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Learn How This Power Utility Got a Semi-Custom RTU+PDU Device

By Andrew Erickson

May 19, 2023


This story begins at a power utility company, probably quite similar to the one in your local market. They were committed to improving and preserving lives among the general public by ensuring an uninterrupted power supply.

Unfortunately, this mission was often interrupted by a recurring issue.

Monitoring and controlling equipment at remote substations was chaotic and frustrating

The power utility company had numerous unmanned facilities (mostly substations) scattered across the city. Keeping track of these remote sites and controlling power to the telecom devices inside them was a thankless task that required frequent and costly trips by the maintenance team.

Manual power toggling and monitoring was not only inefficient - but also increased the risk of power outages caused by unseen device failures. This general problem was apparent, but the solution to make it go was elusive.

Pre-purchase research couldn't find anything off-the-shelf

As the power utility company sought to solve their remote monitoring and control issues, they began the process of researching and buying monitoring gear. However, they quickly discovered that finding an off-the-shelf solution was not as straightforward as they had hoped.

The market was flooded with various monitoring devices, but none seemed to fit their unique needs perfectly. Some devices were too limited in their functionality, while others were too complex and expensive. The sheer number of options available only added to the confusion.

Furthermore, the power company had some specific requirements that were not easily met by existing solutions. They needed a device that could monitor and control not only the power supply to the telecom devices but also the environmental conditions of the remote sites, such as temperature and humidity.

They didn't have an absolute rule about "Made in America", but it was definitely preferred for infrastructure purchases. That further limited the available pool of buying options.

Despite the challenges, the power company remained committed to finding the right solution. They consulted with several vendors and manufacturers, but none could provide a device that met all their requirements.

Meeting a semi-custom equipment manufacturer was the solution

Finally, the power company decided to take matters into their own hands. They met with a custom electronics manufacturer to build a customized Remote Terminal Unit (RTU) and Power Distribution Unit (PDU) that could meet their unique needs.

The rep who stopped by was somewhere between an engineer and a salesperson. He wasn't going to write program code right there at the conference table, but he also wasn't going to spew a meaningless canned sales presentation. He was highly conversant with the technology and drew line diagrams on the whiteboard, which was plenty for this early planning session.

Noticing the stressed faces in the room, Andrew asked the team to share their challenges. As they discussed their struggles with managing the remote facilities, an idea sparked in Andrew's mind.

"What if we took our RTU design and added some PDU relays for you?"

After listening to the project requirements for about 30 minutes, the sales rep suggested a unique solution - a hybrid PDU+RTU. This device would serve a dual purpose: as a Power Distribution Unit (PDU) controlling and distributing power to the telecommunications equipment (10A or 20A max), and as a Remote Telemetry Unit (RTU), allowing remote monitoring and (1A) relay control of the unmanned facilities.

This custom-built hybrid device would eliminate the need for constant manual monitoring (RTU functions) and power toggling (PDU functions) at the remote substations.

As he discussed the concept, you could see the spark of hope light up in the team's eyes. Together, they brainstormed the precise specifications of this hybrid PDU+RTU. They envisioned a compact, DIN-mounted device that would seamlessly fit into the small cabinets.

This was a thoroughly satisfying meeting for everyone at the conference table.

This power company got the product they wanted

After the rep returned home, it wasn't long before the power company employees we looking at a formal PDF sales quote and "virtual prototype" images that showed what this new device would be.

Using his technical knowledge and his knack for visual design, this rep started to work on a photo-realistic virtual prototype of the device. This digital prototype allowed the team to visualize the product, foresee potential problems, and adjust the design as needed.

It was a DIN-mounted mashup of a PDU and an RTU. In short, it was precisely what they needed.

The resulting device not only provided remote monitoring and control of power supply and environmental conditions - but it also allowed for real-time data analysis and reporting. It integrated with their existing central master station.

This new box not only saved the power company time and money, but also reduced the risk of power outages caused by undetected device failures.

It took about 6 weeks after the PO for the first prototype to be delivered

Once the prototype was approved, the engineering team started their magic, bringing the virtual design to life. The device was created to match the prototype as closely as possible, with minor adjustments to the placement and size of the ports and overall dimensions of the unit. Nothing about those small changes was substantial, so the promised product was delivered.

The implementation of the hybrid PDU+RTU marked a significant turning point for the power utility company. The number of maintenance trips to remote facilities dramatically reduced, thereby lowering costs and reducing the risk of power failures. The device's ability to remotely monitor the facilities greatly improved operational efficiency.

Also significant, a slow and time-consuming pre-purchase research effort was finally able to end quickly.

The executives, the managers, and the maintenance staff were all happy

The bosses were elated, the maintenance team breathed a sigh of relief, and the financial performance improved remarkably. Word of this innovation quickly spread through the company. It triggered interest within other engineering teams in other regions.

In the end, the power company's willingness to think outside the box paid off, and they now have a monitoring solution that perfectly fits their needs.

What do you need DPS to build for you? Call me and tell me.

This story serves as an inspiration. I want to give you a glimpse of how innovative thinking and the right technology can help overcome operational challenges. I've borrowed elements from a few of my real-world experiences helping power utilities, telcos, county governments, and similar large entities to better monitor their remote sites with customized equipment.

Call me now at 1-800-693-0351 or email me at sales@dpstele.com to start a conversation about the remote monitoring and control device that would be a perfect-fit "no-brainer" use of your CapEx budget dollars.

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...