How We Have Implemented Environmental Monitoring in Our Headquarters
Originally published on February 27, 2019 by Sascha Neumeier
Last updated on February 10, 2020 • 8 minute read
Since we moved all to our new headquarters in Nuremberg more than two years ago, we have wanted to implement a facility-wide temperature and humidity monitoring system. In practice, as so often happens, other things took priority, so this topic was not on our agenda until the end of last year.
Today I will take you on a journey from initial situation through to our idea and its implementation.
This Is Where We Started in December 2018
To measure temperature values in at least a few places, we had installed some Netatmo devices to monitor the temperature in one location on each floor, as well as in our bistro.
Apart from the fact that the Netatmo products are great and well-engineered, the units were not optimal for our use case. On the one hand, the devices are not cheap to buy, and on the other hand the measuring units need a socket to supply them with electricity. Moreover, regularly changing the batteries of the external modules is rather time-consuming. Also the interior sensors are not fixed in a certain place, so curious colleagues sometimes take the sensors to their desks to measure the temperature at their workplace. 😉
Implementing IoT Solutions on a Budget Is Key
Our goal was to equip our entire headquarters with temperature and humidity sensors and make the measured data publicly available for all employees. For example, it can be seen at a glance if the air in the office becomes too dry, and freezing colleagues in the office can be shown directly that they don’t tell the truth about the actual temperature. 😉 We wanted to realize all this not with high-priced consumer products, but ideally with a self-developed IoT solution, and with consideration of the Maker philosophy. In addition, the entire solution should cost only a few bucks and require as little maintenance as possible.
iThe maker culture is a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture and revels in the creation of new devices as well as tinkering with existing ones. The maker culture in general supports open-source hardware. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker culture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of Computer Numeric Control tools. (Source: Wikipedia)
This Is How We Realized Our Vision
As it happened, we had invited a very talented colleague to a six-week IT internship at that time, and we were unanimous that this was a perfect hands-on project for him. Best regards to Shambel and thanks for the excellent support. 😊 As always at Paessler, this kind of project does not come from work by one individual, but by working hand-in-hand in a team. A whole group of colleagues participated and implemented the solution successfully.
As already mentioned at the beginning, we attached importance to the use of pure IoT devices. In the first step, we looked at what various colleagues already had in-house in terms of IoT hardware for testing and development purposes (keyword "reuse of things").
Our first choice was the Sens’it devices our Technology Manager Christian Zeh found in the depths of his desk drawer. Actually, the Sens'it devices would have been perfect for our purpose. However, we planned to distribute more than 10 units in the building and did not have enough in stock. Since we wanted to realize the project on a budget, buying the extra devices was not an option for us.
While discussing other options, Christian came up with the idea that we could implement the existing Arduino devices we used at the Nürnberg Digital Festival workshop we held last summer. Christian had 20+ of these units lying in his drawer, waiting to be put to use.
To make sure that signal strength to send data was strong enough, we took the existing Sens'it device to all planned installation locations in the building and checked that we can successfully and consistently receive data.
After checking that out, we introduced our IT intern to the world of IoT, explained how the Arduino devices work, and showed him how to transfer the measurement data to our PRTG Network Monitor. The Arduino's metering data is sent to the Sigfox Cloud. The payload stored there is decoded, and the encoded data is transmitted to a PRTG sensor. The data is stored in the PRTG environment and can be visualized there.
The next challenge was to supply the devices with electricity and to encase them in a handsome housing. PoE (Power over Ethernet) to USB adapters allowed us to use our existing in-line cabling. This gave us full flexibility in the placement of the devices. With the 3D design skills of our IT colleague Bernd and a little help from our 3D printer, the cases were "magically" available overnight as well. In the end we had 13 units sending data and ready to be installed all over the building.
Since our company headquarters is in a modernized industrial loft with high ceilings, there are cable routes under the ceiling. We took advantage of this and installed the equipment directly into the cable trays, where they are safe from damage and mysterious disappearances.
Finally we polished up everything in PRTG and created some nice PRTG maps, which we make publicly available to all colleagues.
Coming Up Next…
Of course, there are many other fancy and geeky things that can be measured in an IT company besides temperature and humidity. We already have the next ideas in mind that we want to implement. Automation is an excellent match for environmental monitoring. What do you think about installing tilt sensors on our windows and connecting them to the heating thermostat? As soon as a colleague tilts a window in winter, the radiator underneath switches off for the time of ventilation.
Do you have any other ideas of what else we could install? Write us in the comments; we are looking forward to your feedback! 😊