Cellular ModemApplying industrial technology to agriculture.

When we think of industry making use of the best new technology available, the images that seem to come to mind are of engineers clad in hard hats admiring fully automated assembly lines, buzzing away with an inexorable rhythm. Or of a lab coat clad scientist, closely observing waveforms from various displays to analyze and improve the underlying processes. While this picture is often true to life, some of the most interesting applications of new technology are in places one might not expect: One recent application for a long time client combines the modern miracle known as iPhone with the latest in Cloud technology to enable remote monitoring. What’s more, our client is able to use the system while wearing blue jeans and work boots from the comfort of his office. Or car. Or home.

Our client works for a farming and packing venture in Central Washington. They grow a variety of crops, but today, they are concerned with onions. Not just your run-of-the-mill grocery variety, but BIG onions. This client produces a particularly large product perfect for processing into commercial consumables such as onion rings. Their team accomplishes this by utilizing miles of drip line irrigation, managed by programmable logic controllers, to support optimal growing conditions in the fields. While this provides an excellent environment for the crop, drip lines offer their own unique challenges to their managers.

Because much of it lays on open ground, a drip irrigation system is susceptible to a variety of hazards: environmental, rodent damage, and even the occasional joyriding trespasser. Field managers monitor numerous fields over the growing season, and a failed water line could go unnoticed long enough to cause irreversible damage to the crop. Not to mention the expense of unregulated resource loss in the form of thousands of gallons of water! Pump or control system failure can also be disastrous. A loss of power to a system or a malfunctioning pump could dehydrate the onions unmercifully during the hot Columbia Basin summers.

Microsoft AzureWhat better way to manage a crop’s water consumption than with the “Cloud”? To help our client monitor many fields securely and in real-time, Talos designed and deployed a custom SCADA application designed to pair with their existing PLC infrastructure.  Our client and their team can now monitor their irrigation systems; anywhere, anytime. To enable the cloud connection, each field has been outfitted with a cellular gateway, which connects securely to the Microsoft Azure server.  Irrigation managers are then able to connect with the Cloud-based server using tablets, laptops and smartphones.  They now have confidence whether their fields are being watered, how much water has been applied, and any potentially erroneous conditions that may exist in the drip lines without needing to visit the field in person.

It isn’t just the farming industry that stands to benefit from remote management of controls systems. Companies of all types and sizes stand to see a quick return on investment by implementing such strategies. Small companies with a relatively compact workforce can monitor more systems with fewer people. Larger companies with a wider footprint can prioritize assets and assign resources accordingly, reducing travel times.  Manufacturers of automation equipment are identifying more and more with the demand for remote access, specifically designing hardware to support remote solutions like never before.

If you’d like assistance selecting, designing or commissioning a remote monitoring or control application, please don’t hesitate to contact our Team.