In order for a company to monitor all of their shipped products or products utilized at remote locations they need to rely on people treating their freight very carefully and hope that the environment these devices are utilized in are ideal. In reality this is rarely the case. Instead a company can install an environmental sensing module and get feedback on temperature, humidity, and acceleration for the equipment. This could identify problems in shipping and potentially save the company a lot of money and reputation.
Discussion and pertinent opinion
When most people first hear an explanation of this project, they do not see a need for such a device. Given the ability to remote monitor equipment is important and many companies do use circuits for that, but most of those would not provide the added functionality that the environmental sensing module does. So why build it? The answer is simple, modern companies do not just sell products to the immediate market adjacent to them, they sell products around the world. With the internet and a shipping company, like FEDEX or UPS, everyone has a global market. The only downside is the companies are forced to trust FEDEX or UPS to deliver their goods in one piece. For example, let’s say Schneider Electric builds a camera in Fresno. This Camera is purchased by a company in Europe. This means the camera will be packaged in California and flown to Europe, this trip would require at least two, probably three different airplanes and at least two delivery driver trips. At which time the camera might show up and not function at all. This would be bad for Schneider as they would most likely be taking the blame. Now if they had an environmental sensing module inside the camera, they could simply read off when the camera had a 400 G drop, or when the camera was exposed to temperatures close to freezing. This would help Schneider with its choice of delivery companies and allow Schneider to save face with the European company.
For the environmental sensing module we decided the core should be built from the Altera DE2 development board. The reason we chose this core was simple, we knew we would need a processor, RAM memory, input/output ports, Ethernet connection, and a USB connection. All of these are already on the Altera board, so using it to prove that this project can be built just makes sense. Obviously we would not use a DE2 board if we were to produce these, as this would be way too expensive.
The accelerometer is a very interesting part of the environmental sensing module. More and more devices are incorporating accelerometers to determine a piece of equipments orientation. This can be used for things like turning on the back light of a cell phones display when it is turned to the user. In this case we are using it just to measure force applied to the equipment. For this reason we chose the ADXL345, which provides 3-axis measurements with 13-bit resolution up to ±16 g. Another benefit is the ADXL345 is very low power device that has free-falling detections embedded.
The humidity and temperature sensing was accomplished with one device. The SHT21, which cut down on the number of components needed and utilized the I2C interface that is compatible with the Altera DE2 board. Using only one device also brings down the power consumption of the environmental sensing module.
With the ability of any small business to be a global business, the need for a device that can monitor the status of other devices in transit is becoming ever more important. The environment sensing module can be a difference maker for many companies.