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Six hidden costs to look out for when choosing a small sensor air quality monitoring system

14-Feb-2024Construction | Environmental | Fenceline | Industrial | Local authorities | Mining | Networks | Oil & Gas

Six hidden costs to look out for when choosing a small sensor air quality monitoring system

Anybody in the market for purchasing a small sensor air pollution monitoring system will need to consider budgets, but it’s not always obvious how the products being reviewed actually compare across their full operational life. A small sensor air quality monitoring system or network can be a significant purchase, so whether project-based or with ongoing monitoring in mind, it is likely that the equipment will be in use for several years. There are six main areas of cost highlighted here, all of which kick in after initial purchase.

Without direct experience of a product, it’s natural that the focus is on the initial price tag, but that may only reveal part of the total cost. The weeks or even months spent researching products is a fraction of the time – up to 10 years – of expected product use and experience. A typical timeline of product experience will start pre-sale and run through installation, project set-up and data access arrangements, data quality assurance, planned and unplanned maintenance, co-locations and re-locations, updates, upgrades, reconfiguration, and so on. How much will you have spent – directly or indirectly – by the end of the product’s life?

Over the product’s span of operation, hidden costs can include:

  1. ‘Boots on the ground’ – field staff for installation, co-location, maintenance, repairs, product replacements, and so on. Some of this will be essential, but it can add huge cost if uncontrolled, particularly if units are installed far away from the team’s base.
  2. Consumables – sensors need to be replaced periodically, but how often and at what cost? Some systems require that sensors are replaced after a short time, can only be replaced as part of a multi-sensor cartridge, are very expensive, or a combination of these.
  3. Data services – whilst the charge is to cover the real cost of data processing and storage (not access), annual data prices vary considerably and add up over the years.
  4. SIM – an annual charge for a global SIM to connect the unit to a server is often cost-effective and convenient, but charges vary. This may depend on where in the world the unit is installed, but it’s worth checking prices and whether you have the option to use a local SIM, if that would be cheaper.
  5. Support – what is included in support? Is it limited in any way? Ask for examples of committed support of networks in challenging situations, well after year one.
  6. Length of warranty – this is a clear commitment from the manufacturer of what you should expect from their product: putting their money where their mouth is.

We have worked out that for two of the most popular AQMesh models (or specification) other products may be as much as 29% cheaper than AQMesh at initial purchase, but that flips to 31% to 70% more expensive overall – including the initial purchase – after five years of use. This is based on quoted consumables, data and SIM costs, so there may be even more indirect costs that we have not included in our calculation. Whilst these additional costs can possibly be accommodated within budgets for a small number of pods, hidden costs can scale at a rather alarming rate for larger networks.

It’s also worth checking how much flexibility you may have in the future:

  • You may only be able to renew data services if you purchase replacement sensors
  • Support may be limited in some way
  • You may not be able to use a SIM of your choice

Your expectation of the product life may be different to the manufacturer’s, and that can apply in both directions. We have been asked to quote AQMesh pods, which we expect to function happily for 10 or more years, by customers who really want to buy a disposable product for a short project. If that is the case, rental is a great option. With all costs wrapped up into a single price, from three months to years at a time, costs are totally predictable and full support ensured, right through to free product replacement, should it be required.

AQMesh pods, with their robust and proven design, are expected to function in the field with minimal intervention for at least 10 years. The pods automatically come with a 5 year manufacturers’ pod warranty. We commit to – and deliver – lifetime remote support, included in the price. Remote firmware and gas processing algorithm upgrades come as part of any purchase, ensuring pods can always be updated to latest and improved versions for free.

The pods are designed to be user-serviceable, meaning only consumable components need to be replaced, rather than expensive cartridges which add cost through packaging and electronics. Consumables and yearly contracts can be purchased up front – with the initial pod order – ensuring visibility and security when it comes to future costs and maintenance, as well as appropriate discounts. Practical maintenance videos ensure that any time spent by your team is as efficient as possible, so you can plan ahead with resources and avoid unexpected demands. The team at AQMesh have been supporting pods in remote locations for over a decade, learning from our experiences along the way to ensure you get the right support exactly when you need it.

