30 August 2021
Smart and safe: Remote CHP monitoring
With the pandemic accelerating the trend of remote working and business owners looking for new ways of keeping their workforce safe, remote CHP monitoring systems have grown in popularity at on-farm AD plants across the UK. Enabling farmers to track and control their engine’s performance remotely and in real time, they minimise the financial impact caused by interruptions in performance, improve overall CHP efficiency and reduce the number of staff required on site. James Thompson, Managing Director of independent CHP parts and service provider Gen-C, outlines the key benefits of this intelligent technology and explains why remote engine tracking is one Covid legacy that’s here to stay…
- Increased engine uptime
Traditionally, if an engine unexpectedly shuts down overnight, it may not be discovered until an employee arrives on site the next morning. Worse still, there may be a wait of another day or two for an engineer to physically restart it. During this prolonged and unanticipated period of downtime the CHP is producing no heat or power, resulting in a loss in revenue for the farmer.
With a remote engine monitoring system, farmers will receive an instant alert should their engine shut down at any time of the day or night. They can then remotely log into the control panel and alter any parameters at the touch of a button before restarting the engine directly via their laptop or mobile phone. Reducing downtime to as little as five minutes, CHP availability – and therefore the owner’s profit margin – is significantly increased.
- Optimised fuel ratio
The composition of an engine’s fuel can directly impact its performance. A fuel that is too rich or too lean can affect the overall efficient running of a CHP and hinder ignition, making restarts difficult. This is particularly true for AD plants, where variations in gas volumes and composition are common.
Today’s smart CHP monitoring systems (such as the IGS-LOG which comes as standard with any Motortech open-access control panel supplied by Gen-C) allow engine operators to constantly track the fuel mixture, recording trends over time as well as flagging any immediate issues. The operator can then remotely adjust the ratio before performance is affected, ensuring their engine runs smoothly and efficiently.
- Safer engine restarts
The presence of combustible gas gives CHP engines an inherent safety risk and one of the most hazardous operations is the ignition phase. By linking a smart monitoring system to a camera, farmers can visually verify that no personnel are in the vicinity before remotely restarting their CHP, as well as ensuring that there is no physical damage to the engine which could make ignition especially hazardous.
The addition of a camera also makes it easier and quicker for companies such as Gen-C to remotely support customers with any technical issues they may encounter. We provide a year’s free technical support with every smart control panel installation, potentially saving CHP owners thousands of pounds each month in service plan charges.
- Extended equipment lifespan
One of the many parameters that can be monitored every three seconds by a smart CHP tracking system is oil quality. Tracking this helps to identify any unusual oil behaviour and enables farmers to take swift action to protect their equipment.
While a gradual deterioration in oil quality is to be expected, rapid worsening could indicate contamination (for example, metal, water or coolant in the oil). This can make the oil abrasive and reduce its lubricating properties, leading to parts and systems wearing out more quickly. Without this early warning system, oil quality issues may only be discovered during an engine’s mid-life service, when major parts such as the crank shaft may need to be replaced earlier than expected at an additional cost.
- Improved diagnostics
A key benefit of remote CHP monitoring is improved accuracy in diagnosing the cause of faults. For example, we were recently contacted by a client whose engine mixer was defaulting to manual setting. After reviewing the data log on the monitoring system, we noticed a drop in voltage in the control panel batteries. We mapped the voltage across both engines over two weeks and spotted a trend; one panel battery was underperforming and was being supported by its sister engine. Every time the underperforming battery handed over to its sister, the voltage dropped, causing the mixer to switch to manual mode. We replaced the problematic battery at a cost of £40 – just 10% of what the client might have paid to replace the mixer – and the problem was instantly rectified.