This was meant to be a 3 part post about monitoring temperature: decide to do it, describe the installation, then a bit later review how it’s working out for me. The more I learn though, the more I think it’s now going to be a serialized novel, or at least have much more than 3 parts.
In this chapter, I decided that it might be useful to go through the process I’ve used to get to this point. How am I approaching this research and design project, and why am I selecting the products I’ve selected so far.
In short, the process was:
Normally, at this point the “best” solution would present itself. The first part would simply have served as a look into the progress on a field that I’m already familiar with. However, this is a technological field that I’m definitely not very familiar with yet, so I decided to do extra research to see if my currently determined price point is valid, or to see if my requirements are either too limited, or too broad. That means that the above process is repeated several times, and I’ll stop when I stop finding new solutions or new ways to do things. So far each time I’ve repeated the loop above I’ve learned something new, so I’m still repeating the loop. I’m not counting how many times I’ve done this. Research is fun!
Looking at what already exists
So far my iteration of searches have found a real mess. The area is rife with proprietary solutions that are big on marketing, and very low on what they’re actually offering. There are also far too many providers who categorically refuse to put out even a ballpark price for their “solutions”, instead requiring that you talk to a salesperson to “discuss your needs”. This is an approach I’ve seen a lot in several industries, and each time I’ve gone ahead and talked to a salesperson, all they had to offer was a high pressure sales pitch for a fixed “solution” that might or might not meet my needs.
Individually, the sensors themselves are a commodity product that sells for $1 each, retail, and much less in bulk. Unfortunately, they’re being re-packaged into proprietary solutions that are then being sold for anything from hundreds to thousands of dollars. I can see the reason for some of those costs – low volume, for one. But that doesn’t excuse some of the apparent attempts at gouging that I’m seeing.
So far I’ve seen three general types of companies:
- the companies that claim they have a solution, and have beautifully crafted marketing brochures that don’t actually give any details. They also refuse to give ANY details online and want you to call to talk to a salesperson. In my opinion, these people are stuck in the pre-internet days when information wasn’t readily available. I won’t be dealing with these companies. Ever.
- the companies that offer fixed solutions, with zero flexibility and only one or two hugely underpowered products that don’t even meet the needs of a single-person kitchen, then a huge jump to enterprise level systems meant for huge commercial kitchens. Nothing in-between. They’ll have some information about the systems, but not a lot since there’s no flexibility. I might deal with one of these, assuming that one of their low-end systems actually meets my needs. So far, no luck.
- the companies that offer solutions that more or less scale, and aren’t afraid to put their prices, technical data, and other information online for people to be able to make decisions on their own. These are the companies I’ll be looking at. Luckily, there are several of them out there.
Determining initial requirements
This was easy, but it’s still being decided. Count things I want to measure. Add it up. The tricky part was determining what was even possible, and what is “must have” vs “nice to have”. At the moment, my personal list is:
- Must have:
- Alerts to my phone (either direct SMS, or email-to-SMS gateway).
- An alert strobe or audible alarm for when I’m actually on the trailer and not paying attention to the phone. I can then check the unit to see what set the alarm off.
- I will take care of internet connectivity – either through a home wifi network (when the trailer is parked at home or close to a hotspot I have access to) or through a GSM mobile hotspot if I determine I need one.
- 3 wired temperature sensors: fridge, freezer, and water system to prevent freezing in winter.
- 1 wired motion sensor for a simplistic alarm system.
- 1 wired power sensor: since my refrigeration is solely on the trailer and a power failure is kind of critical if I’m not there to notice, and it would be useful to have a warming before the temperatures get critical.
- Extra safety stuff: (probably “must have” at some point, assuming I can find a vendor that sells these for less than $EEK!)
- Propane leak detector
- Carbon dioxide detector – esp in winter when I close the trailer doors.
- Nice to have
- No monthly charges. I want to buy a solution and not be charged for it over and over. Then again, a cloud solution lets me avoid having to do too much I.T. work in the trailer, I can see myself liking this benefit.
- 1 wired air flow to alert me if venting stops
- chlorine sensor so I don’t have to continuously remember to use test strips.
- generator fuel level – I may need to go wireless since the generator will hopefully be located away from the trailer when possible. Still, it’s not big deal to check the level a couple of times per day, so not really required. A toy.
- propane gas level in cylinders – this is a bit more important, as I’ll be using large amounts at certain times and running out would be bad. But this is a “later” thing, since usage is low to start, so I can check the levels manually much less often.
As you can see, just for the “must have” I’m already up to about 5 or 6 sensors and one output relay. Some rather expensive “starter” solutions assume that I’ll need no more than four. So I’m already looking at mid-level systems here, just for a fairly simple trailer. I can only guess what they consider “starter”.
Pricing out solutions
Since the companies I’ve decided to deal with aren’t afraid to put their prices online, or have suppliers that provide those prices, this wasn’t that difficult either. I even managed to find Canadian distributors for some of the solutions of interest, which saves a lot of hassle since American companies often don’t realize Canada exists.
However, pricing is odd. Many companies use proprietary connectors that won’t work with any other products. Even though the actual physical cost of the sensor they’re selling is about $1, they’re selling these for anything from $12 to $120 each! All because they use proprietary connectors, so they know that if you pick their product you have to buy sensors from them. So one company has an expensive central unit that uses inexpensive sensors, and another has a cheaper central unit that makes me purchase expensive sensors. At the minimal configurations the prices are similar. As soon as you start to build up with more sensors suddenly the price differences get really serious.
… to be continued.