Tank Monitoring for Small Businesses

Dave ParkerIoT, SME

tanks in a brewery

Why do I need Tank Monitoring?

From fluids such as chemicals, fuel and water to bulk solids like cement, cereals and aggregates, these are just some of the critical inputs and outputs for many businesses. You may run a farm, a fuel depot for vehicles, an industrial process or a brewery but in each case the raw material or finished product will be stored in some kind of tank or silo and you will want to know how much of it you have.

At first glance using IoT technology for tank monitoring may seem straightforward but there are many variations on this application. At the simplest level the IoT device generates an alert to know when a certain level has been reached in the tank. This could be to indicate whether it is empty or full, where the only requirement is to notify someone that action is required sometime later. A process needing a more rigorous safety or critical system would cause an alarm to sound when a particular level has been reached, prompting immediate action. The amount of data required for these type of tank monitoring applications is small but there are operational, safety and financial benefits to business of knowing the quantities and timings of these materials.

Some tank monitoring applications require more data to be collected and are more critical to business operations. An example of this would be a continuous manufacturing process, where material is being fed into and mixed with other materials from other sources. These environments require sampling of tank levels more frequently or in some cases, real time.

What do I need to think about for a tank monitoring solution?

Before implementing any type of technology you need to decide whether the benefit that it will bring to your business is worthwhile when weighed up against the associated costs. Manual methods of measuring the quantity of materials in a tank are time consuming, inaccurate and therefore costly.  There are significant risks to business operations in not knowing the status of valuable inputs and finished products:

  • Running out of stocks.
  • Disruption of production processes
  • Overbuying of stocks
  • Lost time in production
  • Safety and environmental risks.

The benefits coming from remote monitoring of tanks and silos are:

  • Cost reduction, elimination of ‘dry runs’ and emergency deliveries.
  • A more predictable output of finished product and services
  • Optimisation of stock levels, eliminating overbuying
  • Reduction of waste and no shelf-life losses
  • A safer working environment

Locations

The communications challenges of tank monitoring are in its wide variation of environments. Some fluids and bulk solids are stored outdoors, some inside factories. The location of the tanks to be monitored will affect your choice of IoT solution. Technologies such as NB-IoT, 2G, Sigfox and LTE Cat M1 work well inside buildings.

Power Supply

Some tanks and silos will have access to mains power, some do not. Where the IoT device and communications equipment is powered by batteries, a low power (LPWA) wireless technology such as NB-IoT or Sigfox can be used. Where the application is monitoring a continuous process requiring more data to be transferred, technologies such as 2G, 3G or 4G would be the best choice, providing a source of mains power is available. Where both low power and high data rates are needed the Cat M1 (LTE-M) variant of 4G would be best suited.

Costs

The costs to set up remote tank monitoring may include:

  • A sensing/measuring device placed on or in the tank, along with the IoT SIM and module (modem).
  • Data transfer from the device
  • A subscription charge to a service that will present data from the device to your computer or phone
  • Staff training on the new process

Next Steps

Use our Connectivity Navigator to get a recommendation for the best technology for your tank monitoring application.

Search for ‘IoT Tank Monitoring hardware’ on Google and click on the ‘Shopping’ tab to see a range of devices that you can buy online.