Solar Panel Support Installation Monitoring and Reporting Panel
Problem: Record the GPS location and the depth the support pile is driven into the ground, transmit the data to the base station to properly sort and view.
Project location: Uvalde, Texas
The panel that eventually got the job done after field use shook out the problems was a small panel with a Siemens touch screen, GPS, an ultrasonic sensor and a cellular modem to transmit the data back to the base station. The panel was mounted to a plate with shock absorbing feet and the plate was mounted to a support bracket on the pile driving machine. As you can imagine, this machine is an extremely abusive environment to mount a panel to. We had to increase the size of our shock absorbing mounting feet after a few failures in the field. Next issue was the sensor. We initially went with a laser but this just wasn't giving us consistent or reliable results we were looking for. We finally settled on an ultrasonic sensor mounted towards the bottom of the driver, pointing up to a plate on the driving ram section. The most challenging part was devising a proper mount for the sensor. Keep in mind this mount was all done in the field so after a few different attempts we found one that worked for our application. The communications were easier than the hardware problems but not without its own set of challenges. We packaged the data, sent it through the cellular network to the base station receiver where it sorted and logged the data from all the panels currently operating. There were between 6-9 panels operating at all times on their fleet of pile driving machines. Keeping the incoming data properly sorted from all the machines in operation AND having a user friendly interface to view and move the data was not easy. After a couple of minor changes to the data collection & sorting protocol during the initial field testing stage we ended up with an efficient datalogging system. Now, all the trial and error that we went through to get a reliable panel would be for nothing if it wasn't carefully and properly installed. After reviewing the installation by the first technician it was obvious that he was only looking to complete it as fast as possible and had us scratching our heads in amazement at his unbelievably poor work. So we cut him loose ASAP and sent a more reliable field tech out to finish the job. He took the time required to complete the installations correctly and without issue.
Though this was a difficult job, ACI provided a functioning automated solution that got the job done in line with the project scope. The plethora of issues this job presented were a great learning experience that we have since applied to many other projects with great success.