Wireless technology for South Africa’s reservoirs
Imagine your job was to oversee a group of water reservoirs dispersed over a large area — how would you expect to monitor water levels at each reservoir and control water pumps accordingly? Using wireless technology is one answer.
Although this sounds like a simple plan, asset managers have struggled in recent years because of mounting costs associated with license band radio frequencies. Here Ian Loudon, international sales and marketing manager at wireless pump monitoring and control specialist Omniflex, explores what is needed for the industry to overcome these challenges.
Water reservoirs are often situated in geographically dispersed areas and can be difficult to access. This means that asset managers must rely on remote monitoring and control systems to monitor water levels and turn pumps on and off at each reservoir from a centralised control station. Because installing control cables is extremely expensive, more costly than any of the equipment itself, the utility industry relies on wireless monitoring and control systems to keep costs down.
Wireless technology monitoring of all reservoirs from a centralised control system allows asset managers to know what the water levels are at each site at a glance. If combined with a pump control system, this allows them to control water levels to suit demand without the need for costly, disruptive site visits.
Wireless technology also increases operational flexibility, since it is much simpler to move a wireless device compared to a cable unit. This is because, when moving wired units, engineers must dig up all the cables and reroute them to the new location, compared to wireless units where all they need to do is unplug them at the old location and plug them in at the new one.
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Traditionally, asset managers used radio telemetry systems, operating in license band frequencies, to operate all wireless equipment. However, administration costs to own and maintain license band radio frequencies often outweighed the cost of the equipment itself, making the networks much more expensive to operate.
New globally defined license-free ISM band radio telemetry equipment, industrial, scientific and medical band radio frequency spectrum (ISM) has proven to be a game-changer, helping equipment owners avoid unnecessary licensing and admin costs.
Wireless units can be directly interfaced to an existing supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system using the on-board ethernet ports or function as a stand-alone programmable controller independent of SCADA using wireless networking to monitor remote I/O for control implementation.
This makes installation quick and simple, allowing asset managers to save on any additional hardware or engineering requirements. Most applications require little or no programming. Such as a remote tank/reservoir level setpoints mapped via a telemetry system to the pump controller triggering pump on and off control.
Furthermore, cloud-based platforms allow asset managers to monitor systems 24/7 using a tablet or phone, rather than having to use a fixed desktop in the plant’s control room. This is especially helpful for a mobile workforce and even in the current situation, where many people are forced to work remotely because of the global pandemic.
This new generation of plug-and-play wireless telemetry equipment is benefitting more than just water reservoir managers. This technology is also extremely beneficial in other industries, such as mining where they rely on surface-level control of subsurface water pumps to remove water from the mines. In fact, any industry where cabling is either too expensive or too disruptive to install can benefit from adopting a plug-and-play wireless telemetry system.