2020 Winter - Installing a Remote Monitoring System

Questions to Ask Before Installing a Remote Monitoring System

The sooner you can detect extreme temperature fluctuations, rising humidity, or equipment failure in your greenhouse, the more inventory you can save.

No matter the size of your greenhouse operation, keeping your plants alive and healthy requires the best possible growing environment. This means greenhouse managers and personnel must frequently monitor the status of environmental conditions and equipment.

Integrating a remote monitoring system into your greenhouse can save you time, money, and anxiety. Monitoring systems that use cloud-based technology let you see real-time status of all monitored conditions and receive alerts right on your mobile device.

Here are answers to a few questions to ask before installing a cloud-based monitoring system.

What Kind of Monitoring System and Sensors Should I Use for My Operation?

A reputable manufacturer will have a well-trained support team that can assess your needs, even without a site visit, to determine which products are best for your application. If you feel you need them to check out your greenhouse operation, many companies can set up a video conference or FaceTime chat to substitute for being on site.

You will want to provide details about the scope and purpose of your greenhouse operation. Important factors to discuss include:

• Skeletal structure of the greenhouse (metal, plastic, wood, etc.) and the covering material (glass
or plastic)

• Floor space, square footage, and height of each of your greenhouses

• Number of greenhouse structures in your operation

• Outdoor climate to determine if you rely more on heating or air conditioning and the level of humidity control needed

• Space dedicated to specific plants and the microclimates needed for each

• Types of lighting, ventilation, and irrigation systems

• Level of technological automation versus manual operation in place

The monitoring system representative will then determine the type of system that would best serve your operation, the number of base units you will need, and the types of sensors required.

Cloud-based monitoring systems have data-logging capablitlities and store limitless amounts of information that you can view from any internet-connected device via a website or app. Photo: Sensaphone

Are Sensors Included With a Monitoring System?

In most cases, sensors are sold separately. The sensors you select depend on the conditions you want to monitor and how many you can connect to your base unit. Certainly, temperature is critical, but there are many other factors to deal with as well, such as humidity, CO2, soil moisture, water pH, power and equipment failure, ventilation, and physical security.

For example, humidity has a direct impact on the photosynthesis and transpiration of plants. High humidity can cause disease and promote the growth mold, algae, and mildew. Sensors can detect changes in humidity levels.

Because plants need CO2 to thrive, it’s a good idea to include a CO2 sensor that will signal the monitoring device when readings go out of the preset range. There are even sensors that you can place in the soil to measure moisture content to help prevent over- or under-watering, budget water usage costs, promote growth, and increase crop yield and quality.

Ventilation systems not only help control temperature, they also provide fresh air that is critical to plant health. Automated systems include features like vented roofs, side vents, and forced fans. Sensors placed on all these systems will send personnel an alert if they stop running or operate outside of preset parameters.

Do Monitoring Systems Only Work With the Manufacturer’s Sensors?

Not necessarily. For example, certain monitoring units can connect with most 4-20mA sensors and transmitters regardless of the brand. When selecting sensors, you might have a choice between ones designed by the manufacturer to work specifically with the monitoring system or universal components made by a third party. If the components aren’t made by the system manufacturer, you’ll want to find out if they have been tested with the monitor you are choosing and if you need to work with another vendor to purchase the parts.

Is There a Monthly Fee to Access all the Functionality of a Monitoring Device?

Many web- or cloud-based systems provide free functionality with some limitations. You might have to purchase a premium subscription to unlock features such as text messaging, phone call alerts, and unlimited datalogging access.

Can One System Monitor Several Sensor Inputs Around the Clock?

Once the monitoring system is installed and programmed, it will constantly read the information from the sensors 24/7. Cloud-based systems have datalogging capabilities and store limitless amounts of information that you can view from any internet-connected device via a web- site or app.

If the system detects any sensor readings outside of the preset range, it will send an alarm to all designated personnel. The number of sensors a base unit can monitor varies. Make sure to evaluate your needs and to select one that can accommodate your present situation and future growth.

When a monitoring system identifies a change in status, it immediately sends alerts to people on your contact list. If you don’t want all your personnel to receive notifications at the same time, some devices can be programmed to send alerts in a tiered fashion or on a schedule.

Do Monitoring Systems Have a Back-up Power System?

The safest choice is a cloud-based system that comes with a built-in battery backup that will last for hours in the event of a power failure. Cloud-based units constantly communicate a signal to the cloud to validate its online status. If the communication link is interrupted — for example, by a power outage or an employee accidentally switching off the unit — the system generates an alarm indicating that the internet connection is lost or that there is a cellular communications problem. Users are alerted about the disruption through phone, text, or email. All data collected during this time will be stored in the device and will be uploaded to the cloud when the internet connection is restored.

What are the Costs Associated With Repairs to the System?

Purchase your system from a reputable manufacturer that provides a warranty and offers full repair services in the event the product stops working as it should. Also, research to make sure their tech support team is knowledgeable and willing to walk you through any questions you have about your monitoring system. Often, support specialists can diagnose and correct unit setup and programming issues over the phone.

Installing a monitoring system is an easy and affordable way to make sure your equipment is running properly, and environmental conditions are where they need to be to keep your plants healthy.

Rob Fusco

Director of Business Development

Rob Fusco ( [email protected] ) is Director of Business Development with Sensaphone,
a developer and manufacturer of remote monitoring and alerting systems. Reprinted with permission from Greenhouse Grower, November 2019.