A checklist for buying small sensor air quality systems

19-Jun-2023Construction | Consultants | Fenceline | Industrial | Local authorities

A checklist for buying small sensor air quality systems

If you are considering – or are at the point of buying – a system for local monitoring of air pollution, we have used our decade of experience to offer lists of points to consider. Why more than one list? The critical issues around air quality monitoring vary depending on your project, so we have prioritised points for a range of applications. We hope we have included yours, but please contact us if we can help further.

Government and local authorities

Budgets are the killer, so lifetime cost needs to be low and predictable, as well as having a competitive initial purchase price. In our experience, local authorities often run equipment year after year, so upgrades and other re-specification options are very budget-friendly if priorities change: why buy again if your system can evolve with your needs? Another great way to help the budget go further is to look at fixed price, all-inclusive rental options, particularly if there is the flexibility to roll on after the initial term with a rental or buy the equipment through a final top-up payment. Once the equipment is in place, it needs to be maintained – critically including data quality management – without demanding scarce field resources or incurring call-out charges. But at the end of the day it is vital to have traceable data, so ask about how that can be achieved.

Industrial fence line

If you need to know about pollutant exceedances on and around your site, you need them 24/7/365, or maybe even 60/24/7/365, so reliability and data up-time are critical. There are many things to look out for which can reduce reliability, including poor product design for the conditions, poor manufacturing quality, poor data connections and often lack of a reliable power supply. Ideally power supply and comms infrastructure are autonomous and it’s hard to beat the combination of a clever solar charging system that’s tuned to your latitude and access to the mobile phone network that dominates in your area.

With many industrial sites located potentially hundreds of miles away from the air data management team, the ability to remotely diagnose problems – and fix them – is vital, if data is not to be lost. And what information is needed? Real-time measurements at different locations, particularly combined with wind speed and direction information, provide valuable insights about pollution sources, and often a reliable exceedance alert is what is required on an ongoing basis. Of course, any sensitive information about air pollution around a facility must be kept completely confidential and accuracy will need to be demonstrated through traceability to an approved standard.

Research and consultancies

A wide range of measurements and configuration flexibility are helpful, as are short and long-term rental options. Critically, data must be secure and private, quality assured and proven to be accurate and repeatable.

Transportation

From a train carriage to an airport runway, road junction or port facility, installation must be easy for the local team, with minimal maintenance: no unexpected calls for contractors to carry out work, taking time and costing money. Air quality measurements must be continuous, with no down time, if patterns and brief episodes of high pollution are to be recorded.

Construction

Measurements – usually dust – are being taken for a reason, so the measurement system must comply with the specified standard, eg: MCERTS. Once that box is ticked, it is essential that readings are recorded continuously and reliably. Particulate matter can cause various frustrations, including potential over-readings due to moisture, so it’s important that the system has been designed to provide reliable readings which are fit for purpose. We have seen some astonishing things happen to equipment on construction sites, so choose a system that can handle itself: its own power supply, communications, and ability to cope with a few knocks, vibration, dust and mitigation systems. Measurements must be reliable – and regularly proven against a standard – and delivered in a way that works for site management, such as meaningful alerts (without false alarms).

Simple industrial pollution monitoring with AQMesh

03-May-2023Construction | Fenceline | Industrial | Mining | Oil & Gas | Perimeter

Simple industrial pollution monitoring with AQMesh

AQMesh is being used for industrial air pollution monitoring around the world because it brings together a range of features and services that have been tailored to the needs of construction, mining, petrochemical and other industrial applications.

The key benefit is just how much can be done with one small, compact, neat and easily-installed unit. Each ‘pod’ is fully customisable, allowing full flexibility of the measurements offered, from a single gas sensor to a ‘fully loaded’ air quality station, measuring six gases, four particulate matter fractions, noise and wind speed and direction. Built to order and fully tested in two weeks, pods can be specified to suit each project at build – or afterwards; requirements can change and it is helpful to be able to reconfigure existing equipment.

As well as long service life expected (all AQMesh pods are sold with a five year manufacturer’s warranty and many have been in use for over ten years) the ability to reconfigure rather than repurchase makes AQMesh an environmentally friendly solution. Pods are tough, designed – and proven – to withstand extremes of temperature, high winds, torrential rain, snow, and are designed for the additional challenges from industrial sites with potentially complex emissions.

