireless technology integration partner, especially in the face of stiff competition, says Niall Griffiths, Sales Director for Zetes Ireland.  Being able to support an implementation locally is hugely important and Zetes invests heavily in this area to deliver according to our customers expectations.


About Zetes

ZETES INDUSTRIES (Euronext Brussels: ZTS) is a leading pan-European company in the value-added solutions and services industry for Automatic Identification of Goods and People (Goods ID and People ID). Zetes uses both emerging and mature technologies (barcode, voice recognition, RFID, smartcards, biometrics), and develops Solution Architecture Frameworks to optimize the business performance of many customers in many market segments: manufacturing, transportation, logistics, retail, healthcare, finance, telecommunication, government and public services. The Zetes group has its headquarters in Brussels, with subsidiaries in Belgium, Germany, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.  Zetes currently employs more than 800 employees and generated consolidated revenues of 178 million in 2008

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