What is industrial remote control | Wireless industrial remote control

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What is industrial radio control?

Industrial radio control has much in common with radio control in which we are accustomed to in our daily life, such as garage door openers, remote controls to our TV sets or control of radio controlled toys. In principle they function in the same way. A radio transmitter sends out radio waves which correspond to a binary command for the button you press. A radio module in the receiver receives the radio wave and interprets it, which in turn performs a command, for example lowers a hook from an overhead crane, opens a gate or turns on a lamp.


Different frequencies illustrated
Different frequencies illustrated.
One of the challenges with radio is that an great number of radio waves travel through the air at the same time. For example, it may be radio waves from mobile phones, WiFi networks or wireless phones. The solution to this is to transmit on different frequencies, sometimes called channels. Sometimes one can observe a radio broadcasting on e.g. 433 MHz. Actually the transmitter may be sending on 433.425 MHz in order to minimize interference from other radio controls on the same frequency band. You can also embed the digital codes in the radio wave, which the receiver is expecting. Should the radio wave be on the wrong frequency, or lack the binary code, the receiver will not perform any commands.

The advantage to using radio is its service range. Under optimal conditions one can control a receiver of up to 500 meters away, much further than what might be practically useful. Radio waves can also go through walls.

Frequency hopping

At certain frequencies, a technique called frequency hopping is sometimes used. It is a feature that was born out of American FCC rules. In short, one can say that in order to minimize interferences, one wants to avoid transmitting on a specific channel for an extended amount of time. Instead, the radio system changes its frequencies continuously in a predefined pattern. In return, one has the option to broadcast at higher power output, which is the "volume" of the radio broadcast. This will have beneficial effects such as increased range and you are not likely to interfere with other similar systems that may be in the vicinity.

How does it work from a mechanical point, then?

A receiver with an array or relays.
A receiver with an array or relays.
When you press a button on the transmitter, you can observe how the overhead crane rolls away, just as you expected - but how does it work? When the receiver receives the radio signal which the transmitter sent, it checks it so that it is the correct frequency and that any eventual codes match. Once the "handshake" is complete, the receiver sends an instruction to a relay which is activated. A relay is like a circuit breaker but controlled by current, instead of physically pressing it. When the relay is activated, the current flows through the relay and via a cable, in our case, to one of the overhead crane's directional motor. The motor starts and moves the overhead crane as long as we hold the button or joystick. When the button is release the relay opens and current stops flowing through it.

In a receiver there are usually several relays, and in something as complex as an overhead crane, perhaps up to 12 or more relays are required to control all directions. In a receiver which opens a gate, two relays are most often sufficient.

Interferance and security

Since the air is full of radio waves from a variety of sources, interferences may arise. Radio interference is a generic term that describes a loss of control. This may be due to several reasons, for example two products transmitting signals on the same wavelength. But since the receiver is listening for specific codes hidden in the radio wave, normally no problem will occur. A problem can arise if a competing radio wave is emitted with higher effect (think of it as a higher volume) which inhibits the recipient receiving what it is expecting. This will then cause a disruption.

For toys or remote controls for TV sets, the potential damage is typically of minor impact. However, in an industrial context with applications that often lift heavy loads or control functions which can be a dangerous operation, an operational disturbance may have serious consequences.

It is therefore important that these radio systems are particularly suited to handle dangerous situations. At EU level, several regulations are implemented to assist manufacturers in making their products safer. Some of our most secure systems, achieve the safety level SIL3 or PLe.

User controlling application with industrial remote control.
User controlling application with industrial remote control.

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