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Raúl Alarcón: "IoT is no longer an option for the future, but the reality in the world of water"

  • Raúl Alarcón: "IoT is no longer an option for the future, but the reality in the world of water"
    Raúl Alarcón, Director of Hardware at Hidroconta (Credit: Pablo González-Cebrián/iAgua)

About the entity

Hidroconta
Hidroconta is a water-meter, hydraulic valves and remote control systems manufacturer and a water management services provider that operates worldwide.

How do you turn a hydraulic facility into a new-generation facility which you can control remotely? IRIS devices by Hidroconta make this possible, since they allow mechanical meters to access the world of IoT communications.

We discuss the versatility of the IRIS communications module with Raúl Alarcón, Director of Hardware at Hidroconta, electronics and automation engineer specialised in hardware with more than twenty years of experience focusing on automation and hardware design. At Hidroconta, he is in charge of projects from the initial idea to the design, manufacture, and the different tests done, until the equipment is put into service.

Question: To start, please tell us about IRIS and its applications in the water sector.

Answer: IRIS is a telemetry device designed to be flexible and adaptable for any type of meter, whether our brand of meters, or any other manufacturer's brand of meters, through a pulse emitter. Therefore, it is suitable for irrigation applications, as well as applications with drinking water or residential meters of any size; it is thus also valid to monitor drinking water networks.

Moreover, because it is an automated meter reading (AMR) type of device, it can be installed with existing meters, turning them into connected meters, able to send regular data on consumption, any alerts, etc.

Q: One of its main features is the wide range of communications technologies integrated; what are the advantages of this, compared with other communication devices?

A: The main advantage is that it can be easily adapted to any scenario, regardless of the coverage in the area or the location of the meter.

More than 70% of Hidroconta's production is sent outside of Spain. All our developments take this into account, and so are designed to be able to adapt to the regulations in other countries, as well as the predominant type of coverage in each of them.

The main advantage is that it can be easily adapted to any scenario

Concerning the installation, it is not the same to have a meter on the façade of a house, recessed in the wall, than having a series of meters installed in the basement of an apartment building. Being able to choose from a broad range of technologies enables selecting the one that is most suitable in each case.

Q: In this regard, how does the IRIS communications module integrate with the Deméter system or the APP developed by Hidroconta?

A: Most of our clients do not care which method the meters use to send the information recorded. Their priority is to have the data available in a clear and reliable way, so it can be analysed. This is very important for their decision-making processes.

IRIS integrates with our platform as well as with our mobile application in a way that is transparent for the user. Thus, our clients only see a meter that is sending data (volumes, consumption records, warnings, etc.), regardless of the method used to do it.

Both applications allow locating and accessing the data quickly and easily, and it can then be visualised in a table or a graph. Our programmes also enable downloading the information to a standard file format so it can be processed with other analytical tools.

Ultimately, we design our software to make it easier for our clients to focus on what really matters to them, which is managing their assets, keeping out of sight, or making transparent other network factors which are not so important for them.

Q: Out of all the projects where the IRIS technology has been used, which ones stand out?

A: We currently have three projects which stand out because they use a diversity of communications technologies and so they showcase the versatility of the system that we mentioned earlier.

Sierra de Gador. We have installed Iris devices with Sigfox communications on pre-existing and large gauge water meters, using pulse emitters.

Vall de Gallinera. This is a telemetry project for residential water, where we have installed our brand of water meters with Iris devices connected with inductive pickup. In this case they use LoRaWAN communications.

Montealina. An urban development in the mountains of the region of Madrid, where the existing drinking water meters were fitted with Iris devices with a pulse emitter, using Sigfox communications, thus enabling remote reading.

In addition, we are planning a pilot project in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Valencia and Idrica involving the installation of inductive pickup devices and NBIoT communications.

These projects illustrate very well the outstanding flexibility of our product and how easily it adapts to any scenario.

Q: What made Hidroconta strive to include all the available communications protocols in its product development efforts?

A: First of all, there is a market need to have more comprehensive control of such a scarce resource as water.

Existing data transmission technology did not offer a solution well suited to each need, either because of excessive energy consumption (so the service life was limited), or because the communication distances were too short (network topology was extremely complex and difficult to maintain).

IRIS integrates with our platform as well as with our mobile application in a manner that is transparent for the user

The emergence of LPWAN technologies provided for the first time a solution adapted to the world of metering, addressing both problems. However, when we faced the different use scenarios, we realised that, whereas all technologies are valid, some adapt better than others to the different scenarios. That is why, making a remarkable development effort, our company decided to integrate them all. The resulting product is extremely flexible and adaptable, responding to our clients’ needs as comprehensively as possible.

Q: IoT is one of the technologies which is having a larger impact in the water industry. In your view, which are the main differences in water management before and after the use of IoT?

A: Before IoT, in the metering world we had two possible scenarios:

  • Walk-by systems where staff had to go through all the meters to retrieve data. In this case, we did not have daily data available; data were obtained on a regular basis, usually once per month.
  • Fixed network systems which required a complex network of concentrators to work.

In the first case, because data were received periodically, any alerts – often critical for network maintenance – were delayed. Whereas in the second case, a huge financial effort was required to deploy and maintain the network.

The emergence of LPWAN technologies offered the possibility of integrating the topology into the fixed network, enabling receiving data and alerts daily, but without the downside of network maintenance, since, given their long communication distances, it is possible to have a much smaller number of concentrators, or even, in most cases, to hire the service of operators which provide the coverage needed at very competitive prices.

Q: What do you think is the future of IoT in water management?

A: IoT is no longer an option for the future, it is the reality, increasingly more present in the world of water.

At Hidroconta we would like to see 100% of meters read remotely in the short or medium term, and our developments work in that direction.

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