Monitoring Remote Assets with IoT

For more than 35 years Wideco Sweden AB has monitored underground district heating pipes and related underground areas, and today serves more than 100 energy plants in Sweden alone. While that monitoring was first carried out manually, the advent of IoT has allowed Wideco to transform as a business and today they can offer their global customers an end-to-end solution that saves both money and time, while also boosting sustainability.

The history

When Wideco was founded in 1982, there weren’t any smartphones or apps or wireless connectivity or IoT to help monitor district heating pipes. Instead, Wideco used alarms with red and green lights. If something was wrong, such as too much moisture in the pipe’s insulation or a leak was detected, the red light would show. If everything was ok, the green light showed.

The problem with this system was that first you had to go out into the field and install the monitoring systems and then you had to send people out to check on things regularly. This was labor and time intensive and it wasn’t economical. Then IoT arrived on the scene and dramatically changed the Wideco offering, although the shift to online monitoring wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Implementing IoT

The first SIM cards Wideco used were GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), which were often unreliable, with frequent disconnects.  But as connectivity evolved, so too did the Wideco solution.

“The advances in IoT technology means that today we have a plug-and-play solution, and it’s been a game changer for us,” explains Karl-Johan Wirfalk, CEO Wideco. “For the past twelve or thirteen years, we’ve worked with 2G and 3G, but with new protocols like LoRaWAN, LTE-M and NB-IoT coming onto the scene, we’re updating our units, as well as partnering with a number of sensor suppliers in Europe in order to stay on top of this fast-moving area.”

Wideco’s plug-and-play solution continuously measures everything from pipe leakage to moisture levels with very high accuracy. As soon as an issue is detected, an alert is sent, which allows energy companies to address the problem sooner, rather than later.

“This reduces human error because data is all about the facts,” says Karl-Johan.  “The human eye can miss things, but a connected system won’t. The result is problems can be addressed before they spread and cause bigger problems, such as a water main blowing, which can be disastrous.  This saves customers both time and money.”

The Wideco solution analyzes data and optimizes maintenance, which is another time and money saver, because companies don’t need to send someone out to perform maintenance when the data tells them everything is ok. Additionally, reducing leakage and keeping a high level of maintenance on pipes saves valuable resources.

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In short, the Wideco solution optimizes manpower, reduces human error, and allows detection of problems before they become overwhelming.

End-to-end solution

Wideco’s cloud-based solution offers both hardware and software, as well as a web-based IoT platform that analyzes data and allows management of all their customers’ units.

“We have one platform that is the engine of our system,” explains Wirfalk. “It visualizes everything, making it easier for those out in the field to work with the system, statistics, etc. We’ve been working with it for the past fifteen years and will be releasing an updated web version called WISION in the fall.

“Then we have our hosting platform, with servers in Sweden and a number of other countries.  Everything works together seamlessly, meaning if a customer has 50 or even 2000 units from us, we prepare those units and all the customer has to do is deploy them – they’re plug and play – and then log into the cloud to monitor them.”

Wideco customers can monitor their deployment themselves or Wideco can do it for them as a surveillance service, which includes not just monitoring but also data analyzation and monthly reports. As Karl-Johan Wirfalk says, with this service, Wideco serves as an expert resource, allowing customers to focus on what they do best.

Data is normally sent once a day or when an alarm is triggered, but there is always the option to have alerts sent more often, such as when the customer wishes to test something.  The system is flexible but it’s important to bear in mind that a lot of the sensors are underground, where there isn’t any power source, so they rely on battery power.

Working with Tele2 IoT

Wideco has been working with Tele2 IoT for the past decade, and Tele2 IoT is their main supplier of SIMs inside their units.

“We’ve tested others and sometimes our clients use their own SIM cards, but in general we use Tele2 IoT SIMs and connectivity, particularly in Sweden, but also outside of the country, where Tele2 IoT’s roaming solution is critical.”

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Tele2 IoT has been responsive, helpful, and has continually improved their solutions over the years. Everything works well and we are very happy with the partnership.

Karl-Johan Wirfalk CEO Wideco

Roaming is important because Wideco always needs to have the best available network for their critical applications. The company has tested Tele2 IoT SIMs all over the world – South Korea, Qatar, Europe, and the US – and has seen that they always offer the best available network. And while Wideco offers monitoring to its customers, Wirfalk says that if they have trouble with a SIM card going wild and crashing the system, this is where Tele2 IoT’s service is important because an alert is always send, which means any problems are able to be quickly addressed.

The future

Wideco has long been in the energy and heating sector and will continue to focus on that, partnering with companies like LOGSTOR A/S in Denmark to sell IoT-connected pipes, which solves a lot of challenges for the end customer.

“They don’t have to think about the costs or intricacies of getting into the IoT game,” says Wirfalk. “By buying IoT connected pipes they up their game and become more competitive in the market. Making it simple makes it easy for our customers to get connected.”

The company is also broadening its focus to smart cities and smart buildings. So, even as they continue to build and integrate their platform, they’re also doing pilots within buildings and other areas in the energy sector where they can add value.

“There are a lot of small companies getting into this area with IoT, but our experience and knowhow keep us one step ahead of the upstarts,” says Wirfalk.  “We’re now looking beyond the district heating business area and into city infrastructure. As cities become more connected, we can see where our skills and experience can benefit everyone and where we can be a strong player. We aim to connect and monitor more infrastructure, such as measuring heating in buildings, or access to buildings.  There are a lot of possibilities that we look forward to getting into. We are already running a number of pilots on things like door access and control of electrical cabinet access that make us think we will be a strong player in these new applications.”

Essentially, Wideco is doing what it’s always done: looking at where they’re at right now, understanding what can be improved, and finding new possibilities and opportunities.

“We’re not a huge company but we know our business and have developed our system, platform, and hardware over the past fifteen years,” Karl-Johan Wirfalk concludes. “Now, it’s time to scale up and let our hard work transform both our future and the future of our customers. With our skills, knowledge, and know-how we understand and believe in the value we can bring to the smart city evolution – and we look forward to being a part of it.”

If you would like to learn more about how Tele2 IoT can enable your business, please get in touch.

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