Digital Telemetry steps up for Hutt City

Kiwi company delivers low-cost telemetry solution

Hutt City Council has adopted locally developed telemetry software that is enabling it to much better manage its trade waste water as well as its digital traffic sign.

The council has around 600 businesses discharging waste water into its sewage system. Some are major users, such as companies like Unilever and Exide Batteries, as well as landfill operations.

A $60 million treatment plant owned by the council, but operated by a contractor, processes the waste before it is discharged into Cook Strait through a long discharge pipe. Under the Resource Consent Act, the waste has to meet specifications regarding biological content as well as volume and flow.

“If the waste varies, it’s usually some trade discharge,” says Gordon George, manager trade waste section. “If it’s too rich it can upset the operation of the plant.”

Historically, the council monitored waste discharge manually, which might have meant once a month.

A year ago it became aware of a system developed by a Hutt-based company, Digital Telemetry, which has developed its own Java-based software that communicates via the Vodafone cellphone network.

“We’d been looking at a system the Rotorua Council uses but that cost $20,000 a unit,” George says. Digital Telemetry’s units were just $1000 each, plus $65 a month for the service.”

The data is sent to a council website in real time. The council also gets text alerts if flow rates change by more than half a litre a second. Businesses have access to the web site so they can monitor their performance.

That’s important because if they regularly exceed their approved specifications the council can deny them access to the sewage system, effectively shutting down the business.

“A number of sites are behaving a lot better,” George says.

He’s hoping to extend the Digital Telemetry units to other large sites, particularly landfills.

“We’re also looking at setting up a semi-portable unit as a plug and play device that can be connected to instrumentation that measures pH (acidity and alkalinity),” he says.

The council has also used the technology for a digital road sign on the Wainui hill road that can be changed on the fly to warn of accidents or changing traffic conditions.

“The council can set and change the road sign from their site, rather than the police having to do it,” Digital Telemetry managing director Brett Abbott says.

The cost was just $5000 compared with around $60,000 per sign spent on the nearby Hutt Road.

Abbott and his partners set up the company a few years ago. They were working in the utility space with cheap cellphones to better read meters but soon realised these were not reliable, so they decided to develop their own solutions.

Their first major contract was for Coal Research, to remotely read sulphur dioxide emissions at the top of the smoke stack at Huntly. Previously, this had been done manually.

Today, the company also does weather data collection, with information fed to customer systems every five minutes. This is particularly useful at places such as the Treble Cone ski field, which previously had to be manually serviced.

“If you’re saving a site visit a month, you’re paying for the technology immediately,” Abbott says.

“We’re looking to export it as a business rather than a technical solution. A lot of the code has been built from the ground up so it can be quickly changed for new requirements.

“We can connect to anywhere over a secure network,” he says.

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