Wherever pods are installed, data from all channels are transmitted using any available phone network, repeating connections and storing data where the phone signal is very weak. This provides a complete solution, with readings securely accessed online or transferred to the client database. All data from all pods are completely owned by the user – not the manufacturer or service provider – and nobody else has access to the site’s pollution data.

From installation to output, the AQMesh system reduces time and risk on the ground. Pods are small and can be held in one hand up a ladder, with only a single universal power cable, which can be connected to a smart solar pack or a direct power supply. Battery operation is another option, and no loggers or wiring are required for data transmission.

Mindful of the costs of local field support, pods require only a two-year maintenance visit for sensor replacement. All other support can be carried out remotely, with proactive diagnostics for faults or data quality flagging. Sensors failing in the field are immediately detected remotely and a free replacement is sent to site if the sensor is in warranty. After over 10 years of experience monitoring in harsh climates and a range of applications, the AQMesh team is able to offer automated data QA, as well as unlimited customer service and support no matter where you are, how many pods you have or how long you’ve had them.

The team is keen to engage with existing and new customers to find solutions, honestly highlight relevant limitations, and be as much part of the client team as the client would like. From a single pod rental to proactive management of a large network, AQMesh and the team can direct this best-in-class technology to provide real value. Measurement of multiple pollutants, at multiple locations, can provide much more powerful insight about what is going on in the air than modelling alone, and has the potential to inform site management.

So where to start? AQMesh offers a first step to address curiosity about local air pollution on or around any site, with full confidentiality. Fixed price packages include equipment use, connection and data access and interpretation of readings.

For more information about how the AQMesh team can help get you started on your monitoring journey, chat to us today.

What’s in the air leaving your sites?

03-Mar-2023Construction | Fenceline | Industrial | Mining | Oil & Gas | Perimeter

What’s in the air leaving your sites?

Why would you want to know and what could you do about it anyway? Many processes in the petrochemical, refining, gas and oil industries cause known or unknown emissions of gases and particles into the air. Whether the reason is legislation, a company Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) policy, to protect sensitive neighbours, such as schools and communities, or to just understand what is in the air at a site boundary, real-time, continuous monitoring makes sense.

Small sensors with standalone power and communications offer a convenient and cost-effective solution. Measurement nodes or ‘pods’ can be easily installed on fences, posts or walls around the site and its perimeter, streaming accurate data securely to the cloud and the client’s database, and triggering alerts.

Exceedance alerts can be set at a level and frequency to suit the application, potentially triggering a bag sample to be taken, for more detailed air composition analysis. This type of monitoring also allows operators to assess a wide range of pollutant levels across space and time. A time-series plot of multiple measurements, including NOx, SOx, CO2, CO, TVOC, CH4, H2S and particulate matter can be reviewed against known site operations and events. “We find that as soon as operators start to see the readings coming in, are able to track peaks of pollutants and relate them to operations and events, they are hooked, and can see exactly how they can use this information”, comments AQMesh CEO, Amanda Billingsley.

Continuous readings at 15-minute intervals – or even 1-minute – can provide a more complete emissions picture than intermittent bag samples or even open-path monitoring, particularly when combined with wind speed and direction information. A single AQMesh pod can measure over 10 pollutants at the same time, plus wind speed and direction, temperature, atmospheric pressure and RH%. These confidential readings are all made available on the same secure platform, accessible either by login, or by API.

There is a major trend towards industrial operators including oil and gas, petrochemicals, construction, mining and transport – rail and ports, as well as roads – wanting to look closely at air pollution on and around their sites.

Analysis of air pollution measurements, used with wind speed and direction information, and potentially modelling, can help identify pollution sources (which direction and how far away) as well as which pollution is generated locally (directly manageable) and which is more regional (requires more collaboration). This means an operator can distinguish between pollution generated by their operations or that of a neighbouring plant.

Multi-parameter monitoring systems, such as AQMesh, use the mobile phone network and can be solar powered, meaning they need no infrastructure investment. It is literally a 10-minute job to attach the pod to a post and start to see readings online. Each pod can take many measurements, including NO2, SO2, H2S, CO2, CO, TVOC, CH4, PM1, PM2.5, PM4, PM10, total particle count, PM Total, O3, NO, temperature, pressure and RH% and can be used as a network, with smart, remote calibration.

