Automation Products Group, Inc. (APG)

The 5 Critical Components Of A Remote Level Monitoring System


Courtesy of Automation Products Group, Inc. (APG)

There are a lot of applications for remote level monitoring. Some of them have been around for a while, and the owners, operators, and engineers involved in purchasing remote systems are well versed in the options available and the cost associated.

However, as more people learn about the technology and how it can benefit them, there are many who don’t understand what it takes to deploy remote tank level monitoring successfully.

If you’re new to the technology, pay attention. Here are the 5 absolutely critical components of a remote level monitoring system:

The Sensor

The sensor is where your data is coming from. It’s the heart of the remote level monitoring system. If you don’t have a reliable sensor, you don’t have reliable data, and you’re pretty well back to square one.

Most of the questions we get are about sensors, and how much they cost (makes sense, right?). The problem we face when we answer these questions is the expectations of the enquirer. Too often, we find they expect a reliable and accurate solution for a few hundred dollars.

You can certainly find something for a few hundred dollars – just don’t expect it to perform reliably and accurately for any length of time.

An industrial grade sensor that is built for years of rock solid performance, indoors or out, will start at around $500. If your application isn’t a good fit for the less expensive technologies, you could spend closer to $1,000 per sensor.

Why? Because that’s what it takes to get a good sensor. The cheap stuff might seem appealing, but you certainly get what you pay for.

Local Communication

Local communication is all about getting your sensor data to either your Internet connection, or your control system – depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

It can be as simple as some wires, or it can be as fancy as a wireless radio mesh. Running cables is a trusted and reliable method to bring in data, but it’s also very expensive. The cost of a sensor can double pretty fast if you’re ordering it with a lot of cable.

That’s why many want wireless connections. Wireless can reduce the cost of installation substantially. It’s often easier to deal with, and if you need enough cable it can be less expensive.

To give you an idea, a wireless radio transmitter and receiver would start at around $200. If you need many of them, it gets more expensive. If you need hazardous area certifications, it gets much more expensive. 

Remote Communication

The remote communication is what will carry your sensor signal to you. If you have a control and monitoring system nearby, you may not need this. However, it’s usually a part of the conversation.

This is often a weak link in the system. If your connection is unreliable, then you’ll constantly be troubleshooting.

Options include a landline Internet connection (if nearby), a cellular modem (if a signal is available), or a satellite modem.

The modems can be pretty inexpensive, but most industrialized versions start at around $200. This, however, doesn’t represent the total cost. Most of the expense here will be in service fees. For a single sensor, you can expect to spend around $10 a month for a small cellular data plan (enough to support a sensor or two). 

Power Supply

The source of power is one of the biggest problems in the remote industrial world. It’s often not available. If it is, it’s often not nearby, and a truly wireless solution is usually the desire.

That means batteries. While we love mobile power, most of us aren’t willing to accept the limitations of the technology. A battery that will last over a year is very expensive. A battery that will last several years is even more costly – and requires very intelligent power management.

Devices that have a 3-5 year battery typically cost $500 or more.

Monitoring & Control Software

The software that handles all this data is often overlooked, but quite critical. You have to answer a few personal questions at this point:

Do you want to develop something custom? Or do you want to take what’s on the shelf?

There are pros and cons. Our bigger customers want their own software, and are willing to spend $50k or more to develop it (or to integrate with an existing solution).

Those who cannot stomach this expense are forced to go with what is on the shelf. Typically this means monthly fees. We offer a free solution if you want to simply monitor. If you want datalogging or alarm functions, we charge a very small fee.

Most of our competitors charge much more. It’s hard for us to quantify this because these fees are kept from the public view. We know that we charge much less because we have been told as much by several informants.

There is also the option to lease all the hardware that we just talked about and hide the cost in the software fees – meaning you would spend hundred or thousands a month. This could be a good deal, or it might not be.

Remember Your Cell Phone?

So there you have it. There are 5 main components of a remote level monitoring system, and they all involve sophisticated equipment and a number of environmental complications.

Just keep your cell phone in mind. It probably costs $600 without a service contract. And it probably costs $50 to $100 a month just to use. And its hardware is relatively simple. Most of its innovation is on the software side, which is supported by the massive cell phone market. If your cell phone costs so much, why would you expect a remote monitoring system to cost less?

Now that you have some proper expectations, relax. Most of the people we talk to stand to save a lot more money in operation costs, risk, and efficiency gains. With the rising cost of fuel, most cannot afford to check remote tank levels manually. Fuel costs also affect rush delivery fees if your inventory is running lower than expected. Remote tank level monitoring can prevent these additional costs. It just might be the best thing that has happened to you in a while.

If you have questions about remote level measurement, give us a call. We can talk specifics and provide quotes so you can quantify your investment. We’ll even put you in touch with the right people to complete your solution with truly reliable equipment.

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