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Instruction, Power

In a previous blog post, we discussed the highest risk areas in high-rise buildings that require the most attention during the installation of a water risk mitigation system.

But which type of sensors are best for each type of application?

Rope Sensors
best type of sensor

Rope sensors attachments are 1.5m long, and have sensor capabilities along the length of the rope. This means that if any water touches any point of the rope at all, it will alert the water management system.

 

They are best used in areas where water should not occur at all, such as at the top of elevators, around cooling tower trays, or in mechanical or electrical rooms. They can also be used to wrap around areas of concern. 

 

Due to their sensitivity to water, rope sensors aren’t recommended for use in areas where moisture could come in contact without a flood, such as in bathrooms or in elevator pits.

Flood Sensors
best type of sensor


Flood sensors attachments come with shorter 30cm cables. They are the more commonly used type of sensor attachment, and while they provide an equal level of protection to the rope sensor, the water detector receptor must be submerged to alert the water management system. 

 

Because of the design of the sensor, they are well-suited for all areas where you require flood prevention. This can include bathrooms and in tenant units under kitchen sinks or near washers & dryers.

Water Streamer

 
The Water Streamer is designed to clamp on to water meters. It  works with most mechanical meters. The Water Streamer is embedded with a pulse sensor that detects the volume of water going through the meter. As such, with some back end  software AI/logic it can determine unusual flows from typical consumption, it can identify continuous consumption thus detect leaks and or major floods. The Water Streamer is designed to give our clients a holistic view of their water consumption and provide water insight at a building level.

Jumbo Water Stopper
best type of sensor


The Water Stopper  is a high/low contact that can actuate valves 1 inch or less and or send commands to large actuators for 2” and greater. It can be used with powered shut-off valves or booster pumps to isolate the flow of water in the event of a flood. 

 

Depending on the requirements, it can be either battery-powered or plugged in.

Mini Water Stopper


The Mini Water Stopper is a valve body and actuator combo that is combined in one product. It can be used in conjunction with water meters to offer water logic information and or water submetering data to the end user. This product is best suited for in suite water management. It is available in sizes ranging from ½ inch to 1 ½ inches.

Rope sensors, flood sensors, and water streamers all provide flood detection, temperature detection, and tamper prevention in one. All of the above options are designed to secure to the wall to prevent tampering.

At Connected Sensors, we offer a robust product line so that we can offer the best type of sensor for every type of building, and we are always working to develop more products to diversify our solutions. Contact us today to learn more about our full product line!
Sincerely, 
The Connected Sensors Team

 

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Instruction, Power, utility costs

A client of ours, who is getting ready to deploy hundreds if not thousands of sensors across their portfolio, came to us with this very valid question: 

“What’s the life expectancy of your products and solutions both from a maintenance and product replacement stand point?”

What the client was looking for is to understand what they were committing to in the long run and what implications this would have on their operating budget annually for the foreseeable future.

To better understand the different elements to be factored in to the life cycle cost of our solution we’ve broken it down in two categories: maintenance and product replacement cost.

Maintenance Cost:


When it comes to the maintenance cost of our solutions, there are two factors to be considered.

Battery replacement:

Rest assured that we thought of you building operators and managers and built a suite of products that work with three 3.6V batteries to give the best possible battery performance. Now what does that mean? It means our battery operated products, depending on the use case, have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years. We estimate that the battery replacement cost per device will be in the range of $15 to $20, assuming the batteries don’t come down in price over time. We invite you to also review this other blog we’ve written to better understand the implications of choosing the right product so that you are not constantly worrying about replacing batteries.

General maintenance cost:

Outside of the obvious battery replacement cost, the only other factor to consider is the maintenance cost of the solution in the event the communication system goes down locally or on premises. Here is what we’ve done on the backend to ensure the system goes un-interrupted:

  • Our devices will dynamically change their data rate to reduce the amount of airtime and transmit smaller data packets. The smaller the message packet, the less data that must be transmitted via LTE. Which means less chances of issues occurring.