Small, micro or low-cost sensors can offer a cost-effective solution for industrial boundary monitoring, with a range of benefits: real-time understanding of air pollution changes around a site perimeter means fast action can be taken. Geographically pinpointed, regular air composition readings can feed into feasibility or environmental impact studies. AQMesh has been used by industrial operators across continents, with direct, worldwide support from the manufacturer.

Complementing ongoing stationary monitoring, the hand-held Gazoscan used a sensitive and accurate laser sensor to scan for methane, across a distance of up to 100m. The portable laser Inspectra samples from a local point and can detect, measure and store methane readings from around a site. Integrated software allows secure, traceable readings to be logged directly against a geographic and/or named infrastructure point, with photos and notes.

For more information about air pollution and emissions monitoring, please contact the team today.

Why and how to monitor perimeter air pollution

09-Feb-2023Construction | Fenceline | Industrial | Mining | Oil & Gas | Perimeter

Why and how to monitor perimeter air pollution

A wide range of industrial operators, including mining, construction, ports, landfill and the oil and gas industry, are looking more closely at the air quality on and around their operational sites. This is increasingly driven by legislation, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ambitions, to establish a baseline, or to understand and manage potential pollution sources.

Such operators, also including chemical, processing, agriculture and utilities, are under increasing pressure to carry out environmental monitoring around their perimeter, particularly if they are close to population bases. Boundary monitoring is also important in a situation with several potential pollution sources, as multiple measurement nodes and local wind speed and direction data can identify the distance and direction of different pollution sources, by individual pollutant. Equally important is the ability to distinguish between local pollution sources, where emissions can potentially be managed directly, and regional or background pollution, which will require a different approach.

Health and safety of workers on site is important, as well as the exposure of local communities. Samples of air may be taken for laboratory analysis on an ad hoc or scheduled basis, but this high level of accuracy cannot completely make up for the delays involved. Real-time fenceline pollutant levels can be logged – as frequently as every minute – and used to trigger alerts, as well as maintaining and sharing an ongoing database, showing daily patterns and historical information.

Multi-parameter monitoring points, such as AQMesh, can be mounted individually, with autonomous power (usually solar) and communications (mobile phone network) or installed as a network, with each point measuring a wide range of pollutants. AQMesh pods offer measurements including NO2, SO2, H2S, CO2, CO, TVOC, CH4, PM1, PM2.5, PM4, PM10, total particle count, PM Total, O3, NO, temperature, pressure and RH%. Electrochemical, NDIR and laser sensors are used to measure gases and a bespoke optical particle counter measures particulate matter or dust – vital for many processes, particularly mining and construction, as well as natural events, such as bush fires.

Boundary monitoring around ports and airports can show which of the various operations on and around the site is causing pollution, eg: ships, loading/unloading activity, or transportation on or outside the site. Waste water treatment plants and landfill sites may need to manage odour. Whilst odour is complex, emissions will often contain a range of chemicals, at least one of which can be traced by monitoring around the fence line.

Small sensor, micro or low cost sensors can offer a cost-effective solution for industrial perimeter monitoring, bringing a range of benefits: real-time awareness of air quality changes around a site boundary allows immediate action to be taken. Hyperlocal air quality information can inform feasibility or environmental impact studies. AQMesh has been used by operators across continents and industrial sectors, offering easy installation, low maintenance, and secure, cloud-based access to vital air pollution insights.

For more information on how AQMesh can support your perimeter monitoring requirements please contact the team today.

Choosing AQMesh for fenceline monitoring

09-Jan-2023Construction | Fenceline | Industrial | Mining | Oil & Gas | Perimeter

Choosing AQMesh for fenceline monitoring

AQMesh has been long established as the most proven small sensor system for the air quality monitoring market. With an ever-increasing suite of measurement options and proven performance in the harshest environments, AQMesh is ideal for industrial applications.

The H2S, SO2, TVOC and PM sensors allow AQMesh to be used in a wide range of applications including construction, mining and oil & gas. AQMesh networks have been implemented across mining facilities in Southern Africa, Saudi Arabia and Australia, as well as oil & gas facilities in Europe, Central Asia and the Gulf region. Other applications include perimeter monitoring on energy from waste sites, residual emissions from flares and even volatile volcanic emissions in Iceland and Nicaragua.

