The national lockdown to curb the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa has provided smart farming agricultural Internet of Things (IoT) solutions provider Shockwave Engineering dedicated time to further develop its Pump Optimiser, says CEO Murray Bredin.
The company upgraded the IoT monitoring and control system’s firmware and its cloud server during the hard lockdown to enable the instant control of pumps from a mobile application in response to client demand.
“With the current pandemic, pump systems can be monitored and controlled from home. This helps prevent the spread of Covid-19,” advances Bredin, adding that the current economic climate is also calling for people to do more with fewer staff.
Therefore, installing the system enables operators to monitor and control systems without having to waste time driving around, making staff more productive.
The Gauteng-based company, established in 2008, developed the Pump Optimiser to address the large percentage of the world’s energy production being consumed by pumps.
Bredin explains that many pumps are used to transport water and, fundamentally, require a large amount of energy to do so owing to its density.
However, the inefficient operation of pumps, either because they are worn, inadequately controlled, or the incorrect flow rates and pressures are being used, result in many pumps consuming far more energy than they should.
“The Pump Optimiser allows us to monitor the actual operating conditions, the extent of wear and control pumps according to their process requirements and specification,” explains Bredin.
He adds that the rapidly increasing tariffs of State-owned power utility Eskom have made it more important to improve the efficiency of pumping systems.
“Load-shedding has also made it important to automatically restart pumping systems while keeping the pumps in their required operating envelope.”
Local demand has been good, where clients have heard about the product; however, Shockwave Engineering has done little marketing.
Therefore, it intends to transition from development to market the Pump Optimiser more aggressively.
“With greater product awareness we expect the demand to increase,” states Bredin.
Besides the agriculture sector, Shockwave Engineering has experienced interest in the Pump Optimiser from the mining and municipal sectors. However, with limited resources, the company has decided to focus on promoting the product to the agriculture sector initially.
Shockwave Engineering first started developing the hardware for the Pump Optimiser in 2014, while the first prototypes were ready for testing in late 2015.
“A pump test rig was built to enable testing of the system under various operating conditions. The first units were installed on client sites in 2016, with firmware and a host cloud server continuously developed since,” says Bredin.
The development phase involved challenges such as having to design and build printed circuit boards with a microprocessor, analogue to digital converters, a global system for mobile communications modem to upload data to the cloud and a machine-to-machine radio module for wireless communication on site.
Firmware also had to be developed to run on the microprocessor and a webserver was needed to configure settings for the devices and ingest data from the system and present it to operators.
“Integrating all the parts was also challenging,” notes Bredin, highlighting that the Pump Optimiser comprises 70% local content.
Five companies in Strydom Park, Pretoria and Centurion manufacture parts, while three overseas companies supply flow meters, pressure sensors and instrumentation cables. The product is assembled and tested in-house by three Shockwave Engineering employees.
The company has sold 60 units to date, which includes exporting to Zambia, and has the capacity to produce 20 units a month.
The Pump Optimiser is compatible with all pump types, but not all its features are applicable to all pump types.
“We have installed the system on end-suction centrifugal, vertical multistage, horizontal multistage, positive displacement, and borehole pumps. The fundamental requirement is to monitor and control inlet and outlet pressures, flow rate, and power and this is applicable to any pump,” says Bredin.
He advances that while there are some systems that monitor pump operation and others that offer a wireless link and operation through an app, no product to his knowledge has integrated all these aspects like the Pump Optimiser.