By Scott Smith
The communications revolution is probably the most important technological change to affect the irrigation industry. Today, an unprecedented stream of software programs and products is available to make controlling pump stations much more convenient and effective in the effort to maintain and sustain healthy turf.
Currently, pump stations can be outfitted with a user interface control center on the front of a pump station enclosure. These control centers can monitor and log pump station and irrigation system activities, with access provided by direct connection, phone line or radio links. In addition to interfacing with the pump station’s controls, the computers provide performance and maintenance enhancement features such as electrical and mechanical schematics, performance history, owner manuals and diagnostic features.
Control centers have the potential to be far more than on-site, touch-screen user interface PCs. They could be used as conduits for advanced control of the pumping station from remote locations, such as the superintendent’s home computer or via a personal digital assistant (PDA), such as a Palm.
Tapping the Internet
The Internet is rapidly becoming a super-communications highway in virtually every industry. While widely accepted, it remains a largely untapped resource for superintendents.
Many existing technologies in the irrigation industry employ “open architecture,” which permits the integration of the latest advancement in Internet communications to monitor irrigation systems. Programmers are delving deeply into the Web’s potential with software that allows well pumps, weather stations, irrigation systems, security systems, GPS carts and GPS mowing equipment to “talk” with superintendents through the Internet. This will allow users to monitor and control pump systems from anywhere via the Internet.
Should problems occur on the golf course, a control center can send an e-mail, page or text message to a superintendent. Using combined technology, superintendents can assemble and communicate with a virtual team of problem solvers including the original equipment manufacturer, product service and support personnel.
For instance, imagine a superintendent is away when his pager alerts him to the failure of pump 3. He reaches for his PDA to access the controller and makes changes to irrigation cycles to account for pump 3’s breakdown. He then receives an e-mail notification from the manufacturer of his pump station reiterating the failed status of pump 3 and requesting approval to send technical support to respond to the problem. Later, a maintenance team arrives and determines a faulty contactor is the culprit. The maintenance team, utilizing the pump stations onboard the PC, alerts the factory, and a new part is on its way. In the meantime, the customer service department was able to adjust the station for smooth operation without pump 3.
Each day brings the irrigation industry closer to complete remote control pump system operations. Once these concepts are developed, superintendents will control their systems from nearly anywhere. They will be able to reset noncritical alarms, view the status of pump station equipment and establish the amount of water flow, pressure and distribution, as well as monitor and control the amount of chemicals processed via fertigation equipment.
Web-based systems are being designed to enable suppliers to monitor stations and provide parts if there are mechanical problems. This will not only minimize downtime but also create a virtual convenience store for busy superintendents. They will be able to track current and historical system data in a graphical format, monitor critical system information and keep important maintenance data. Routine maintenance schedules would be included to give superintendents the opportunity to automatically dispatch a repair team.
Industry research and development teams are hard at work on innovative tools that will communicate with pumps stations from remote locations to increase effectiveness of all grounds maintenance programs. Cutting-edge ideas spawned by these teams will revolutionize the way superintendents control and monitor pump station performance in the future. Savings will be more attainable as technology increases. As the industry begins to harness technologies that currently exist with an eye on the possibilities of tomorrow, golf course irrigation will become more cost, time and energy efficient.
Scott Smith is an electrical engineer in the program and development department at Dallas-based Flowtronex.