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Air Conditioners are Dumb

One would think that as transmitters get more and more reliable, there would be less involved in taking care of a remote transmitter site. Oddly enough, I find that’s not true; the various items that live at a remote site, cumulatively, require just as much attention over the long run.

Consider the various items commonly found at a site: air conditioners, UPSs, generators and all manner of items that ultimately communicate with you via IP, such as cameras, remote weather stations and the like. While new transmitters come with their own IP-based communications systems, a lot of other devices are too rudimentary, or too old, to have anything like remote monitoring capability. Some devices have “optional” IP communications capability that perhaps you haven’t considered. Let’s take a look at ways of monitoring and controlling these types of devices.

Air conditioners are among the most simple and “dumb” devices to be found at a transmitter site. Still, their importance can’t be overstated. Why does it seem like air conditioners always break on a holiday weekend? Or more important: Is there a way to tell that something is amiss, before it breaks, and before that weekend call-out?

If you are fortunate enough to “spec” the AC units as part of a capital project, you might want to consider ones that are built for data center usage, because it’s likely that they will (at least optionally) have network capability. An excellent example would be the Challenger series from Liebert; not only can you keep track of the unit by way of IP using a browser, but you can also take advantage of its SNMP capability, setting it up as an agent, and then controlling it with an SNMP manager.

But I know that most AC units in the field are too old or too “simple” to have that capability, so let’s focus on those. The most obvious things to measure at the site are the room temperature and the AC’s “cold air” outlet temperature. On your remote control you would set a limit so that when the room temperature reaches a certain level, a phone call or e-mail is issued. But what does this really tell you, aside from the fact that a problem exists? While it’s true that you never want to be surprised when opening the transmitter room door to find that the temperature is 100+ degrees, there must be something else that can be done to give you more of a warning.

Consider the following:

  1. Set additional temperature thresholds, with outgoing messages as they are reached. This allows you to know the temperature is increasing, and as time goes on, you’ll know if this is normal, or not.
  2. Detect whether or not the air conditioner is “called” by the thermostat.
  3. If the temperature is increasing, and if the air conditioner is called, then the outlet air should indicate its normal “cool” temperature, and clearly the room temperature should start to decrease.

Even with a simple remote control, you could analyze the data at hand (temperatures and status) and tell whether everything is working as it should. However, since you are likely doing other things, you could also develop a script for your remote control system that would analyze this information for you, and contact you with an alarm only if a problem exists.

There are at least two remote controls out there that will support this. First, you could use Auto Pilot 2010 with Jet Active Flowcharts from Burk. In the case of older Burk units (like the ARC-16) this runs on a separate Windows-based machine, and communicates with the remote control via a serial connection. The flowchart uses information gathered from the remote control (analog data and status) and provides control via the normal relay outputs.

Another option would be a remote control that supports ScriptEasy from WorldCast Systems: the Mini Control Silver or Relio would handle this application easily. Since either of those remote controls acts as an SNMP agent, you could potentially read your AC temperatures and status outputs by way of IP, thus effectively “modernizing” an unsophisticated (or just plain old) AC unit.

Even with a simple remote control, you could analyze the data at hand (temperatures and status) and tell whether everything is working as it should. However, since you are likely doing other things, you could also develop a script for your remote control system that would analyze this information for you, and contact you with an alarm only if a problem exists.

There are at least two remote controls out there that will support this. First, you could use Auto Pilot 2010 with Jet Active Flowcharts from Burk. In the case of older Burk units (like the ARC-16) this runs on a separate Windows-based machine, and communicates with the remote control via a serial connection. The flowchart uses information gathered from the remote control (analog data and status) and provides control via the normal relay outputs.

Another option would be a remote control that supports ScriptEasy from WorldCast Systems: the Mini Control Silver or Relio would handle this application easily. Since either of those remote controls acts as an SNMP agent, you could potentially read your AC temperatures and status outputs by way of IP, thus effectively “modernizing” an unsophisticated (or just plain old) AC unit.

continued on page 2



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