Smart level sensing solution for remote stock monitoring

26 April 2021

Doug Anderson discusses a new breed of battery powered, IIoT sensors that are helping streamline the task of remote monitoring of stock.

Simple and streamlined remote-monitoring of stock has been the ultimate aim for engineers in the bulk logistics, supply chain and purchasing sectors. Getting a stock-oversight system in place and producing valid and useful data can be a challenge. Yet at the same time it represents an opportunity for massive logistics benefits – perfected timing, fuel and time savings and optimised stock levels at all times. It also helps to avoid pitfalls like returned loads, emergency/expedited deliveries or process shutdowns. 

Whether it is a liquid or a solid in a silo, tanker or truck, the dimensions and often dedicated nature of bulk shipping means that having the capability for accurate remote monitoring would offer a rapid payback. Almost immediately purchasing, ordering and billing processes would be more streamlined and supplier-customer partnerships will become more effective. 

Pieces of the puzzle
Although an efficient stock oversight system represents savings in fuel, time and CO2, bulk liquids and solids monitoring applications don’t come in ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Each one offers its own specific combination of requirements – whether that be access, product compatibility, or container and infrastructure tracking. And, while many contracts are based on supply and delivery, others operate removal and disposal services. From fixed silos and tanks, to vessels at temporary or semi-permanent sites; mobile transportation to waste collection containers – each situation presents a unique challenge.
For all of these reasons the implementation of remote monitoring has, traditionally been complex to develop and manage. 

Faces with a need to understand which screens, graphics, reports and notifications may be needed , it can be tempting to reach out to technology companies who offer seemingly capable software as a service (SaaS) solution. While these systems combine mobile data and intelligent big data analysis into one neat package. Often, their technology relies on modified, low-cost, ‘off the shelf’ sensors or components to make a measurement. And many of these service providers do not have a good understanding of the applications, or the reality of the long-term performance demands of remote monitoring of stock.

The data output of these sensors can be affected by typical operating challenges, of which are many. They can be environmental – wind, rain, dirt, spray – build up on sensorsor; or related to the medium – foaming liquids, vapours. Dust and condensation can also occur inside vessels, containers and silos on a regular basis which can pose a challenge for some sensors. In a remote stock monitoring application it is  crucial to have confidence in the data that is being receiving because  major decisions and logistics movements are made based on this data. An incorrect journey or schedule will likely have many  knock-on effects for the business.

Without doubt, small, low-power, smart sensors are the answer for the future of applications in the bulk logistics, supply chain and purchasing industries. However, the data measurement technology needs to be robust, long term and reliable; requiring minimal maintenance even in challenging applications. Uninterrupted operation of your stock oversight system in these conditions represents huge gains via optimisation, for both supply (of materials) and collection (of waste and recycling items).

Sensing experience 
A new hybrid sensing technology is emerging from the field of process and control, that can offer a greatly simplified and self-contained remote stock monitoring solution.

The best type of solution will combine experience with cutting-edge technology. You will find both in the emerging new breed of non-contact, battery-powered level sensors, which incorporate Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capability. Incorporating dedicated microprocessors, these sensors can provide remote data in an easy-to-access format and can also offer wireless communication, stand-alone battery power for up to 10-years, are ready to communicate via standard global wireless networks and locate via GPS. All from a single, compact and autonomous device.

These sensors can take on almost all challenge associated with level measurement of the content of vessels that store or transport a variety of bulk liquids or solids – from waste, to water, to chemicals, powders, granules, foodstuffs and oils. They are also simple to install and easy to set up – quickly and flexibly delivering stock management information, in a variety of formats to suit application requirements.

Simple and scalable
Whether you are installing the solution at one site or hundreds, implementation should be made simple. After installing the sensor on the chosen monitoring point, container, tank or silo, accessing the data and beginning to manage stock remotely should be as straightforward as simply logging in.

Data suppliers who have experience of manufacturing the sensors and making measurements in the field are more likely to take care of everything from sensor to server, to your screen, with the service and responsibility for it all.

They can help realise the ultimate goal of having a  truly visible, global inventory management solution that is able to connect you an ingredient tank on site, a fuel distribution depot, international chemical supplies, or an animal feed hopper on the other side of the world.

Doug Anderson is UK marketing manager at Vega Controls.

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