“A solution can be quite simple when you have the right pieces”
At Photonic Innovations we develop world class hazardous gas detection systems that improve the health and safety of the workforce and can ultimately save lives in the event of an accident.
One of our products, the FLD4000, targets toxic Ammonia, (NH3) gas levels.
CFC gases are being eliminated from the commercial and industrial refrigeration markets in favour of Ammonia as a more efficient and environmentally sound replacement. The downside of course for Ammonia is that it is toxic and in extreme cases exposure can be fatal.
In it’s default configuration, the FLD4000 operates in the 0-500ppm range with various alarms and triggers set to customer preferences.
Once installed and commissioned the FLD4000 will happily sit within the confines of a plant or engine room for many years of trouble free operation with customers, confident in the knowledge that they will have effective warning in the event of an Ammonia leakage.
The issue for PIL
The FLD4000 is if you like a sleeping safety net that perhaps may never be woken. How can users be sure that the safety net is actually doing its job without having to manually check, maintain and inspect at regular intervals?
To me this is a little like the trusty home smoke alarm. Do we really trust it or do we just take for granted that it is operational? How many of us actually check our smoke alarms at regular intervals?
But now even the trusty smoke alarm is getting an upgrade as a connected device.
Aiming to deliver additional added value for our customers and clear market differentiators we decided to go with an exponentially growing global trend and have our products connected. This will allow access to real time data from the product in the field, providing the reassurance and peace of mind one might expect from a world class product.
The pieces required
- The connected hardware
- The connected network
Today’s reality is the availability of an ever increasing array of networks and hardware solutions. As with any building blocks there are trade-offs to be made and compromises.
In a previous life I maintained a close watch on market trends in the Internet of Things (IoT) arena and was aware of various platform roadmaps and future offerings. To my delight one such radio frequency hardware company, ‘Wisol’ had recently launched a new radio module suited to the Australia/New Zealand radio spectrum.
The connected hardware
Wisol offer the RCZ4 module at a great price, simple AT command interface and a wonderful +24dBm (max) Tx Output Power. They offer a development platform meaning you can get a system operational very quickly and validate performance as well as product hardware and firmware compatibility. Ease of integration allowed minimal viable product development within 2 weeks.
The connected network
Keeping a watchful eye on the Wisol development roadmap I was of course most interested in their offerings for the SigFox network. For our products this global network offers so many advantages making it an obvious number 1 choice:
- SigFox security
- Low connectivity costs
- Low hardware costs
- Simple integration
- Simple programming
- Optimal payload
- Optimal messaging
- Long range
- Low power
These gas detection products will typically be located deep in plant and engine rooms. The high sensitivity of the SigFoc network will ensure robust communication from such difficult environments.
The very low power advantages of the SigFox platform will be a major advantage when portable battery operated products are released.
What more could you ask for from a remotely connected sensor platform. The SigFox offering is an exact network fit for the FLD4000.
If you have used this database you will know exactly why I chose it. It is extremely powerful with many great features, especially suited for time series data streams. I am more then happy with its capabilities, especially around it’s querying features. It handles our content with ease and I expect it will continue to perform even when we hit thousands of units in the field.
Grafana is a metric analytics and visualization suite. It is most commonly used for visualizing time series data for infrastructure and application analytics but many use it in other domains including industrial sensors, home automation, weather, and process control.
Grafana provides the perfect platform for our product needs. Not only can we offer our customers live up to date feedback on the sensor data, we can also set various states of alarm and notifications when immediate actions are required.
In addition to the customer benefits, we as a manufacturer gain analytical insight into the health of the product. We can use this data for pre-emptive maintenance should the need arise. The core technology of the FLD4000 is a laser module. We can monitor the performance of the laser over the entire product life cycle and ensure the system is fully operational and within specified limits. This life cycle data will allow us to ensure future products take full advantage of the knowledge gained from the analytics.
The end result
- Low cost solution
- Up to 140 messages per day per product
- Live database for complete product life cycle analytics and storage
- Live configurable dashboard
- Customised dashboards/customer
- Customer secure login
- Data audit trail
- Live alerts and notifications
- SigFox security
- Low power for portable units
- Rapid development, MVP < 2 weeks