A few weeks ago, one of our distributors in South America asked me a question that, for many of us, might appear superficial. The question required a series of answers to be used to convince a gas distributor, and therefore a potential customer, to use telemetry systems to manage cryogenic or compressed gas storage at their own customers’ storage locations.
Very easily one could answer, as it is often done, that using telemetry guarantees better customer services and optimisation of logistics costs. These answers are absolutely correct and represent the best perception the market has when it comes to telemetry applied to level and pressure measurements of cryogenic tanks or compressed gas cylinders. In reality, however, these answers may appear incomplete or even inaccurate in some cases.
First of all, it must be remembered that a fundamental component, in defining the commercial offer of a telemetry system, is to take into account the ‘Country System’ in which the gas storage systems are located. In this case, aspects such as the density of gas production sites, the existence of large storage systems to supply local cryogenic gas distributors, efficient road networks, and wireless communication systems, are relevant.
Significant distances from gas production points to the end-user site will lead to an increased presence of autonomous gas production systems generated by PSA-type systems. This does not mean that telemetry will not be present in the plant design but, more likely, it will be dedicated to monitoring the proper functioning of support systems such as compressors, filters and other equipment dedicated to the storage of compressed gas.
Finally, the presence of wireless telephone networks suitable for supporting communication systems using NB-IoT or Sigfox protocols can also guarantee remote monitoring for mobile solutions typically used for ISO tank storage or cylinder bundles. At present, however, the coverage of these transmission systems is not present in many developing countries. These constraints will limit the use of telemetry to GPRS systems only, which, moreover, have the constraint of powering the equipment with solar panel power sources or power supplies connected to the electricity grid.
Providing remote monitoring solutions under the conditions described above therefore requires a very extensive and articulated products catalogue.
Further relevant aspects that are often overlooked in the choice of telemetry systems for monitoring cryogenic tanks, are installation costs – especially in all those cases where the implementation of remote sensing equipment is planned for existing plants that need to be retrofitted. Fortunately, there are sensors on the market capable of detecting the level and pressure of a tank that are integrated into devices equipped with solar panels and rechargeable batteries, which then only require pneumatic connections to the pressure outlets at the base and at the top of the tank to provide the differential data necessary for level measurement.
These devices can be attached to the tank using powerful magnets that further simplify their installation. The costs involved in such installations are very low and require limited technical skills that can be found in any operator qualified to handle pneumatic installations with cryogenic gases. This avoids the laying of cables and wiring, and in certain situations even the associated excavation work.
A practical, experienced view
At Ambra Sistemi, after 25 years of working experience side-by-side with installers and plant technicians, we have come to absorb the technological needs and attention to the costs of implementing a telemetry system.
The implementation of a transducer operating in low power mode has ensured that remote monitoring guarantees frequent transmissions on the state of the tanks and the immediate communication of alarm states in real-time through a connection to a proprietary platform in the cloud, capable of reporting states and alarms on mobile terminals such as smartphones and tablets or, more traditionally, on computers located at the offices of those responsible for the technical and logistical management of the plants themselves.
In our case, the use of differential sensors integrated within the equipment allows us to further save energy, as these sensors are designed and manufactured in-house and perfectly integrated with the electronic systems inside the device housing of the monitoring equipment.
The use of a platform in the cloud with important logics for storing collected data represents one of the most important and innovative aspects in current and future realisations of telemetry systems. The historical data collected, in addition to being guaranteed with the most important security standards and in compliance with privacy regulations, will increasingly represent the fundamental source to analyse and optimise the management of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of a cryogenic gas storage point. Years of collected data form databases, through which evaluations can be made on the efficiency of the plant from both economic and technical points of view, not only in the scheduling and management of refilling operations, but also in the planning of both ordinary and extraordinary maintenance interventions.
A cloud platform specialised in the collection and management of these data sets is provided from few software value adders on the market, since the majority of existing software platforms are limited to the slavish representation of level and pressure data.
The integrated monitoring solutions provided in Ambra Sistemi’s cloud platform (CrioSystemSupervisor) have greatly taken advantage from the experiences developed in the medical field, where the responsibilities inherent in the reliability of the gas supply lead to the remote monitoring of the entire system solution (tank, vaporizers, line temperatures, line pressures and more). Moreover, the control aspects go far beyond this, offering an important and flexible solution where the information collected can be transferred to ERP systems in use in the IT departments of the cryogenic gas distributor.
Obviously, this type of integrated solution offering is much simpler both in its proposition and in the understanding of its cost-effectiveness characteristics and technological resources in companies that are already embedded in an evolved distribution context, where telemetry concepts have already been acquired and increasingly evolved methodologies for the use of collected data which are being assumed.
The strategic advantages of those who tackle the issue of remote monitoring of cryogenic tanks through a first-of-its-kind implementation, consist in the possibility of taking inspiration from the state-of-the-art hardware and software technologies – effectively bypassing the long maturation times that have characterised implementations developed by large companies in more developed countries.
Revolution in philosophy
This technological revolution does not only involve the gas distributor but, above all, the technology partners that support those involved in distribution.
Designers, installers, maintainers and finally the gas transporters themselves thus become technological partners with the same objective of rationalising and improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the gas distribution system.
It is with this business philosophy that potential customers interested in the remote monitoring of cryogenic or pressurised gas storage systems must be approached. A 360° approach that allows for the evaluation of costs and benefits as for any other type of investment, and a strong focus on the direct and indirect benefits derived from the use of the information being collected. The timescale used to carry out these evaluations shifts from the short to the medium-long term, with undoubted returns on investments in shorter timeframes.
Ambra Sistemi adopts this methodology in the partnership it establishes with its customers, so that the solutions, chosen and designed today, will represent brilliant results in the future. To conclude, I am reminded of what I often find myself saying to one of our future customers: “Take our product in your hands, touch it, weigh it, and you will understand that this offer-philosophy has been, and will be, our success key because we have always believed in long-term horizons and building reliable and durable products.”