Eyes on the prize with ifm

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The io-key can provide efficient monitoring, and control, of multiple pieces of farm infrastructure – designed to give the user ultimate control


With the appropriate sensors, an io-key can transmit liquid level data to the cloud at different rates


The summer months are always among the busiest times of year for the growers of Australia’s winter crops – with harvest season, thirsty livestock and the threat of bushfires just around the corner.

At the same time, farm infrastructure is being more widely used and being more closely monitored, with reliance high on silos, water tanks and pumps, particularly as January and February roll around.

With that in mind, most farmers will go out of their way to prepare thoroughly beforehand, ensuring little problems are dealt with before they become larger issues.

But making sure that these pieces of farm infrastructure remain in a good state of repair, so that livestock can be watered and irrigation continue unabated, requires regular monitoring, in a manner that is as straightforward as possible.

That said, every property is different, and every farmer will have both different needs and different preferences for how they want that monitoring to take place – as well as how much time it will take out of their day.

Rather than seeking to apply a blanket solution for every problem, leading specialist automation technology developer ifm has developed a product that lets the farmer make the decisions.

The io-key miniature monitor was designed to have minimum requirements and produce maximum benefits for its users – able to take data from a variety of different sensors and to transmit it wirelessly to operators whenever required.

Ifm national technical sales manager for Australia Dan Buzatu says the unit’s two monitor ports allow it to connect to sensors, using information from them to act in different ways.

"It can be used for pretty much any application where something needs to be set up with minimum infrastructure existing other than having a 3G or 4G network around," he says.


The io-key can be powered by a battery or, as here, through a solar panel


All the io-key needs to operate is its 4G integrated SIM card and a 24-volt power supply, sometimes provided by a battery or solar panel.

It can use these to send information to farmers at anything from daily to 10-second intervals, as well as sending an alarm whenever triggered.

A simple example of this at work is its use for monitoring levels of liquid in a tank – be it chemicals in a factory or water for filling troughs for livestock.

The farmer can simply set a suitable sensor, connect it to the io-key and establish the style of feedback they wish to receive.

That can be regular updates to a dashboard, accessible on a tablet device or desktop computer, or a notification SMS or email when something out of the ordinary occurs.

It may also be action using the io-key’s output function to power a pump or a fan.


The io-key’s output allows it to be used to turn on a pump or a warning light


Buzatu says this could be powering a lamp or a buzzer that could notify someone in the field of an issue, even from far away.

"He doesn’t necessarily have to check his mobile – he can see the light is red and go OK, I need to go and check it out… It can switch something on and off, a light or a pump," he adds.

Being able to switch on a pump automatically will help cut operating costs and increase machine uptime, with the added benefit of operating independently of any program logic controller (PLC) or end-user network, meaning that any wider IT infrastructure will not be affected.

However, as Buzatu says, the unit’s capabilities extend well beyond level monitoring, with io-keys also used to help monitor both the rate of liquid flow and pressure within pipes when working together with a flow sensor.

Buzatu says this can be used to help monitor the flow of nitrogen into a silo – both ensuring the flow was constant and that nitrogen remained at a suitable level within the silos themselves.

"The solution needed to be as simple as just on the device with the flow sensor to say 'yes, I am flowing this much' or 'no, my flow has stopped' – because that would bring the bugs and flies," he says.

Farmers wishing to monitor temperatures within a silo can also find a use for the io-key, which when working with a temperature monitor can keep track of heating and cooling cycles and send a message in case targets are not met – as well as mapping temperature trends.


An ifm flow monitor is used to track water flow through a bore, relaying information wirelessly to a nearby io-key


Another example, pictured above, shows an ifm flow sensor affixed to an irrigation pump that is pumping water from a bore – and all powered by a solar panel with an inverter and a small battery.

The io-keys may also be used for predictive maintenance, he adds, working with one of ifm’s VVB001 vibration sensors to detect vibrations caused by damaged bearings or unbalancing in motors or pumps situated remotely.

Buzatu says the io-key will help cut the costs of remote systems monitors by using simple devices to transmit only the information required.

Ultimately, the io-key is just one of a variety of monitors, sensors and data-sharing devices developed by ifm that it can supply to suit customer needs.

"Just by having such a simple thing that wasn’t there before… people before had so many complicated devices, but this just has a connector, and anyone can connect a plug to a socket – you just have to know what you want to do, and if you know the parameters that is even better," says Buzatu.

While ifm will provide a consultation to discuss any farmer’s needs, Buzatu says that, in many cases, farmers have already worked out the solution they are seeking.

"They say: here is my problem, I have the solution, I just need to know what sensors and what devices I need to achieve that solution," he explains.

The io-key is a vital stepping stone in helping to bring the two worlds together, he says.

"This can monitor almost everything that can be monitored – just get in touch with us and we will find if it can be monitored. It’s so simple, and that is what we want to achieve."

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