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Labs Fully Automates Meter Readings using the Raspberry Pi and Fiix

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Raspberry Pi Model 2 B v1.1

A lot has been covered in automating meter readings so far. At Labs we’ve built programs to provide the solutions to such issues, but there’s still something missing. That’s where the Raspberry Pi comes in. Because the Automated Meter Reading File Handler is meant to act like desktop application, and the Serial Port Reader really is a desktop application, the need for a computer can’t be eliminated. However, putting a laptop beside every piece of equipment gets expensive, and ridiculous, fast. So instead, let’s look at the Raspberry Pi, and how it can help solve this problem.

It isn’t edible

The Raspberry Pi is a fully functioning computer the size of a credit card, and only requires a micro USB cable to supply it power. It can connect to the internet through an ethernet cable, or by using a wireless adaptor plugged into one of its own USB ports. It also has digital input and output pins to interact with hardware. It can be both the laptop and the microcontroller, and it’s similar in size to the small Arduino Uno board. Unlike the solution to automating meter readings provided in our previous blog post, this system is self-contained. The meter readings are taken from the equipment, fed into a Raspberry Pi, processed by mini-programs, and then sent off to the to log and trigger any events or scheduled maintenance. The heart of this operation is a variation of the Labs Automated Meter Reading File Handler, which is what takes all of the data in spreadsheet form and sends to the CMMS. The mini-programs are customized to each sensor, and their data is turned into spreadsheets to give to the handler. This functionality is also ideal for equipment with more than one sensor, because as long as there’s a mini-program for it, you can connect any and all sensors to a single Raspberry Pi.

Little robots

The kink in the circuit of truly automated meter readings has been getting information from the sensors taking the data, to something capable of handling them. You can have a technician going around writing down meter readings from dials, typing them into a CSV file to toss at the Automated Meter Reading File Handler, but that defeats the goal of automation that we’re trying to achieve. Even with the Arduino, having to put computers beside every piece of equipment, and using a separate Arduino for each sensor, gets too expensive. As long as you still need a person walking around taking notes, the system can’t be automated. The devices taking the readings have to be capable of sending the data elsewhere, or be smart enough to handle it themselves, and keeping it on budget while doing so gets increasingly difficult. This program, the Node JavaScript version of the Labs Automated Meter Reading Handler, coupled with the strength and size of a Raspberry Pi form an ideal solution to tackle the problem. This is a set-it-and-forget-it, 100% completely automated solution to meter readings. From start to finish, nobody ever has to manually check or write down the information. The technicians know whether or not something is working properly thanks to all the readings being logged, and don’t have to worry about things going wrong without them knowing about it first.

Developers not included

The program does requires a developer, however. Although the program is incredibly similar to the original Automated Meter Reading File Handler, operating a Raspberry Pi to prepare all the package and modules required to run the program can be difficult without a background in computing. The other difficult aspect of this automated system is the collection of mini-programs which run in parallel. Due to the nature of hardware, every brand and model is different, requiring a different approach to taking the data. We made four example programs, one for each of our sensors (temperature, photocell, and potentiometer) and one for all three of them at once, as a baseline to understanding the structure of a Python script as well as the output that’s required in order to function with the main handler. The hope is that this, along with the thorough documentation included, can help other developers to build their own mini-scripts for the individual sensors used in equipment. The entire project is available, along with all others, on the Labs page.

The bulk of the work is done in the automated handler, so developers only need to create small scripts to get their automated meter reading system operational as fast as possible. These smart machines can revolutionize maintenance as we know it, logging all changes any equipment goes through and putting it on the fingertips of your maintenance staff whenever they need it. Ready to get your slice of the Raspberry Pi?

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