Remote monitoring systems are quickly becoming a necessity as wash owners discover the many ways these systems can help them save time, reduce cost and manage more locations.
The growth of remote monitoring has been spurred by improvements in hardware and software systems.
These advances enable properly designed systems to provide a broader range of information, more real-time control of operations and greater reliability than those of just a few years ago.
What your system can do
Today’s innovative systems enable a wash owner to:
- Visually monitor security;
- Receive immediate alerts about problems;
- Help diagnose problems;
- Program wash equipment;
- Monitor sales;
- Change advertising messages; and
- Adjust prices; and
- Keep secure track of credit transactions from anywhere there is access to the Internet.
A remote monitoring system starts with sensors to gather information from the entry station, equipment, dryer, cameras and other sources. The system also includes a communication component, a remote computer and the software to operate the system and process the data.
Although the concept may sound complicated, the best systems are designed for easy operation. In fact, some wash systems have the monitoring and reporting capabilities already built in. Once connected to the Internet, they are ready to go.
Define your needs
When selecting components for your system, it is vital to select components and software which will work together to provide the functions you want.
The first key to creating an effective remote monitoring system is clearly defining what you want the system to do.
- Do you just want to be alerted by e-mail or page when an operational problem pops up, or do you want to be able to actually program wash equipment, monitor sales and produce sophisticated business reports?
- Do you simply want to receive information or do you want to actively control processes as they occur?
- Do you want real-time video coverage as part of your capabilities?
- Will you be monitoring one bay, one site or several locations?
Carefully consider your current and future requirements so you can build a remote monitoring system to deliver the capabilities you need.
One consideration is how much remote monitoring, diagnostics and programming your wash equipment will provide. For instance, some basic wash units can simply send a page when they have a problem, such as when a vehicle has struck the spray arch.
More advanced carwash equipment can provide additional assistance by telling a remote operator exactly what the problem is. That extra information helps eliminate unnecessary service calls and minimizes diagnostic time when service is necessary.
At the top of the ladder of sophistication, the most advanced carwash equipment lets the operator use the remote monitoring system to continuously keep track of machine conditions like pump pressure and detergent temperature.
The operator can also act on the reported information by adjusting the machine’s performance through the remote monitoring system. The result is optimal efficiency.
In addition to the equipment itself, the entry station or auto cashier is another wash component whose capabilities can influence the level of benefit you receive from remote monitoring.
Some basic entry units will simply report alerts and errors, while higher level models will also report sales as they happen and provide extensive business reports that can interface with your other business management programs.
In addition, some more powerful models will open a whole new range of marketing opportunities by letting you:
- Change advertising screens;
- Make special offers; and
- Change pricing through the remote monitoring system.
Of course, the key to remote monitoring is the communication system that ties all of the wash site equipment and sensors to the remotely located computer and its operator.
The most effective method of communicating for remote monitoring is high-speed broadband Internet service. It provides the capacity to simultaneously handle multiple functions, including real-time video coverage.
Using the Internet as your communication system also enables you (or any of your designated employees) to monitor your sites any time, day or night, from anywhere in the world that has Internet access.
Another key item in the communication system is the gateway which connects the carwash system, entry unit, cameras and other equipment to the Internet.
Select a gateway with enough connections to support not only your current number of on-site devices, but also future components.
The gateway should also provide protection by acting as a firewall to keep out unauthorized users.
Need the info
Your communication system should allow you to actively retrieve information whenever you want and should also automatically send an immediate alert if any problem arises. That way you can respond right away and quickly get back to doing business as usual.
In addition to providing instant, actionable information when you need it, your remote monitoring system should also automatically store vital information locally if there’s a problem with the communication system.
For example, if the Internet goes down temporarily, a good system will store data, reports, alerts and warnings locally until communication is restored. When the system returns to operation, the stored data are transmitted for processing.
Make certain the system you choose will retain information if the communication line stops working.
A trend toward efficiency
Today’s newest developments make remote monitoring even simpler and more versatile than before.
In the realm of service and maintenance, some of the newest remote monitoring software enables the operator and a number of service technicians to continuously monitor numerous sites. This capability allows a smaller mobile service team to maintain more locations effectively.
One key development is software that enables a wash owner to collect financial information instantly from multiple sites, then consolidate and analyze it quickly in a variety of ways.
For example, an owner may gather sales information from several sites and have it grouped by any criteria to suit needs, such as geographic location, site type or manager.
The new software also provides owners the flexibility to compare data for any period, whether it’s hour-to-hour, day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, or a custom period. Wash owners can instantly have vital information for making quick business decisions.
The new systems also help owners quickly evaluate information by presenting it in graphics that can be understood at a glance.
As an example, the status of a wash-system component can be shown in green if it is working normally, yellow if its condition needs monitoring, and red for immediate attention.
Similarly, sales data can be shown in colored charts or graphs for easy analysis.
One of the most popular new developments in remote monitoring is the “heartbeat system,” which assures that the communication system itself is working as it should.
A monitor continually sends out electronic queries to be sure the reporting devices and communication system are operating properly. The results can be viewed on line by the operator.
A recipe for success
Like previous technological advances, remote monitoring is rapidly becoming a necessity because it helps wash owners increase efficiency and effectiveness, reduce cost and respond rapidly to market opportunities.
To make the most effective use of remote monitoring capabilities, remember to define your needs accurately, select equipment which works together to meet those requirements and be sure your organization is prepared to use the capabilities remote monitoring delivers.
Ken Dollhopf manages the engineering and research and development activities at PDQ Manufacturing, Green Bay, WI. He has worked in the carwash industry for over 12 years.
Mike Larson is marketing director for PDQ.
For more information on this topic please contact Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org.