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If You Can Monitor This, You Can Monitor Anything

Ted Van Tuyl of Tacoma Power's Click! Network creatively transforms LEDs to contact closures

Ted Van Tuyl created a unique alarm monitoring application, using DPS Telecom equipment - and it immediately paid off by preventing two critical equipment failures.

Ted Van Tuyl
Ted Van Tuyl
Lead Broadband Technician
Click! Network, Tacoma Washington

Van Tuyl is lead broadband technician for Click! Network of Tacoma, Washington. Click! Network provides electric system monitoring to the municipal utility along with commercial cable TV and wholesale high-speed Internet to over 20,000 subscribers. The network also offers gigabit Ethernet and carrier-class transport services for business customers.

Van Tuyl needed visibility of six critical generators

Van Tuyl's search for a custom monitoring solution began with six backup generators at six unmanned hub sites.

"Our network is powered from our hub sites and our battery backed up nodes," said Van Tuyl. "Independent of a commercial power failure, our network stays up. Our standard is the same five-nines availability of a traditional telephone company. We're a competitive provider, and we have to be a little better than the other guy."

Van Tuyl needed to know 100% for certain that the generators were ready to run at any time. But he had no way to verify that the generators were OK unless a commercial power failure actually happened.

"I had only one way to monitor the gensets remotely, and all it would tell me was that I had a catastrophic failure. In other words, if the commercial power failed, the generator didn't start, and I was in deep trouble - then I would get an alarm," said Van Tuyl.

"What I needed was a little advance notice, something that would tell me not about critical failure conditions, but about events that might lead to a critical failure."

The generators had great diagnostics … on control panel LEDs

The frustrating thing was, the gensets actually provided excellent diagnostics - and Van Tuyl could see them any time he wanted to drive out to the remote site and read the LEDs that were so conveniently located on the control panel.

"The gensets have a boatload of alarms. There's about 10 or 12 different LEDs, for things like low fuel, high temperature, low temperature, oil pressure, and all the other things you normally have an LED for," Van Tuyl said.

So Van Tuyl invented a creative solution to the problem - he would bring the LEDs to his NOC. Van Tuyl reasoned that all he needed to do was to convert the voltage on the light-emitting diode to a contact closure, and then transport the alarm to the central OSS on his SONET equipment.

DPS Telecom's Alarm Point Conditioner converts diode voltages to contact closures

Van Tuyl had come up with an ingenious idea, but now he needed to find a way to make it work, and his initial experiments were disappointing.

"I tried using reed relays, contacts, little transistor circuits, and various other things to bring those LEDs to my SONET equipment. It was loading up the circuit too much to do any good," Van Tuyl said.

But then Van Tuyl found DPS Telecom's Alarm Point Conditioner. The APC is an RTU-sized device that converts 36 CMOS, TTL or bi-polar electrical signals to common-referenced contact closures.

Without any modifications, the Alarm Point Conditioner installed easily and works with both Van Tuyl's gensets and SONET gear.

"The Alarm Point Conditioner has been exactly the right tool for this application," Van Tuyl said. "The APC senses the voltage of the LED when it's not operated. When the LED operates, the APC sends an alarm to the SONET."

The Alarm Point Conditioner has also freed Van Tuyl's technicians for more useful work than inspecting generators. "Before the APC, I had to rotate people around to check fuel, to check temperatures. Now I don't have to depend on someone driving out there to check them," Van Tuyl said.

Van Tuyl's creative solution immediately prevented two critical failures

Immediately after installation, Van Tuyl's new monitoring solution proved its worth by detecting two generator problems:

  • "Not more than two weeks after we installed the APCs, we detected a low voltage on a start-up battery. So the APC actually prevented a failure-to-protect condition on the generator.
  • "And then we had a second problem that was averted. We had a low-fuel alarm come up on a genset. We went out to investigate. The fuel tank's float gauge said it was three-quarters full, but when we checked the tank, it was actually 15% full. It would have run out the next time it was started," Van Tuyl said.

Without the Alarm Point Conditioner, Van Tuyl added, those conditions would not have been detected until the generators failed a start test, or possibly not until an actual power outage. "Getting the Alarm Point Conditioners has been the best money we've ever spent," said Van Tuyl. "What kind of price can you put on a genset that fails in an emergency? I've got millions' worth of equipment sitting out there, and I need to know the genset is going to support it if I need it. It gives me more faith in the reliability and the robustness of our system."

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