November 8, 2019 Alan Kepper

Laminar Project: Norco Lismore Case Study

At Laminar, our mission is to help our clients make sense of complications with building, operating and owning modern IT networking infrastructure. With new technologies exploding across the market in terms of IoT, manufacturing and tracking, the opportunities to increase business productivity and efficiency are aplenty. But to take full advantage of these technologies you need network infrastructure that can support your unique requirements now, and in the future.

Laminar recently was engaged by Norco to undertake a network infrastructure refresh as they had recently implemented a new stock tracking system utilising handheld scanners but found that their existing network infrastructure would need to be overhauled in order to sufficiently support the new system and supporting equipment.

The video below highlights how the project between Laminar, Norco and Aruba Networks Solution was able to overcome great environmental conditions and strict regulations, to provide Norco with the necessary network infrastructure.

The Situation:

Norco are currently in the midst of implementing a host of new initiatives in a concerted effort to improve overall capacity and production processes across their Lismore site. In a statement in March, the Federal Member for Page, Kevin Hogan announced work was set to start on a $30 million expansion of the site, which among other things, would include the construction of a new two storey building to house two spiral freezer tunnels, installation of a fully automated robotic palletising system, and new ice cream manufacturing equipment.

In somewhat of a foreword to this project, Norco implemented a new stock tracking system utilising handheld scanners towards the back half of 2018. But upon implementation, General Manager of ICT, Sandra Hollands encountered an issue. “After implementation it became evident that our existing network infrastructure would need to be overhauled in order to sufficiently support the new system and supporting equipment,” said Sandra.

At this point, Sandra began to explore options around the undertaking of a network infrastructure refresh. After exploring several possibilities, Sandra engaged Laminar. “At the time of discovery, we had an existing relationship with a third-party supplier, and Alan’s (Laminar Managing Director) name came highly recommended through them.”

1. Upon assessing the environment, from a networking perspective it quickly became apparent to Alan that Norco would present a number of unique challenges. 

2. Stringent protocol and regulations would need to be followed when implementing infrastructure in accordance with quality assurance. 

3. Adverse environmental factors meant many ‘typical’ networking solutions would not function in such a space. 

4. To avoid downtime in production, opportunities to physically implement the infrastructure would be limited to small windows. 

5. The infrastructure would need to be future proof in the sense of accommodating a number of IT initiatives around automation and IoT in the coming years. 

These were all challenges echoed by Sandra, “Being a food processing site, our environment is considerably more complex than your typical office deployment. We have a large number of compliance and regulatory standards that need to be met.

The Solution: 

Taking everything into consideration and after consultation with Sandra, the two parties settled on an Aruba Networks solution comprising: 

  • A large number of Aruba AP367’s. A modern dual radio access point commonly used in external application; it was ideal for Norco’s food preparation areas. With multiple areas requiring regular cleaning with water and harsh chemicals, the APs needed to be water/dust proof. In conjunction with this, the cabling to the APs had to be enclosed in stainless steel tubing. Housing a directional antenna that can point downwards in the normal installation configuration, the AP367 was also the perfect solution to provide radio coverage from a high vantage point throughout these tricky environments.
  • Elsewhere, AP345’s and AP315’s were installed across conference rooms and office areas respectively. A key benefit to running an Aruba environment comes in their wide variety of APs which allowed Laminar to select the right equipment for the stock and tracking application dependent on the environment, while also providing a common operating solution.
  • Aruba AirWave was implemented in the data centre to centrally run and manage the wireless and wired infrastructure, giving Norco a centralised management solution that provides insightful analytics and full visibility across the entire environment.

Commencing in mid-November 2018 and running through until February 2019, the entire implementation process took 2 and a half months to complete. In large part this was owing to the need to implement in-between production runs to avoid the factory experiencing any significant downtime, and the specifics of the project being highly bespoke with a lot of environmental factors at play.

Sandra said this was a reality Norco were well aware of, as “a number of our freezers have a temperature of -25 degrees, and you can’t remain in there longer than 15 minutes at a time and access points don’t work. So, from a technical standpoint, it presented a number of unique challenges that needed to be overcome. But whenever we had a small hiccup or issue, Alan would promptly address it and have people on-site remedying it in no time.”

Since Laminar completed the Aruba rollout, Norco have seen a number of key improvements across the factory.

“We’ve seen a complete 180 in terms of how we store, record and track our products. In terms of efficiency from this perspective, the difference is night and day.”

General Manager of ICT, Sandra Hollands

Using the scanners integrated with their tracking system, Norco can now easily scan each and every pallet that is placed on a truck for delivery. From here they can send digital records of stock transfers directly to quality assurance – previously they would have to communicate this manually, whereas now it’s all done digitally from finished product through to customer delivery.

If you have any questions regarding the building, operation and ownership of modern IT networking infrastructure, call us on (07) 3177 0899.

About the Author

Alan Kepper Alan has been in the ICT business for more than 35 years. He is an entrepreneur and operates Laminar Communications. He is an active (Fellow) member in the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He also sits on the boards of other technology start-ups and is a board member of EO, the Brisbane Chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organisation. Alan is an IT networking engineer and is considered an expert in WiFi as well as other wireless technologies. Alan is the company Director, both managing Laminar and continuing to engineer and implement innovative designs and solutions.