Environmental monitoring is the process of collecting environmental data over time, often via portable devices known as data loggers that measure, record, and store different types of information. Data loggers are effective in the manufacturing industry because they can be placed in locations and under conditions that could be harmful to human observation. The types of environmental conditions companies monitor vary from industry to industry but the three common are: temperature, humidity, and pressure. In this article, we will explore how each factor is monitored and the importance of such monitoring activity.
How Data Loggers Aid Environmental Monitoring
A data logger is a critical tool for environmental monitoring. These battery-operated electronic devices can be programmed to sample conditions by taking readings at specified intervals. Data is collected by highly sensitive, digitally accurate sensors located either internally or externally on the data logger. The information is stored on a microprocessor memory inside the data logger for retrieval at a later time. Depending on its design, the data logger may be able to monitor temperature, humidity, or pressure, either individually or in some combination of the three.
Data loggers, when programmed and properly situated, can remain unattended for extended periods. This makes these devices extremely reliable. A series of them can easily be connected in a single network to track environmental conditions in several different locations. This is commonly done in IIoT. Some models are designed to transmit collected data to cloud-based storage, directly to a server or a smart device. Data can also be downloaded to a computer or phone via an app. Data loggers can also provide real-time information that assists some industries in verifying and maintaining compliance with mechanical standards.
3 Common Types of Environmental Monitoring
Here is a closer look at three common types of conditions that require environmental monitoring in heavily-regulated industries.
A temperature data logger measures and records temperature data over a pre-determined time. The sensor used for these readings is either a thermistor or a thermocouple. Depending on the nature of the temperature range being tracked, some specially designed data loggers can be used underwater or in extreme temperatures where a human could not take manual observations.
A temperature data logger can not only record the environmental conditions of a specific region, but it can also be used to record the temperature of an actual product. Dickson notes that temperature is one area where minor fluctuations can have major consequences. Temperature monitoring data loggers can inexpensively help industries reduce wasted inventory lost due to temperature fluctuations and assist in maintaining certain highly sensitive manufacturing conditions. Applications where temperature data loggers are commonly used include in the pharmaceutical, food, and manufacturing industries.
A humidity data logger collects readings on the relative humidity, dew point, and water concentration in the air or immediate atmosphere. Elevated humidity can result in the perfect conditions for the formation of mold, mildew, rot and other problems related to too much moisture in the air. Too little moisture results in dry conditions that result in faster deterioration of products due to dehydration and other problems.
It is easy to see why a tool that can constantly monitor humidity levels is highly important. In industries with strict product manufacturing and storage guidelines, humidity is typically one of the conditions requiring monitoring. Some industries where humidity monitoring is an important factor include healthcare, medical device manufacturing, precision instrument manufacturing, and the food and beverage industry, to name just a few. In many industries, data loggers that record both temperature and humidity are common.
Pressure data loggers measure atmospheric, gauge, and vacuum pressure. Variations to these devices include data loggers that monitor differential pressure as well as sealed pressure devices for measuring water depth. Vacuum temperature pressure data loggers are commonly used in the food processing and pharmaceutical industries. They are also effective in municipal wastewater processing plants or water lines.
Differential pressure data loggers are useful in settings where a small variation in pressure can prove disastrous. Differential pressure data loggers are of crucial importance in hospital operating rooms, where airborne contaminants must be kept in check. This is done by monitoring pressure between the OR and adjoining rooms. Pressure reading data loggers are standalone or available as a combined temperature/pressure unit.
The Importance of Environmental Monitoring
Environmental monitoring is a crucial process used for much more than just monitoring temperature, humidity, and pressure. The collected data, when presented in charts and reports, provides verifiable proof of compliance when needed. In heavily-regulated industries, the ability to provide this information quickly and accurately can make the difference between a shutdown in production or seamless operations.
Data collected by the loggers can be analyzed in several different ways, so potential problems can be identified and corrected before becoming full blown issues. For this reason, a data logger can save your company a great deal of money by obviating the need to pay someone to manually collect the data, reducing lost time due to spoilage of inventory, and other in-house or transport problems.
New technology brings many changes to protocols and processes. One significant change involves the alteration of data collection in the manufacturing industry. Thanks to data loggers, it is much easier to measure, record, and store temperature, humidity and pressure information as these factors relate to manufacture, storage and transport of products. With unattended digital devices doing all the work of collecting accurate and reliable data, humans are freed up to focus on other aspects of the manufacturing process.
Three key pieces of information often collected through environmental monitoring are: temperature, humidity, and pressure (differential pressure in some applications). Each of these specific elements can have an impact on the quality and integrity of products. Data loggers measuring these three factors have saved the manufacturing industry a great sums of money by providing an accurate means to verify compliance with industry standards and sending alerts when parameters are close to being reached, exceeded or inappropriately reduced. None of this could be possible without the changes in technology we have experienced in recent years.