Telecoms, Datacoms, Wireless, IoT

Tiny Bluetooth module fit for industrial applications

24 November 2021 Telecoms, Datacoms, Wireless, IoT

The newly released ANNA-B4 is u-blox’ smallest Bluetooth module to date, packed with features tailored to the needs of industrial applications. This comes at a time when smart factories have matured from hype to a genuine value-add, with more and more businesses getting on board. According to the ‘State of Smart Manufacturing Report’ published by Plex, a majority of manufacturers have already begun tapping into the potential of smart manufacturing technology to optimise some facets of their operations. In fact, half of the companies surveyed reported already leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to gain insights from sensed data, improve their processes and ultimately create value.

While the technologies used in smart factory deployments are ultimately a means to an end, making the right choices – in terms of the underlying communication protocols, the hardware and the implementation – can strongly impact their success. Requirements cover a vast spectrum: throughput, range, interoperability, power consumption, size, cost, serviceability... and the list goes on. Optimally balancing these can be a challenge; a challenge that the latest u-blox Bluetooth 5.1 module tackles head-on.

Not just small

ANNA-B4 isn’t just u-blox’ smallest Bluetooth module to date. It’s a feature-rich, ultra-compact Bluetooth 5.1 module built using a system-in-package design. Highlights including operation at 105°C and Bluetooth long-range functionality make it a strong choice for deployments in harsh industrial environments where size constraints are high and performance is essential.

Concurrent support for the Bluetooth, Thread and Zigbee wireless protocols provides additional system design flexibility at the factory level. And support for Bluetooth direction finding paves the way for Bluetooth-based indoor positioning applications, which are fast moving from proof-of-concept tests to full-on deployments across sectors of the industry.

ANNA-B4 comes in two globally certified product variants. ANNA-B402 offers direction-finding support for indoor location, support for Bluetooth mesh, Bluetooth long range, Zigbee and Thread, as well as an open CPU architecture for custom applications. ANNA-B412 comes with u blox’ u-connectXpress software for accelerated time to market.

12 industrial applications

No two factories are exactly the same. Still, they tend to have many common constraints, requirements and applications. What follows are 12 common industrial applications that stand to benefit from the ANNA-B4 module’s feature set.

Process management

Designed for harsh industrial environments, ANNA-B4 enables a broad range of process management solutions in smart factories:

1. Predictive maintenance uses wirelessly connected vibration sensors to monitor machines and motors and flag deteriorating performance before it manifests as downtime.

2. Wirelessly controlled circuit breakers interrupt the power supply to motors and other industrial machines to protect them against overload or overvoltage.

3. Bluetooth connectivity transforms tablets, smartphones or other handsets into human-machine interfaces to set up, configure and maintain machines used in production.

4. Bluetooth indoor positioning enables warehouse automation and simplifies locating of raw materials and finished goods in storage.

5. Complementing GPS-based positioning technology, Bluetooth indoor positioning broadens the coverage of asset tracking solutions to indoor locations equipped with the required infrastructure.

6. The location of tagged power tools and other handheld devices can be called up at a moment’s notice using Bluetooth indoor positioning.

Staff management

Connected lanyards can benefit from ANNA-B4’s small size, low power consumption and support for Bluetooth direction finding to implement personnel management solutions.

7. Bluetooth direction finding enables precise access control solutions to simplify building access, alert staff when they enter hazardous zones and keep restricted areas off-limits to unauthorised visitors.

Building management

ANNA-B4’s small size, low power demand and high operating temperature range, combined with support for Bluetooth, Thread and Zigbee mesh deployments, make it ideal to connect most wireless sensor and actuator networks in smart buildings. And support for Bluetooth long-range ensures that coverage requirements are met even in challenging indoor environments.

8. Smart lighting networks centralise control of the lighting across facilities with tough hardware requirements when it comes to operating at high temperatures.

9. Connected ambient sensors analyse pressure, temperature and humidity and feed data into the smart building’s HVAC system.

10. Motion detectors track building occupancy during the day, allowing identification and reallocation of over- or under-used spaces.

11. Micro-radar sensors monitor the occupancy of parking lots to enable smart parking facilities.

12. Bluetooth connectivity enhances EV charging stations, allowing users to interact with the charging station via their smartphone.


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