  • From a gateway perspective, the gateway has a functionality that allows us to submit a so-called “whitelist” to the local memory on the gateway. This avoids other LoRaWAN compliant devices to use your gateway as a generic bridge to get out. In a normal system, the server decides if the node/sensor that is received belongs to the application or not. Having a whitelist means the rejection of unwanted devices happens on the gateway, so there is no need to forward the packet in the first place. Once again, less interference and interruption means better reliability of the network.

  • Our gateway also has a memory and backup battery. These gateways are time sync enabled, meaning they can store messages locally and forward them if network coverage is interrupted for a period. This feature is aimed at removing any blank gaps in the history of the system.

  • Once the network is running and LTE communication is established, we use a network monitoring tool called “The Pinger” . This software polls the gateways via the LTE network to make sure it is running reliably. This allows for real time intervention when a gateway no longer responds, and automated messages get sent to the person responsible for that building/gateway.

  • The “Pinger” software is currently used on over 4500 live LTE connections and is manned 24/7 by a team in South Africa. We can make this option available to you, the customer, for the most responsive system possible.

    To conclude, we don’t envision many communication problems as we’ve done extensive work to mitigate that risk for you; however, it would be prudent to allocate a small budget for a few contractor truck rolls per annum to be on the safe side of things.

     

    Product replacement cost:

     

We will break this section down in 2 segments, the first being our warranty versus what we expect from the product.

Product warranty:

Like most electronic products sold, we have a 2 year/24 months warranty on the product. This means if, for any reason, a product would require replacement after that period of time, the client would be responsible for its replacement cost.

Product expectation:

While we advertise a 2 year or 24 months warranty, the product was built and designed to last the test of time. We believe that the lifespan of this hardware will extend the span of the software agreement several times over. Before making it to you, the end user, the product is tested 3 times in the factory, and depending on the installation package you’ve selected, the product will have been tested a 4th time on site before it’s handed over to you. 

We hope that our perspective can help you make a better informed decision as it relates to the long term capital commitment involved in owning a water management solution. If you have any questions or if you think we’ve missed something you would have appreciated us touching on, please do not hesitate to send us a message and we would be happy to discuss with you and your team.
 
Sincerely,
The Connected Sensors team
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Instruction, Power

We received this question from a client and thought it might be worth sharing our perspective:


Client: My understanding is that battery powered IoT devices have traditionally avoided using lithium because of the potential fire risk if damaged or improperly packaged. Can battery powered IoT devices cause a fire?

 

A couple of things to note about batteries in general. There are 3 different situations that can cause a battery related fire: 

Short Circuit

  1. Short Circuit is the most common way fires are started and applies to both alkaline and lithium.

  2. This generally happens when batteries are installed the wrong way or when the devices are tampered/damaged with.

  3. Both these are avoidable by electronic design via thermal fuses and reverse voltage protection circuitry.

Piercing

  1. Piercing occurs when a device is crushed or when sharp objects puncture through them. This is applicable to both types of batteries and is highly unlikely to occur.

Overloading

  1. When too much current is drawn from the batteries, this breaches the battery’s maximum continuous pulse.

  2. These batteries are designed to provide power to electric motors and the IoT devices we use them in does not draw 1/10th of the amount of power they are typically used for.

Primary cells vs Rechargeable cells

  1. Primary cells are batteries that cannot be recharged and can only discharge once, which is the case with both alkaline and Lisoc Batteries (Lithium thionyl chloride Battery).

  2. Rechargeable battery cells are the problem and account for 90% of Lithium Ion or Lithium Polymer related fires due to the fact that they often get overcharged or are not properly monitored by the design circuitry.

Our devices do not use Lithium Ion or Lithium polymer batteries but Lithium Thionyl Chloride so we do not consider Lithium to be a bigger risk then alkaline in the question of can battery powered IoT devices cause a fire.
If you have any questions about our batteries, do not hesitate to contact us.
Sincerely,
Your Connected Sensors Team
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Instruction, Power

Let me start by telling you, the $1 to $20 sensor COULD happen if produced in quantities of 100,000 units with limited sensing requirements (very basic sensor) and short-range radio.

Unfortunately, at this time the IoT industry is a ways away from achieving the $1 sensor. 


