Edward Pultar, PhD, is a founder of Valarm, an Industrial Internet of Things / IIoT company that monitors industrial assets, in real-time, across numerous industries, providing effective business data to decision makers that create efficiency and profit within their organizations. Valarm monitors anything anywhere.
Here Dr. Pultar discusses applications for remote monitoring and innovations in the field. Read on:
How has remote monitoring evolved since you started your career?
We've seen a lot of different hardware and sensor manufacturers come and go.
Some things have stayed the same. IoT sensors are not new since sensors have been around for decades and our customers use the sensor standards that have been around for decades like 4-20mA, 0-10V, PWM pulses, and RS-232.
The quality of any hardware you get has gone up while the prices have come down. That's a nice added bonus in addition to hardware being more available.
Further still, over the years, and specifically over the last year, we have seen a number of really smart hardware manufacturers come about. Companies that are really seeing that customers want 1,000 sensors instead of 10, and understanding that deployment of such numbers requires innovation. A lot of neat things are happening with wireless technology, machine learning and others. The IIoT world is changing quickly.
Like many industries, the cloud has enabled a lot of businesses to start, since the cloud reduces the barrier to entry and the startup capital necessary. Like many other technologies, Industrial IoT has been enabled by readily available, inexpensive cloud services. Over the years, cloud bandwidth, servers and storage space have all come down in price since we started providing remote monitoring solutions for our customers.
What is the value of remote monitoring to the organizations you work with?
Cost savings and business efficiency are the primary values of the remote monitoring. Imagine being able to get more out of your most valuable assets because now you have the data to analyze your operations geographically and temporally.
The value adds come from a variety of factors. Historically, many assets, like water wells, air quality and environmental monitoring units, have been manually monitored by having a person drive out to the location, take and record a sensor reading, then drive back to the office. Tools like Valarm remotely monitor these valuable industrial assets and automatically gather all of the sensor information and sends it to a monitoring site via the internet.
Having real-time knowledge of what's going on in the field allows organizations to gain situational awareness. This increases safety since organizations can react immediately rather than long after the fact, when an event has already happened. This increased accuracy and knowledge leads to reduced man hours in driving as mentioned above. Along with that comes a savings with the reduction of costs associated with insurance, fuel, tires, and maintenance of vehicles.
This is a critical point so here's a quick summary overview of the bullet points on the value of remote monitoring:
- Increased productivity
- Reduced waste
- Increased safety
- Increased efficiency for utilization of the most effective assets
- Reduced man hours in driving
- Savings in insurance, fuel, tires, vehicle maintenance
- Increased accuracy and knowledge
- Real-time knowledge
What are some of the most innovative applications for your products you've seen?
The most innovative applications include remote water monitoring and monitoring of air quality and mobile industrial assets like pumps, tanks, and vacuums on industrial vehicles like trucks and trailers.
We've worked with clients to install long-range WiFi networks that connect to Industrial IoT hardware used to monitor pulses from water flow meters and water levels in water wells. Water is a valuable asset/product for our customers, so knowing how much product/water they have available and their water usage is critical for their operations.
Valarm monitors air quality with SC - AQMD, the California government agency responsible for air quality monitoring and compliance in Los Angeles, Orange County, and the majority of Southern California. These air quality monitoring boxes are using Industrial IoT sensors from around the world to remotely monitor particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5, PM10) and specific gases like Ozone/O3, Nitrogen Dioxide/NO2, H2S/Hydrogen Sulfide, SO2/Sulfur Dioxide, and NOx/other Nitrogen Dioxides.
Tracking fleets of vehicles isn't new. However, our customers track and monitor vehicles that are loaded up with industrial equipment like tanks, vacuums and pumps. Clients know when and where an asset like a pump was turned on and off, and what the volume of a tank is, all while they're on mobile assets like trucks and trailers. You also know how long an asset has been used for a given time period, e.g., how long has that vacuum been on in the last month? Over 100 hours? OK, then it's due for maintenance.
Where do organizations need to start when building a monitoring system and setting up the infrastructure for it?
The first question we often ask is - "What would you like to know about your business environment that you currently do NOT know, or find that information costly, slow or dangerous to acquire?"
When we say that, organizations and businesses start saying, "Can you monitor ... ?" The answer is always yes. And it is always, tremendously cost-effective compared with their current situation.
Two things to know from the beginning about the location of your remote monitoring deployment:
- Your power source
- Internet availability
Is there standard wall mains power, like 110V in the U.S., available to plug into? Or will you need solar panels? If you need solar power, then how sunny is your location throughout the year? This will tell us what wattage and size of solar panels as well as back up batteries you need.
How will the remote sensor monitoring information be delivered? If there's no connection to the internet then you're not going to be doing any Industrial IoT sensor telemetry. Fortunately, the internet is available just about anywhere these days. So, which internet connection is most cost-effective for you? If the remote monitoring deployments are stationary then WiFi or ethernet will provide you with cost savings over satellite or GSM mobile cell network. If the assets you need to monitor are mobile, like vehicles, then mobile cell network may be your best bet.
How can organizations ensure their monitoring systems are secure?
Security with Industrial IoT and remote monitoring means two different topics for us:
- Physical Security
- Digital Security
You need to make sure your remote monitoring deployments are in a physically secure location so that the units/boxes themselves are not vandalized or stolen. Even if the deployments are on private property with a fence line this is not a guarantee. With our customers in countries outside the U.S. like third-world countries this is an even greater concern since vandalism and thievery of electronics is more common. Mounting remote monitoring units high is a solution that will work for some scenarios. Putting locks on boxes is another deterrent. Other forms of camouflaging, hiding or making the remote monitoring units not so obvious will also help you with physical security.
You also want to ensure you're using products with the highest level of digital security you can get. Digital security also ties back in with the physical security mentioned above. When people gain access to the physical hardware, they can get keys embedded in the hardware and spoof the system. That is up to our customers and should be a concern for any deployment.
What IoT trends or innovations are you following closely right now? Why?
We feel that the trends and innovations in networking are quite exciting! Technologies like LoRa and Sigfox will allow for smaller, easier and lower maintenance long-term remote monitoring deployments. This means higher resolution of Industrial IoT sensors are possible and at lower costs for our customers.
We're also following sensor manufacturers that are looking at old technology and breaking through all the things that can make the physical hardware challenging to use.
What do you think is the future for remote monitoring? Where do you see the industry going in the next five or 10 years?
We think there is a gap between the decision makers at companies and the people who devise breakthrough business technology. You will see companies that have business leaders who are willing to buy into this new technology and you will see their companies skyrocket. This is because their competition will not understand how they can be more effective with lower costs, better efficiency and less overhead. The businesses that catch on now will have tremendous payout in the coming years.
We believe that you'll also see tremendous blunders by a number of large tech companies that are going to enter the IIoT market by throwing money at it while not understanding the whole solution.
We're looking forward to seeing battery technology improve. Having smaller, more efficient batteries will allow remote monitoring deployments to have a reduced footprint. This is also tied in with the energy efficiency improvements that will likely come in the future. These improvements will make Industrial IoT/IIoT even more widely available and easier for everyone.
Networking, as mentioned in the previous question, is also an important key for where the industry goes in the next five or 10 years. New future networking technologies make remote monitoring all the more accessible.