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Budget Tips for Reducing Maintenance Expense at Remote Infrastructure Sites

By Andrew Erickson

December 24, 2022


There are four major categories of profit-eating problems in your network:

  1. Poor & Inefficient Infrastructure Maintenance
  2. Equipment Damage
  3. Service-Affecting Outages
  4. Wasteful Power Consumption

In this article, let's take a deep dive into the first category: Poor & Inefficient Infrastructure Maintenance:

Poor vs. Inefficient Maintenance (there IS a difference!)

Your infrastructure maintenance is an important - and time-consuming - part of keeping your network online. That's why it's so important for you to manage it properly.

Before we begin, take a second to break apart the title of this chapter into its two component parts:

1. "Poor Infrastructure Maintenance"

This is probably the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about fumbling your maintenance responsibilities. Your maintenance is "poor" when you're not doing enough. You don't keep up with maintenance visits because you don't have good visibility of your remote sites. You don't visit a site until a serious threat has grown from an easily preventable cause. Without adequate information at your disposal, you've erred on the site of too little action.

2. "Inefficient Infrastructure Maintenance"

This one is more insidious. Here, you're doing everything "right". You are, in fact, satisfying your maintenance requirements. The trouble is that - because you don't have good visibility of what's happening at a site - you err on the side of too much action. You might visit a site monthly to check on the fuel level and air filters, for example, even though they're frequently fine.

You're spending a lot of time driving, and each minute costs money and time you could be spending on other work. "Better safe than sorry" is your motto, and you're absolutely correct. But safe and efficient is what you could be with better remote monitoring.

You must understand and eliminate both types

You need to know what's happening at your remote sites so you can perform maintenance at the perfect intervals. Inadequate maintenance can lead to expensive equipment damage, but overactive maintenance is also wasteful.

Send a Maintenance Tech at the Right Time

Once you know what's happening at your sites, you can schedule visits according to reality, not your best (uneducated) guess. This can take a few different forms:

Equipment "Low ______" Alarms

If you're lucky, your equipment will output alarms when it detects an upcoming maintenance requirement. This could be a "low fuel" contact closure or an analog Modbus register on a generator. An HVAC unit might have an output for "replace air filter" when airflow becomes constricted. By collecting this data, you can trigger early-warning alerts.

Simple Timers & Counters

Some RTUs support timing or counting state changes of a discrete input. Your generator probably reports whether it's running. It's possible for an RTU with the right firmware functions to count how long "Generator Running" is active. This amounts to a running total of run time, which correlates directly to fuel consumption. If your "about 12 hours" propane tank has been used for 9 hours over the last 3 months, it might be time for a fuel-truck visit. You could also count on/off cycles of "generator running" to calculate wear and tear.

External Sensor Readings

Even if your equipment has no alarm outputs of any kind, you can still monitor its consumables & performance levels. You can put machine-readable gauges on your propane and diesel tanks. These output 0-5v or 4-20mA for compatibility with a standard RTU analog circuit. You can put temperature and airflow sensors on an HVAC vent to measure cooling (or heating) effectiveness. You can monitor the voltage coming from your batteries, rectifiers, and generators.

By using simple techniques like these, you'll have a solid picture of every site in your network. You won't visit sites too little. You won't visit them too much. You'll arrive just when you need to.

Send the Right Person with the Right Tools & Parts

Inefficient maintenance is about more than just timing. Even if you know exactly when to send someone to a site, you also need to have a complete understanding of the work to be accomplished.

If the only thing you know is "something is wrong", you might not dispatch a technician with the right training and experience to solve the problem. They might not have the right tools or spare parts when they arrive.

This happens when you have a monitoring system that doesn't give you enough detail. It might say "Major Alarm", but what does that actually mean?

If that's all you get from your system, you'll dispatch someone - anyone - to go see what's going on. You don't get a clear picture from your monitoring tools, so you have to burn staff time on a recon visit.

Imagine that your tech drives 2 hours to a "Major Alarm" site, only to realize upon arrival, "Oh, I need this part. Back to the office!" It's another 2 hours back to the office, then another 4-hour round trip to go back to the site. That's an entire workday spent on this alarm, with at least 4 hours of wasted effort. This is where profits and budgets go to die.

You need a remote monitoring system that will send detailed alarm messages to give you total situational awareness. You'll know the difference between "High Microwave Noise", "Door Open" and "Commercial Power Fail". Sending the right person with the right tool or part is easy when you know precisely what's wrong beforehand.

Furthermore, a smart system will be able to send different alerts to different people. Technicians will respond to equipment failures. Security teams will respond to break-ins.

The right person will arrive with the right equipment to solve the problem on the first visit.

Combine Trips to Boost Efficiency

High alarm detail has a further benefit: you can combine multiple trips to nearby sites into one visit.

When you know that a problem isn't an absolute emergency, you can delay the truck roll for a while. You can wait until another issue (or more) also needs to be addressed, then wrap them up into a single trip.

This also applies to "targets of opportunity" that arise while you're already out at the site. If a new problem occurs while you're at a nearby site, you need to know. You should get an alert on your phone (SMS, email, mobile web, or a phone call from your dispatchers).

When you're told before you return what the alarms are, you can knock them out on the way. That's an efficiency boost you can't plan in advance, but one that you can pounce on with the right intelligence.

"Honestly, I spend about two hours a year working on the LNX, which is good because there aren't five or six of me."
-Eric Kahler, West River Cooperative Telephone Company

Talk to me about improving your remote site maintenance strategy

Let's have a quick phone call to go over the information above and apply it your specific situation. I'm happy to answer questions and give you more specific examples from my previous experience.

Give me a call at 1-800-693-0351 or email me at sales@dpstele.com to get started.

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...