A manufacturing campus without wires
Honda Siel India Limited implemented a campus WLAN, and after
teething problems, feels it was worth the while. by Rahul Neel Mani
Automobile manufacturer Honda Siel India Ltd., the company that manufactures
'City' and 'Accord' car models, has a campus spread over 250 acres in Greater
Noida. The legacy campus LAN had performance and scalability issues when the
number of users increased from 100 to 200.
After a few attempts to upgrade the legacy LAN, the company deployed a campus-wide
LAN network. And after a number of teething problems, the organization felt
that the use of wireless was really worth the while.
The first LAN
The company built its first LAN in 1997, which connected the regional office,
head office, and manufacturing plant in Greater Noida, all within the same campus.
Apart from the main admin and production blocks, the remaining locations were
referred to as remote locations in the 250 acre campus.
The number of users and applications used by the remote locations weren't very
significant, and it wasn't feasible to deploy a network that had a large number
of nodes. The primary area, which comprised the admin and production units,
had a 10/100 Mbps UTP network.
The company used its existing internal telecom lines, connected them to an IBM
router and modem to provide connectivity to the remote sites. This point-to-point
connectivity allowed users to access the applications residing on the company's
Soon, along with organizational growth it was necessary to scale up the network
capacity and performance to fulfil the growing needs. But the procedure was
difficult. In 2002, the problem of growing traffic and the need to access more
applications by an increasing number of users became a significant issue.
The company took a three-pronged approach for expansion. It decided to:
1. Create a good backbone to avoid the network downtime, which happened at the
cost of actual applications.
2. Provide connectivity to the remote locations.
3. Expand the network in the primary function area.
In line with the strategy, the existing hub was replaced with a Layer 3 chassis-based
Cisco 4006 switch to enhance network performance. Three Virtual LANs were created
from this new switch-based network. And remote units like Spares, Receiving
Area, Materials Gate, Yard, Utility Center, Training Center and R&D Center
And since the demand for access to more applications from the remote sites grew,
the company decided to deploy new and more efficient means of connectivity.
The company decided to deploy a wireless network for a number of reasons.
The existing UTP LAN was unable to scale up and meet the performance needs of
the admin and production areas. This was especially because the number of users
grew from 100 to 200 in a very short time. All the channels, through which the
UTP cable was laid, were full and were buried under the floor. It was found
not feasible to put supplementary channels to induct new UTP cables.
It posed digging and civil works issues, and was aesthetically challenging,
said Hilal I. Khan, Manager, IT, Honda Siel India Ltd.
Time was of essence. The new users had to be connected as soon as possible.
And an added benefit of mobility would also help the operations.
Since it was a defined area, we thought that giving a chance to WLAN might
just work, said Khan.
There were problems
Although simple to deploy, the technology carried with it a unique set of problems.
Our first worry was to choose the right partner purely in terms of the
vendor who could provide us the right equipment like access points, adapters,
and network cards, said Khan.
There wasn't any successful deployment case study example as yet, especially
in the manufacturing industry. Honda Siel India Ltd did not know much about
the capabilities of a wireless vendor.
The most important concern was that none of the vendors, who were called
for discussion, were able to provide a suitable solution given the prevailing
circumstances in our organization, said Khan. Each vendor endorsed the
need-based implementation plan that the company had internally prepared.
At the cost of sounding thankless to the vendor and the integration partner,
the credit of design and, to some extent, the rollout goes to the internal IT
team, commented Khan.
All the interfaces between the WLAN and the fiber and UTP at the base switch
level were designed internally. Speed of the WLAN links was another important
area where there were apprehensions.
Vendors provided different versions of the speed of links. Some vendors
talked about 11 Mbps, some promised 54 Mbps, and some also mentioned 108 Mbps.
This made the issue of speed very unclear, said Khan. There were also
a number of reservations regarding security.
Select the vendor
The company decided to deploy and test the available options.