A single AQMesh pod can measure up to 6 out of a possible 8 pollutant gases in various combinations, as well as PM, humidity, atmospheric pressure and noise in one small, compact easy-to-install unit. A wind speed and direction sensor is also available, and there is a range of wireless power options, including the bespoke AQMesh smart solar pack. The solar pack offers autonomous continuous power all year round for an AQMesh pod and features smart connectivity with a mobile app for checking power output, viewing historical data and running diagnostics

Customers across industrial applications comment on how easy AQMesh is to use, from its quick and easy installation to its low maintenance requirements. Users also benefit from maximum uptime across their networks, thanks to AQMesh’s robust hardware, wireless communications and the secure AQMeshData.net server. Remote diagnostics allow pods to easily reconnect themselves and continue to capture data if power is ever interrupted. Faults or failures can be detected, diagnosed and resolved swiftly and remotely, without the need to visit the equipment. Additionally, email exceedance alerts can be set on any data channel, allowing for instant critical information that may be vital for managing related processes or protecting site equipment and staff.

AQMesh is on the road to MCERTS, and looking to achieve both MCERTS & CEN certification in 2023, based on its already proven performance for PM2.5 and PM10. The proprietary optical particle counter consistently delivers high accuracy across all PM fractions, and use of a heated inlet offers even more accurate readings as it dries the sample prior to measurements to reduce the effects of moisture. New developments in hardware and completely traceable data processing algorithms will also offer even further improvements in accuracy later this year.

For more information on how AQMesh can offer a solution to your site’s monitoring requirements contact us today.

AQMesh delivers accurate PM coarse measurement with customisable alerts

08-Jun-2022Accuracy | Construction | Fenceline | Industrial | Mining | PM

AQMesh delivers accurate PM coarse measurement with customisable alerts

Many small sensor air quality monitoring systems cannot reliably measure coarse particulate matter, or PM10, because of the technology they use. AQMesh’s proprietary optical particle counter (OPC) delivers high out-of-the-box accuracy across all key particle matter (PM) fractions thanks to its bespoke, in-house design. Measuring PM1, PM2.5, PM4, PM10, PM-Total (up to 30 microns) as well as Total Particle Count, the proven OPC uses the most direct path possible between the sample inlet and measurement chamber. This allows more coarse particles in the sample to be measured compared to off-the-shelf OPCs and nephelometers, where these particles can be deposited in a maze-like pattern before being measured.

Humidity-related challenges have also been addressed by the AQMesh team. In some areas of high relative humidity, certain types of particles can absorb moisture from the surrounding environment (known as deliquescence), which can make them appear larger in diameter and result in erroneous readings. In most cases AQMesh can detect when this is happening and add a flag to the data point, allowing for it to be easily identified, reviewed and redacted as part of a robust data QA/QC process. Additionally, the OPC used in AQMesh has the option to include a heated inlet, which dries the sample prior to measurement and further reduces the effects of deliquescence. This option results in less than 1% of the data points being flagged and ensuring more consistent data accuracy.

Other benefits of the AQMesh OPC include its reduced maintenance schedule compared to other sensors – there is no need to change any filters, making it the ideal solution for industrial applications where critical processes create higher levels of particle pollution. Active sampling is performed with a pump instead of a fan, which means less turbulence in the measurement air flow and eliminates the opportunity for vacuums to affect the sampling accuracy. There is also no need to replace the whole OPC unit when it requires servicing – only the parts that need changing are replaced so the product remains sustainable whilst keeping the ongoing cost of ownership low. A silent pump will shortly be commercially available for indoor applications and already has orders to assist with clinical research for one of the UK’s leading research universities.

Customisable alerts for PM fractions, along with all other pollutants measured, are available to all AQMesh users. Email alerts can be set for exceedances on any channel and are completely customisable to individual detection limits. Where a pod is battery powered, alerts can also be set up to communicate the on-board battery voltage, triggering the battery replacement process in good time.

AQMesh prides itself on its accuracy and has always backed up its claims by publishing performance data online, making it easy for users to see real results, from real trials, in real world conditions. All AQMesh co-location comparison results can be viewed on the AQMesh website, alongside numerous independent and academic studies which verify AQMesh as a high-performing small sensor air quality monitoring system.

