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Seventy percent of facility management system wiring is used for networking and sensors. Wireless network solutions can be a powerful tool to help convenience stores reduce operating costs, easily accommodate store layout changes, and provide secure facility data transmission.
There are various wireless technologies available to c-store retailers today. If you say the word “wireless” to a retailer, different applications come to mind depending on whom you talk to — wireless solutions can range from a simple in-store temperature monitoring solution, to a complex, self-healing wireless mesh network, or even a cellular connection outside of the store.
When developing a wireless program, c-store operators have multiple applications to consider, which will depend on the complexity of the facility; system monitoring expectations; and information security concerns.
Why should you consider wireless solutions for your c-store operation? Here is a look at three different applications:
Wireless solutions can be used in many applications, including temperature sensing. Wireless sensors eliminate expensive network and power wiring. Single-point sensing is the simplest of these three scenarios.
With this application, a sensor monitors the temperature of a refrigerated space in the c-store, a wireless module transmits the signal, and a gateway communicates to a store controller that can alert store management when the monitored temperature is out of range.
A component-to-component network of nodes establishes a communication network within the store. Each node in this system sends information back and forth to the store controller via the other nodes in the network. If the pathway of one node to the store controller is removed or blocked from the other nodes for any reason, the node then finds a new path through other existing nodes, so it is self-healing. This type of network is usually used in conjunction with case control, as each controller becomes a node in the wireless network.
Historically, wireless solutions were battery-powered, which were high in maintenance and low in reliability. The most current technology uses solar-powered modules in a mesh network setting, reducing time spent on monitoring and replacing batteries.
Component-to-component wireless applications can easily accommodate store layout changes. Convenience store operators consistently state that wireless access provides them with the flexibility to easily and cost effectively move self-contained refrigerated cases around their store, especially when the alternative is to saw-cut concrete to lay wires.
The more elements you have connected, the more you can control and automate these systems, which is critical for stores offering fresh foods. By installing a wireless system in your cases, a c-store can better control refrigeration temperatures and reduce costs by more than 20 percent. C-stores can expect increased savings by adopting wireless solutions throughout the entire facility controls network.
Improving the operational economics of a store is simplified with a more reliable temperature-monitoring program in place. In the past, store employees had to manually check dates on packages. Manual temperature monitoring is often inefficient and may lead to mistakes, misreporting and compliance issues. This wireless application allows c-stores to comply with food safety regulations effectively, while better allocating staff productivity time.
ISOLATING THE CONTROLS INFRASTRUCTURE
Cellular connectivity is different from the other two applications described above; instead of communicating within the store, this wireless solution communicates from a store to an external central point (i.e., a remote monitoring center or corporate headquarters). It uses the cellular network to link the store to the cloud rather than the traditional method of connecting to the Internet via corporate firewalls. Using this application reduces the risk of an information security breach by isolating control data from other IT traffic through the wireless network.
Transmitting information over the open Internet used to be a retailer’s only option. Penetrating IT firewalls to establish connectivity requires robust network protection, which demands constant IT support, opening up risk for security issues. Cellular connectivity is becoming a preferred option to increase IT security. Retailers can depend on a highly secure private cell network with direct access to cloud computing to connect their stores, as an alternative to the traditional Internet connection.
With wireless solutions for facility management, retailers can improve their store operations — reducing costs, increasing store flexibility and improving system security. When considering the best wireless solution, evaluate which application works best for a retailer’s facilities.
Embracing the shift to wireless technologies will benefit c-stores that are evolving their stores to fit the changing demands of today’s customers, helping them to boost revenue, keep customers happy and strengthen brand loyalty.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.