So when an idea is created in our industry about a sensor and its benefits, or a new technology to improve your sensors, it really needs to be backed up by cold hard facts. That’s why we’re generally slower to adopt new industrial technologies. We are prone to wait out the new to prove it, and to let all the bugs get worked out.
The same is true with remote level monitoring – the level sensor segment of the bigger M2M industrial movement. One of the most popular ways to gather remote level information is to use a sensor with an embedded cellular modem and a battery pack. It’s a nice setup because it’s completely wireless and requires virtually no skills to implement. You simple mount the sensor and turn it on.
While an embedded sensor is indeed wireless and easy to install, it certainly has some serious limitations that could hinder its effectiveness – depending, of course, on your application.
So, here’s the lowdown on embedded cellular modems
We’ve already stated the lure of a sensor with an embedded cellular modem – a completely wireless, hassle-free, easy to install platform that means implementation is a snap. Sounds super awesome! It is, if it works.
The fact is cellular reception is a big obstacle for many. Even when you’re solidly inside the coverage map, physical obstructions can alter signal strength. While moving only a few feet will make the cellular connection usable, an embedded cellular module cannot make that move – it has to reside where the sensor is mounted.
Sometimes a sensor can be moved to accommodate a cellular signal, but usually the mounting location of a sensor is paramount to its accuracy and performance.
Unfortunately, if you have one sensor that cannot connect, then your choices are either find another vendor with an external cellular connection for that one location (or for a few locations) or simply go without a sensor there. For good reason, these are both terrible choices. Here’s why:
- A second sensor vendor will have its own database and web portal, making the data difficult to access and use.
- Going without a sensor is an unacceptable option. Having only part of the data that you’ve invested so much time and effort to get would be defeating and ineffective.
So embedded cellular modems in your sensors can be a huge pay-off if it works everywhere you need it to. Unfortunately, you won’t know if it does until you’re already committed. Sensors with embedded modems are definitely more expensive, and you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars only to find that your complete solution isn’t so complete.
If you’re interested in sensors like this, then do yourself a favor and move around a few test sensors to make sure that the cellular coverage is good enough at each sensor location.
Or, you can look at sensors with external cellular modems instead
First of all, an external modem definitely means that you’re wiring to something – usually the modem. And it probably means you won’t get away with the battery pack either. So implementation gets a little more complicated – but only a little bit.
The good news is that we’re all used to dealing with wires and power sources by now. And if you’re not, ask for some guidance from your sensor supplier. This stuff can be learned with relative ease.
The better news is that an external modem gives you flexibility. You can mount it wherever the cellular signal is best and wire your sensor to it. You won’t have to worry about the needs of the sensor competing with the needs of the modem. It’s kind of like putting your kids in separate bedrooms. Life is just easier!
Tank Cloud uses external modems for cellular connections
We designed Tank Cloud to work with any external Internet connection. And up to ten of our sensors can share the same connection. So in the case of an external cellular modem, you have the mounting flexibility you need, and you can reduce data plan costs by putting as many sensors on the same modem as is practical.
That also means that where a cellular connection isn’t available, you don’t have to change vendors and platforms.
It’s all about convenience vs flexibility
At the end of the day, embedded cellular modems on sensors make deployment and installation a lot easier – just as long as you have a good signal at each sensor mounting location. If not, then it just complicates things dramatically. We recommend testing embedded modem sensors at each mounting location you have to make sure you don’t waste a lot of money.
Keep in mind that these sensors take years to develop, and require a lot of certifications and testing just to make it to market. Because of that, they’re quite a bit more expensive than regular sensors. Placing that big order without thoroughly testing them is a big risk.
But using a remote level sensor connected to an external cellular modem gives you the mounting flexibility to get a good signal. And if your sensor doesn’t care which Internet connection you use, then you have the flexibility to do what you need under just about any circumstance.
We’re happy to help you figure all this out. Come to us with any questions you have about remote level or pressure sensing. We’ll give you honest answers that will point you in the best direction for your application.
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