Time and time again we have heard from clients that they thought the $1 sensor was their anticipated price, and at best the sensor would be $20 dollars each.  Hence, this article was written to explain what goes into building a sensor and why we have a lot more work to do before achieving this.

What goes into building a sensor?

Step 1: (Creating a sensor)

Once a company decides to build a sensor, they must first start with building the team. This is a significant step and investment as product development cycles are anywhere from 12 to 24 months before a product is viable for resale. Industrial, mechanical, electrical, and firmware engineers have to be employed for that period and paid before work can begin on that sensor. Not to mention the manufacturing and supply chain issues that come with high volume electronic products. These upfront costs are required before you can start to develop a comprehensive sensor that encompasses all the requirements for your intended market. At the minimum, you can expect to pay $200,000 towards the development of your first sensor. 

Step 2: (Injection mold)

The second step is the injection mold, which is a capital-intensive investment depending on the volume of sensors you intend to manufacture. A plastic injection mold can cost between $5,000 to $10,000 and will yield up to 3000 to 5000 units. An injection mold built of metal will cost between $10,000 to $20,000 but it will help you produce north of 30,000 units. The key here is, can you sell enough sensors to recoup your investment?

Step 3: (Choosing the sensing capabilities)

Once a company has agreed on a product design that will be suitable for the marketplace, they must identify what they want to be sensing along with each additional element they wish to measure. Any add-ons will cost more money. For the purpose of this example let’s use our Water Sniffer/Water Sensor. After months of market research, we identified that we want the following from our sensor:

  1. Water detection (This is the primary value of the sensor yet again we needed both the flood contacts and the rope sensing to ensure it would fit all business cases)

  2. Tamper detection (This is as important to identify theft and vandalism which is more common than you think)

  3. Temperature sensing (This was important for clients worried about frozen pipes)

  4. A power button (This was important to simplify the installation process)

  5. A buzzer (This was important to us as a second line of defense to the dashboard and also to ensure we knew if the sensor was “live” once we pressed the power button)


Step 4: (Finding the right network for the product and/or solution)

Once a company has identified what sensing capabilities they want to achieve and what design they like, they will need to consider how the sensor will communicate with their application/dashboard. In this area, there is a range of chipsets and networks with varying limitations. For the purpose of this exercise let’s combine chipsets with networks and assume each network only has one kind of chip. For the record, many other networks exist but this paints a decent picture for the audience.

  1. Bluetooth: Amongst the most cost-effective chip

  2. Sigfox: A great option for certain long-range applications where the network provider manages the network cost for an annual fee. This chipset has a cost double the price of the Bluetooth chip.

  3. LoRa: Another great option depending on its application where the solutions provider must manage his or her own network. This chipset comes in at approximately 3 times the cost of the Bluetooth chip but offers more versatility.

  4. Behrtech: A new up-and-coming option that has many benefits for solutions providers in the proptech business who may not understand networks. The price point here is closer to 5 times the cost of a Bluetooth chip.

This is another important milestone a company needs to surpass as they build their sensor. Many nodes are not designed to be able to change chipsets after the company has landed on a specific chip. This further limits the company’s market segment/opportunity. 

In our case, we’ve chosen to spend a little more in step 1 to ensure we can be agnostic to the network our client wishes to work with however, our most common network and chipset is LoRa.

Stay tuned for another article about network comparisons!

Step 5: (Choosing how long you want the batteries to last and how many you will need)

At this stage, the company must choose if they believe the client will see value in evaluating the total life cycle of the product or if they will air towards the most cost-effective product. 

In many cases, companies will compromise on the power to help reduce costs for the client. However, in our opinion, this is the worst decision. The best products will have the most amount of energy to last as long as humanly possible. This is another additional expense for those who choose to view things the same way we do.

Simultaneously, the company will have to look at offering its sensor with or without batteries. At a minimum, a decent 1.5V battery costs approximately $2 each so you can do the math. 

In our case, we’ve opted for three 3.6V batteries with a cost of approximately $3 each as we see this as a game-changer for product versatility and for the life expectancy of the sensor.

