LaBarge Coating LLC, a large-scale, independent industrial manufacturer of pipe coating for oil and gas companies around the world, has selected Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi products and technology to better enable and support its supply chain management, including its post-sale customer pipeline tracing service.
The new Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi infrastructure supports LaBarge’s massive operations, including two coating plants and adjoining pipe storage yards located in the greater Houston, Texas, as well as a new, state-of-the-art coating plant.
LaBarge coats miles of pipe provided by its customers around the world using a special powder coating to help protect the underground transmission of oil and natural gas from pipeline corrosion. After each piece of pipe is prepped and coated, LaBarge assigns a unique serial number to each piece by applying a special, weather-resistant barcode label to each piece of pipe to enable tracing.
To track its customers’ products, LaBarge uses Intermec by Honeywell CK-3, CK-31, and CK-71 handheld scanners with its new Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi network. This allows LaBarge to wirelessly track the location of every piece of pipe anywhere within its on-site manufacturing processes. Using Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi, LaBarge is able to keep precise track of each piece of pipe, from the time it comes into their plant/yard until it leaves their facilities.
“One of the most important aspects of our industry has become the traceability of pipe, something that LaBarge pioneered,” explained Patrick Kampwerth, operations manager and IT director for LaBarge Coating. “With our barcode tracking capability, we’re able to tell our customers exactly where each piece of their pipe is and never lose track of it.
“This is important, should the customer ever need to locate sections of pipe for maintenance, or to investigate a pipeline failure. It’s a technology that many of our competitors either simply can’t or struggle to provide, and everything is done wirelessly as far as the tracking goes, once the barcode is applied to each piece of pipe.”
Environmental and RF challenges
As customer demand increased, LaBarge said it needed to install a more “industrial strength” Wi-Fi solution. It went to Cisco access points (APs) last year and was not able to get them to work consistently. “We experienced instant problems with our Cisco system to the point where we couldn’t get the APs to mesh or realize the kind of pervasive signal coverage needed to effectively track products throughout the process,” said Kampwerth.
Within its operations, LaBarge faces various plant connectivity and environmental challenges, such as brutal summer outdoor temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, and constantly changing indoor plant conditions and (radio frequency) RF interference.
LaBarge has two massive pipe storage yards outside Houston, spanning 68 and 100 acres, housing some 200-300 miles of pipe. These yards presented big challenges for LaBarge due to the lack of power, Ethernet cabling and broadband connectivity.
The Ruckus solution
To solve these problems, LaBarge is using Ruckus ZoneFlex 7731 outdoor point-to-point 5GHz long-range Wi-Fi bridges to wirelessly extend broadband capacity into these areas. This eliminates the need to pay every month for fixed line broadband capacity from a local service provider.
With wireless broadband capacity now available, LaBarge deployed several Ruckus ZoneFlex 7782 802.11n outdoor meshed access points to cover each yard. Additionally, utilizing Ruckus SmartMesh Networking technology minimises cost and complexity for LaBarge by eliminating the need to run Ethernet cabling to each AP.
Within its enormous yards where power is not readily available, LaBarge runs its Ruckus ZoneFlex outdoor APs off of custom-designed solar power supply panels that deliver power via the Power over Ethernet (PoE) port to each access point.
Kent Rustad is president of AIC Partners, a supply chain management specialist located in Okatie, SC who’s worked with and assisted Kampwerth and LaBarge for many years, and designed the solar power supply panels for LaBarge. Rustad discovered Ruckus and introduced Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi as a solution for Kampwerth and LaBarge.
“It was simply a night and day experience with Ruckus relative to our legacy Cisco system,” said Kampwerth. “Not only was our Cisco legacy system much more expensive, we could never get it to mesh properly, work with our solar panels or deliver the kind of Wi-Fi range and performance needed to run our business. That was the bottom line.”
Three pairs of Ruckus ZoneFlex 7731 5 GHz point-to-point/multipoint bridges are providing long distance broadband access between the LaBarge corporate office, the Shields plant, and a couple of trailers in the Shields yard. Rustad pointed out that avoiding wired connections was crucial, as trenching fibre was cost prohibitive at about $50,000-80,000 per link.
Compared to its legacy Wi-Fi system that was delivering as little as 2Mbps of data throughput in fringe areas of LaBarge’s operations, the new Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi Network is yielding as much as 54Mbps of consistent and pervasive throughput in all locations. “The difference was astounding,” said Kampwerth. “And this isn’t some vendor lab. This is the real world.”
The reliable Wi-Fi connectivity that their Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi networks now provide is imperative for LaBarge. Anytime a plant employee, yard worker, and/or forklift operator has to stop what they’re doing and look for coverage, it’s disruptive to workflows and hurts productivity. Erratic, unreliable wireless connectivity can lead to significantly higher costs at a large facility such as LaBarge. Less downtime equals higher productivity.
Rustad and AIC Partners helped Kampwerth and LaBarge start deploying the Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi APs, first installing a single Ruckus ZoneFlex 7731 point-to-point bridge AP at one of the LaBarge corporate offices in Channelview, approximately 1,000 feet from one of their two 100,000 square foot coating plants.
This allowed them to have Internet access at the coating plant and test the quality and reliability of the Wi-Fi, before starting the overall network deployment for both plants and their adjacent outdoor pipe storage yards.
“It worked so well and so fast, I was immediately surprised and completely impressed,” said Kampwerth. “It’s fast, it works, and it’s bulletproof as far as I’m concerned.”
Ruckus ZoneFlex 7762 APs are now being deployed in the ceilings of their two plants, with several ZoneFlex 7782 outdoor APs mounted on light poles powered by solar power panels for their adjacent, sprawling outdoor pipeline storage yards, with the first deployment underway at their 100-acre Shields facility, to be followed by the 68-acre Sheldon site.
Both networks will be centrally managed using redundant Ruckus ZoneDirector 3050 controllers, with Ruckus SmartMesh Networking being utilized in both outdoor yards.