Philadelphia shipyard connects with optical wireless

April 12, 2006 - The system connects warehouse operations to the corporate network through harsh conditions.

Aker Philadelphia Shipyard Inc. (APSI), a commercial shipbuilder and member of the Norwegian-based Aker family of global companies, recently deployed the FlightLite 100E optical wireless system to connect a vital warehouse operation to the corporate network. LightPointe (www.lightpointe.com), maker of the FlightLite 100E and other optical-wireless equipment, announced the deployment on April 10. The FlightLite 100E link delivers Fast Ethernet communications with bandwidth for accessing business-critical enterprise resource planning (ERP) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications while helping increase operational productivity, the company said.

Aker's state-of-the-art, 100-acre shipyard is on the site of the former Philadelphia Navy yard near the Delaware River and within a mile of the Philadelphia International Airport. To streamline operations, APSI installed a portable warehouse in the heart of its shipbuilding area to accommodate more efficient delivery of essential materials. Initially an 802.11g radio frequency (RF) 54-Mbit/sec bridge was installed to connect the portable warehouse to a nearby building for transparent access to mission-critical voice and data applications. But almost immediately, they reported, the RF product faced performance and reliability challenges. Additionally, fog and moisture from the Delaware River further impacted RF performance.

According to Michael Boeckx, chief technology officer at APSI, the RF bridge had about 5 percent uptime. Boeckx decided to replace the bridge and in January 2006, APSI evaluated a variety of connectivity options. The shipyard decided against installing fiber-optic cable because trenching beneath a ship crane and adjacent railway was not feasible.

Eventually Boeckx was referred to M&K Internetworking Security Services, a Melville, NY-based network consultancy and a proponent of LightPointe's point-to-point optical wireless products. With M&K's assistance, APSI evaluated LightPointe's portfolio of optical wireless offerings before selecting the FlightLite 100E to connect the warehouse to a four-story building approximately 500 meters away.

Installation and configuration of the building-to-building link took less than a day. "The FlightLite hasn't missed a beat, despite heavy fog and inclement weather conditions," says Boeckx. "The high-speed link is so fast it feels like you're in the server room, not working from a remote location." Boeckx is also considering optical wireless links between other critical shipyard facilities to maximize the technology's benefits.

According to Rocco Rescinit, senior account manager at M&K Internetworking Security Services, the FlightLite produced significant time and cost savings. "APSI was able to rapidly deploy a reliable, high-speed networking solution without the licensing fees, time delays and installation challenges of competing alternatives," he says. "In return, they realized immediate performance and reliability benefits."

Improved network uptime has led to a substantial productivity boost at ASPI, the company reports. "With the RF bridge, our network used to go down three to four hours each day, which slowed every aspect of our business," Boeckx says. "Now we no longer worry or wait. The FlightLighte system will pay for itself in less than six months, based solely on our ability to keep around-the-clock operations running smoothly."

According to Bob Preston, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at LightPointe, optical wireless is ideal as a primary communications path as well as a temporary, redundant or portable point-to-point link. "For instance, LightPointe's transportable systems can be relocated easily if APSI moves the warehouse to another location," he says. "Furthermore, our outdoor wireless solutions can be deployed throughout the shipyard as redundant links as well as eliminate the need for leased lines altogether."

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