Step 6: (The PCB)

We cannot forget the board that connects the sensors in Step 2 and the batteries identified in Step 4. This is effectively the brain of the sensor and the most capital-intensive piece of the sensor.

Step 7: (Certifications)

After the node has been assembled and has been tested, the certifications come in.  The water sensor then needs to be certified FCC & IC if you want to sell it across North America. The total investment for the certification is approximately $10,000. 

After the hardware development cost comes:

  1. Minimum inventory requirements and the costs to hold this inventory. 

  2. Cost of firmware development and software development where both are vital to the deployment of a comprehensive solution. 

  3. Import charges.

  4. Manufacturing and assembly costs.

As you can tell by now, the capital investment and the recurring inventory cost of producing a sensor is quite significant. Thus, it will require immense market momentum and substantial purchase orders to help drive the market towards the $1 sensor, or even to the to $20 sensor range. 

We hope that you have found this article valuable. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask as we are always looking to learn more from subject matter experts and looking to provide value to our clients.
Sincerely,
Your Connected Sensors Team
0

Instruction, Power

A question that clients buying battery-operated IoT sensors don’t ask often enough.

Batteries can have such an impact on the product life cycle cost, so why are they often forgot about when evaluating a solution? In this article, we will take a deeper dive into the important questions you should be asking a vendor when it comes to batteries. For example: what type of batteries are being used, how many batteries does the product require and how long is the expected battery life.

Batteries should be top of mind for you as a client. Depending on your agreement with the vendor, you may be responsible to cover the battery cost and the time required to replace them. In some cases, the cost of a battery replacement can exceed the cost of the initial purchase. It is for that reason that you must always ask a vendor the following questions.

Question # 1 What type of batteries are required for this product and are you responsible for providing them?

The type of batteries used in a particular device makes a significant impact on the life expectancy of the product. Below is a table showing the delta in value when a vendor chooses to opt for Option 1, Alkaline 1.5V batteries versus Option 2, Lithium thionyl chloride 3.6V batteries that highlights the key differences between battery types:

 

Question # 2 Do you have a battery life estimator spreadsheet you can share with me?


When putting together an IoT solution, the manufacturer and/or solutions provider will have established certain “rules” for the device. These parameters include time spent on air, frequency of messages, battery discharge rate, wake-ups per day, and sampling period. This comprehensive assessment gives the manufacturer and/or solutions provide the ability to estimate the life expectancy of the product before it will require replacement batteries. The calculation performed to get an estimated life expectancy takes all the parameters into account, with two valuables standing out above the rest: Self-discharge rate and total energy capacity. The self-discharge rate is the amount of energy that is lost over a period of time due to internal chemistry degradation.  Two total energy capacity means that there is more energy available for use by the device. This difference is caused by the battery configuration and voltage of the cells used. The information gathered from the transmission rate and configuration is then used to calculate the “energy used per message”. This number is then divided into the total capacity and self-leakage deducted to get to a total number of messages per battery pack. This number is then divided by the number of messages per day/month to get estimated battery life in years.   It is important that you ask for this information to validate and evaluate the life cycle of the product or solution you are looking at purchasing and investing in.

Question #3: Who is responsible to supply and install the replacement batteries on these devices?


More often than not, you the client will be responsible for the battery replacements and the labor involved in replacing these batteries. In the event that this is the case the most important step for you to take is the one that comes next. Making an analysis on what the life cycle cost of your device will look like over time when factoring in battery replacements.

Question #4: What is the product life cycle cost when factoring in battery replacements?

When evaluating the product life cycle cost it is imperative to consider the battery replacement cost. For example, let’s compare Option 1 with (2) AA 1.5V batteries versus Option 2 with (3) AA 3.6V batteries using the same IoT capabilities:


The Delta: Option 1 will cost $33.60 more over the same period of time or 3 times more money than Option 2. You may also need to account for travel costs and access to the tenant or resident’s property.

We hope you have found this article valuable. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask as we are always looking to learn more from subject matter experts and looking to provide value to our clients.
Sincerely,
Your Connected Sensors Team
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