We tested equipment from Cisco, Avaya, and Netgear to see the pros and
cons and evaluate their potential, says Khan. After evaluation the company
decided to use equipment from Netgear. The solution provided 802.11g WLAN with
The network was backward and forward-scalable and did not have compatibility
issues. By updating a firmware at the access point, the access point could be
scaled down to 11 Mbps and scaled up to 108 Mbps.
But there were woes
But the company was not able to ascertain how many people it could populate
on that network. There wasn't a clear idea of the number of access points to
be put. There wasn't much clarity on how to avoid the 'black holes', which could
disrupt the network. We started with one, but ended up installing seven
access points for the defined area of 500 sq meters, said Khan.
Although we selected the vendor, decided upon a technology, and controlled
the implementation process, but in the total proceedings, I wasn't a very happy
and satisfied person. We had to do a lot of things on our own. We were expecting
the vendors to study and report the health issues, loopholes, weaknesses, and
scalability issues of the network, but their performance was a disappointment,
said Khan. Finally, Quantum was selected as the systems integration partner.
Implementation had its own problems
The company deployed seven WLAN access points in the primary area of administration
and production. The initial cost wasn't too high, since the access points were
not too expensive. But the recurring cost of the wireless network was still
a concern area.
The wireless cards are still in the range of Rs. 5000 to 6000 for both laptops
and desktops. If I buy a new device, I can ensure that it is pre-fitted
with a wireless card, but what would I do for the existing devices, said
Khan. Since the cost of the card is the TCO goes up.
There were aesthetics issues when it came to the location of access points.
The company decided to put the access points inside the false ceiling and keep
the omni-directional five-degree antenna outside.
But after doing that, a few of the users were not able to connect even
if the Access Point was on top of their heads. They had no clue why that washappening,
The causes given for poor or no signals were bizarre. At times, a desktop CPU
unit which kept under a desk was seen as a problem. And at times it was the
issue of humidity in the false ceiling. The vendor even talked of upgrading
the firmware in the access points to solve the problems.
All sorts of strange things were happening but we were clueless as to
what was actually wrong and we were getting enormous pressure from the internal
users to provide the connectivity, said Khan.
Even after the firmware was upgraded, the problem was far from over. If any
of the access points were not responding and had to be switched on again and
again, the whole network used to drop because all the seven points were interconnected.
Ultimately Netgear replaced all the seven access points with their new range
without any cost and the problem was solved.
After all the teething problems, Khan still maintains that it was a positive
step and a great learning exercise for them to improvise in the future WLAN
expansion or fresh deployments.
We showed the courage of doing it first in the industry because the time
pressure could not allow us to take any other step but WLAN, he said.
Initially the company populated only 25 people on this network, but today there
are 50 people using it. We plan to put 50 more people on this network
very soon, said Khan.
The performance, after eliminating the initial issues was very stable and the
speed was good enough for the organization's requirements. The time to deploy
was only fifteen days and the initial cost was very less.
We are happy with the initial investment as well as time taken to deploy.
But the recurring cost is still a gray area, said Khan. The total cumbersome
process of laying down the fiber/UTP cables was completely bypassed. The best
aspect about the solution was that the implementation did not create any hindrance
in the day-to-day activity.
Smooth integration with the backend Cisco 4006 switch was another advantage
that had to be taken into account. The UTP instead of terminating on different
nodes, can now terminate on an access point and the network is up and running,
In the next year, the company plans to connect the remote locations within the
premise through WLAN next year and it will provide redundancy to the existing
fiber optic network.
The writer can be reached at
Automobile manufacturer Honda Siel India Ltd, the company that manufactures
'City' and 'Accord' car models, has a campus spread over 250 acres in Gerater
The legacy campus LAN had performance and scalability issues when the number
of users increased from 100 to 200.
The wired campus LAN was upgraded to a wireless setup. The solution had
a few initial problems, which were overcome later
The company enjoys hassle-free connectivity with no scaling and mobility