Staying in the office

Telemetry solutions are now affordable, reliable and practical, and web-based data acquisition and alarm-handling solutions are proving their worth.
Dave Oakes of Powelectrics reports.

Wireless data acquisition and alarm systems are invaluable in water and effluent treatment. And there have been significant developments in the technology in recent years, which have opened up new areas for remote monitoring.

The latest developments in mobile communications prove that immediate response from anywhere is now a real possibility. Advances in cable-free communication mean you can acquire data and act on your findings within minutes, no matter where you are.

Any telemetry system is only as good as the interface through which the results are presented. With fixed-line systems, you still have to be in the right place to monitor the data. What happens if you need access to information but you are in transit? What happens if the equipment you want to monitor is not near a phone line, or is mobile?

Web-based telemetry, where third parties provide the IT support and data gathering, allows users to benefit from the latest remote monitoring solutions. Traditionally, you would need to invest in data gatherers and expensive software. But now it is cost effective to implement a system monitoring just one signal on one site.

In the UK, wireless-based telemetry systems operate at ultra-high frequency (around 400-500Mhz) using set-aside de-licensed wavelengths. The utilities have pioneered the conversion to radio after privatisation led to reduced staffing. Inevitably, some sites are unmanned.

Too remote

The de-licensed 458MHz band in the UK can give communications up to 20km. The water authorities have many sites that are too remote to use a telephone network effectively. Increased use has led to more confidence, and many radio installations now offer real-time control facilities.

Engineers are embracing the freedom that radio systems can bring. They now rely on radio communications to monitor effluent systems on pharmaceutical plants and offshore installations.

For companies needing to acquire data and control equipment from further afield, a wireless solution is available. Link to the GSM network, the mobile telephone is increasingly acquiring the functionality of a PC, providing access to and control of data without the need of a landline.

With web-browsing capability offered by GPRS/3G technology, the mobile phone has emerged as a viable alternative to its desktop predecessor.

A novel solution involves diesel drive pumps used as emergency replacements, or when major work is being done on sewer diversion projects. These pumps are fitted on site, set off to run and left until they run out of fuel. The engines could be running but not pumping anything, increasing fuel costs. And these engines need servicing every 200 hours, so an engine left to run for less than ten days will need a service 35 times a year or more.

Data capture

Powelectrics uses the GSM mobile phone network. The auto-start and telemetry device controls when the engine will run. And it will send messages by SMS and email advising of a problem. The solution is remotely programmable. A service engineer can make changes from the office. The unit can be interrogated from a mobile phone, PC, or via the internet.

A new generation of data acquisition systems is driving the development forward. A device, such the In4Ma from Powelectrics, uses the GSM network to enable engineers and operators to capture data, respond to critical events and maintain control using their existing mobile phone.

Using the SMS and data transfer functions within the GSM network, the In4Ma provides two-way communication. Also, a web-based solution can act as a kind of call centre, managing and distributing messages. You can also combine GSM with GPS.

The quality of river water in the UK is improving. This is in no small part down to telemetry. The hardware is affordable, the cost of SIM cards and data transfer is now lower than ever. And, Powelectrics says, units such as the In4Ma Metron are so easy to install and set up the work can be done by operators and technicians rather than telemetry engineers.

The use of GPRS allows near real-time data transfer at low cost. The combination of all-round affordability and reliability makes wireless telemetry using the mobile phone network the future for remote monitoring.

Dave Oakes is sales director at Powelectrics.

T: 01827 310666.

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