AQMesh helps manage air quality for mining and construction

11-May-2022Construction | Fenceline | Industrial | Mining

AQMesh helps manage air quality for mining and construction

2022 has seen AQMesh taken up as a proven and flexible air quality monitoring system by more users, including several in mining and construction. New users include mining operators in the Middle East and Africa, and construction companies in Italy, UK and Canada. As well as supporting hundreds of existing users with thousands of pods – some of which have been active for over 10 years – AQMesh users also include government agencies and consultancies.

Mining and construction customers comment on how easy AQMesh is to use, from quick installation to the low maintenance requirements and ease – and reliability – of data access. Remote diagnostics allow AQMesh pods to be monitored in the harsh environments typical of these applications and proactive action taken if necessary. The pods use the mobile phone network to send data, and can use solar or battery power, so no infrastructure is required.

AQMesh distributor, S I Analytics, has supplied 65 AQMesh pods into Southern Africa since 2016, many of which are used in mining applications, including copper, phosphate platinum and coal extraction and handling. Typically the mining client will set up a network of pods to monitor in key locations around the perimeter of the facility, potentially including nearby sensitive zones, such as schools. Monitoring of wind speed and direction (an AQMesh sensor option or public data can be used) allows the source of any pollution to be identified by distance and direction. In several cases the AQMesh pods have been introduced and are managed by environmental consultants and the pattern of use is very similar, although consultancies may be in a position to overlay additional modelling and other analysis.

As well as various sites in the Republic of South Africa, AQMesh pods have been used in Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Mark Rowand, Managing Director of S I Analytics commented: “So far, from a mining perspective, the application for the AQMesh pods has been immense. We have used them for pre-mine feasibility studies by providing baseline data for the necessary legal Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), all the way through to existing mines which require site and fence line or community monitoring. In addition, having been in the monitoring industry for over 15 years, the turnaround time and pre- and post-sales support provided by AQMesh has been exceptional, demonstrated recently by the supply of 17 units to the middle of Africa within two weeks over the December period!”

As a modular and flexible platform, new sensor options can be added, with the latest being a solar radiation sensor for a construction customer in Italy. This adds to the existing suite of measurements: NO, NO2, O3, CO, SO2, CO2, H2S, TVOC, PM1, PM2.5, PM4, PM10, TPC, temperature, atmospheric pressure, RH%, wind speed and wind direction, with more in development. All measurements are provided as channels either through secure login to AQMeshData.net or by API connection, set up to automatically feed into a client database. Exceedance alerts can be set up directly from the AQMeshData.net server or from the client’s server. With readings updated as quickly as every five minutes, this local real-time pollution monitoring can provide vital input to site management.

AQMesh monitors the impact of new Oxford shopping centre on local air quality

09-Jan-2018Baseline study | Construction | Local authoritiesUK

AQMesh monitors the impact of new Oxford shopping centre on local air quality

Oxford City Council has been managing two AQMesh pods, supplied by Air Monitors Ltd, in order to monitor the impact the new Westgate centre is having on local air quality.

Westgate Oxford is a brand new £440m shopping centre comprising of retail outlets, restaurants and a cinema, and was developed as a replacement to the old shopping centre that was demolished in 2016. Having recently opened in October 2017, it estimates it will attract 15m visitors every year.

The AQMesh pods were purchased by the Westgate developer under a Section 106 agreement to monitor levels of NO, NO2 and O3. Oxford City Council’s Air Quality officer, Pedro Abreu, has been using them to supplement information available from other sources. Because the pods are battery-powered they can be mounted at exactly the point in centre where monitoring is required, and easily moved to a new monitoring location when necessary. Pedro Abreu carried out co-location comparisons with a reference station and is very satisfied with the correlations he has seen with the AQMesh pods he is using.

His comments echo those of Professor Rod Jones from the University of Cambridge, who led a project using AQMesh pods across Cambridge to demonstrate how air quality varies across the city. “Because we know that all the pods read the same and because we have a comparison between one pod and a reference instrument, we can say that all pods are working equivalently across the city. What we are seeing is correspondences in excess of 0.7, 0.8, against reference – and that is very good for something straight out of the box”, commented Professor Jones.