Wireless Data Acquisition has Environmental Impact

02 June 2007

Wireless Data Acquisition and Alarming systems are invaluable in Environmental applications and recent years have seen significant developments in the technology opening up new areas for remote monitoring. Efficient data acquisition and effective alarming highlight potential problems and indicates the most productive way of solving problems, as well as ensuring environmental damage is kept to a minimum should an incident occur.

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 not at your desk, or you are in transit? What happens if the equipment you want to monitor is not near a phone line, or is mobile?

The latest developments in mobile communications prove that immediate response, from anywhere, is now a real possibility. Whether you’re on the other side of your plant or on the other side of the world, advances in cable-free communication mean that you can acquire data and, vitally, act on your findings within minutes.


Powelectrics have been providing data communication solutions for many years and have seen the advances in wireless based telemetry at first hand. In the UK these tend to be UHF systems operating around the 400-500Mhz band using set-aside delicensed frequencies. The utilities have pioneered the conversion to radio after successive privatisation has lead to staffing reductions, which inevitably has left some sites unmanned.

The water authorities in particular have many sites which are too remote to use a telephone network effectively so the best solution is to employ radio equipment to monitor process signals and relay values to central controls sites. Increased use has lead to increased confidence and many radio installations now offer real-time control facilities.

Engineers are now starting to embrace the freedom that radio systems can bring. Confidence has grown to the extent that engineers now rely on radio communications to monitor effluent systems on pharmaceutical plants and offshore installations.

If you need to acquire data and control equipment from further a field a wireless solution is already available. With its link to the GSM network, the mobile telephone is increasingly acquiring the functionality of a PC. This provides access to, and control of, data without the necessity of landline connectivity. With web-browsing capability offered by GPRS/3G technology, the mobile has emerged as a viable alternative to its desktop predecessor.

A novel solution involves diesel drive pumps which are used on sewage works as emergency replacements or when major work is being undertake, on sewer diversion projects as well on ground water clearance applications on building sites. Normally these pumps are fitted on site, set off to run and just left to keep on running till they run out of fuel. This means the engines could be running even when they aren’t actually pumping anything which increases fuel costs significantly as well as adding to the hours run on the engine and therefore increasing the servicing requirements significantly. Typically these engines need servicing every 200 hours, so an engine left to run for less than 10 days will need a service over 35 times a year! Having plant running unattended in remote locations can lead to service and operational issues. How do you know of the engine has stopped running because of a low oil pressure failure, or how do you now that the engine needs a service, and what are the implications?

The solution designed and developed by Powelectrics takes away these worries whilst helping the user save money and uses the GSM mobile phone network as the means of communication. The auto-start and telemetry device not only controls when the engine will run but will also send messages by sms (a mobile phone text message) and email advising you of a problem. The solution will work on mobile and portable applications in over 120 countries. The system can still operate in manual, where the user can start and stop the engine by the turn of a key, the system can be put into automatic mode and starts if the high level is reached. The unit will then stop pumping when the low level is reached. All the time the engine is running hours run is monitored and advises the owner when a service is due, as well as sending text message alarms if there is an oil pressure or an engine temperature problem. ‘High High’ level can also be monitored and an alarm can be sent out so the user can take appropriate action.

Every action is logged. When the engine started, stopped, sent an alarm etc.. This can be transferred to a server and posted on the Internet. Users can then log on via a secure username and password and look at the history of an engine / pump. The hirer of the pump can see if an engine on 5-day hire has been run on the weekend, or if a unit continually ‘trips out’ on low oil.

In some applications the engine may be only running for a few minutes at a time, which has the effect of draining the battery. We can easily configure the device to run for a minimum period to prevent this, or even to monitor the battery voltage and run the engine to bring the battery level back up to a minimum level. Not only is the solution powerful and flexible, it is also remotely programmable. Parameters may change as well as mobile phone numbers – instead of a service engineer having to drive to site these changes can now be made from the warmth and comfort of the office. You can also interrogate the unit from your mobile phone, or your pc, or via the Internet so you can see if it has a service coming up soon..

Sending messages

A new generation of data acquisition systems is driving the development forward. A device like 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. Utilising the Short Messaging Service (SMS) and the Data transfer functions within the GSM network, the IN4MA provides two-way communication, responding to requests for information or allowing control of the process. In addition, the IN4MA can pass on a message when a certain condition occurs, so the operator can take immediate and appropriate actions in alarm situations.

The IN4MA doesn’t just send messages to a mobile phone. A web based solution in the form of 'Gateway' acts as a ‘call centre’ managing messages and distributing them as appropriate. Data can stored on 'Gateway' and viewed in a graphical manner or output to other software suites for further analysis.

You can also combine the use of GSM with GPS (the global positioning system). Perhaps you are chemical manufacturer and you supply your clients in bulk, and in order to achieve this you have a fleet of tankers. A level sensor on your clients tank can be linked directly to an IN4MA unit which in turn communicates information back to your head office. When a tank is running near to empty you are alerted and can arrange to send a tanker. Your tankers are fitted with a GPS capable IN4MA so you can find out where it is, where it has been and where it’s heading. You can then instantly find out which is the nearest tanker to your needy customer, work out the fastest route to get the tanker to site, you can see when he arrives, how much product is delivered and when, and check that all is OK. Not only can the system be used to help reduce operating costs and improve customer service, but you can also improve safety. There is a significant environmental impact too - fewer journeys means fewer emissions.

Shell Gas are a major supplier of liquid propane gas (LPG), supplying different sectors with products ranging from those that heat homes to ones that act as a propellant in aerosols. LPG, if you aren’t already aware, is a highly explosive product and needs to be treated with care and respect. The volumes used can vary from customer to customer, from day to day, and this places huge demands on the distribution arm of Shell Gas. There is also the safety aspect – if an incident occurs then Shell Gas need to act quickly and appropriately to reduce the effects on staff, the general public and the environment.

In order to improve efficiency, safety and customer service, Shell recognised a need to monitor a number of aspects of the business. First of all they wanted to know how much product was being stored in a customers tank on site, from the comfort of their offices in Derbyshire. The tanks could be tucked away in dark corners out of harms way at the perimeter of the factory, well away from phone lines and the majority of the staff on site. The customers could feasibly be in Lands End or John O’Groats, and they could have any number of storage tanks on site for a range of different products, so a solution was needed that was not only cost effective, proven and reliable, but also flexible.

Powelectrics telemetry solutions are ideal for such circumstances, utilising the GSM mobile phone network and Powelectrics successfully facilitated a trial system on a live site. Throughout the day a sensor would measure the amount of product within the tank, the Telemetry hardware would periodically record it and every so often, whether it be upon demand (when Shell were curious), upon alarm (i.e. when the tank in nearing empty) or at a scheduled time (through the night ) this data would get transferred back to Shells HQ.

At the touch of a button (well, click of a mouse), the distribution team at Shell at their nice warm office, are now able to view the tank level from the comfort of their desk. There’s no need to phone the client to ask them to talk a walk across the plant to see read an ageing gauge, or to wait for the dreaded panic phone call….. “production has stopped, we’ve run out of LPG, please get a tanker here now.”


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