Wireless technology for remote generator monitoring.
Stirling Panels, a local manufacturer of automatic mains/generator change-over (AMF) panels has developed a remote generator monitoring solution based on wireless communications and the RGK generator interface, a fully visual interface showing the dials and screens for the remote generator. The solution has already been successfully rolled out for MTN in South Africa.
Wally Stirling, CEO of Stirling Panels, says: “We first started manufacturing AMF control panels in 2001, primarily for generator change-over in the case of power failures. Although our panels were successful in the field, our clients were encountering increasing maintenance costs for their remote units. Every time there was a problem with the generator sets it was not picked up very quickly, in MTN’s case this meant the cell tower going down before anyone realised there was a problem. Then, a technician had to be dispatched to the remote site without knowing what to expect, which might mean a trip of a few hundred kilometres and delays of days before the source of the problem was identified.
“They had a definite need to manage the generator sets remotely and so we investigated a solution for them. After some research on wireless communications, we chose the Maestro 100 wireless modem from Trinity Telecomms to enable each AMF control panel with communications over the GMS/GPRS network.”
According to Stirling, the addition of the wireless modems enables support teams to monitor the generator sets remotely and to make diagnoses before anyone is sent to the site. This reduces the support effort significantly, as many problems can now be resolved remotely. “When a cell tower goes down, the technicians can determine if it is a power failure, if the generator fuel has run out, or if there is a mechanical failure. In some cases the generator can simply be reset by sending a command to the AMF control panel via the modem, without the need to dispatch anyone.”
Each site is allocated a name, address and phone number, so the operator in the control room is able to recognise from where the call originates and can then dial in to check the statistics. In this way the remote sets can be monitored and alarms and faults in the system rectified, either remotely or on site if required. The wireless communications enable technicians to dial in from a laptop and check the key statistics such as temperature, oil pressure, fuel levels, mains readings and whether the system is currently running from the mains or generator.
The RGK software interface displays the dials and controls visually on the laptop, to make it look as though the control panel is right there. From this, the technician can control the generator and make adjustments to the settings. The generator can also be started or stopped by means of SMS commands from a cell phone when a computer is not available.
Raymond Fitzpatrick of MTN explains the benefits for his support team: “It is a huge plus not to have to drive out to the site in the event of a problem. We are able to stop and start the generator and diagnose faults remotely. This means reduced maintenance costs, lower fuel bills and reduced time spent driving to remote locations. We now have control over these sites from our offices with improved diagnostic capabilities.”
Stirling concludes that the solution is ideal for operating generators in remote areas so it suits the conditions in Africa, particularly those countries that have cellular infrastructure.
The company is already supplying the generator controller system to cellular providers in Mozambique who are also benefiting from managing their remote sites via wireless communications.
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