IoT Blog

IoT Remote Monitoring Systems: How Ice Machines Leverage the Value of Connectivity

Connectivity, AirLink, Retail

Sierra Wireless

Sierra Wireless

There are few things more low-tech than ice. Take water, add cold temperatures, and you’ve got ice. Really, anyone born after the days of the icebox probably takes its ubiquity for granted, but the technological developments it took to make ice consistently available in warm climates was nothing short of a modern marvel at the time—one that changed daily life and entire economies. Now, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), the ice business is getting even more advanced. 

That’s the world-changing brilliance of the IoT. It will change the way we operate businesses in nearly every field. With remote management and machine monitoring, even small and medium-sized businesses can employ preventative maintenance. The ability to track, control, update, and even repair machines without going into the field can save enormous sums of money and create new business models. 

Ice kiosks are a perfect example of this connected, IoT-driven technology. Most of us don’t understand how difficult it is to consistently supply large amounts of ice to warm, remote locations. But thanks to the IoT, and the consistent connectivity provided by rugged, simple, and smart industrial gateways, it just got a lot easier. 

Ice Business: Connectivity and Remote Kiosk Management
Standalone ice kiosks have become a big business over the last decade, working to replace the traditional method of purchasing ice, which entails driving to your nearest gas station, asking for the key to access the bomb-shelter-like cooler and chiseling away a bag of solid ice. It’s not ideal. That’s where kiosks come in. They can create 20 pounds of ice in 8 seconds, and they can be accessed 24 hours a day. 

The business has been booming. There are thousands of ice machines across the United States, particularly in warmer states like Louisiana and Texas. They are generally run on a franchise model, with people purchasing machines and licensing rights from companies like Twice the Ice or IceBorn. Machines can cost around $20,000, and starting a business (with fees and licensing) can run north of $150,000. With that level of investment, these machines need to work reliably! 

And while they are marvels, changing the way we access ice, there are still lots of moving parts—parts that require fine calibration. The most important question is when to make the ice. Needless to say, the machines don’t simply make ice when someone pushes a button. Ice-making takes time, so these machines run according to a sophisticated algorithm that takes many factors into consideration, including: 

  • Temperature in the area (you don’t want to make ice when it is too hot or too cold);
  • Peak energy hours (timing it to make ice at the right time can save hundreds of dollars per year); and
  • Customer demand (some areas see more ice demand during the day; others see a greater demand at night).

What’s more, you also need the ability to remotely monitor for mechanical wear and malfunctions. That’s where Control Solutions Inc (CSI) came into play, as they were contracted by dealers of these standalone systems to provide remote management solutions. The dealers sought a way to track key data points via an easy-to-use, web-based interface. The ability to track and fix problems before a customer complains—or even before something truly goes wrong—results in an annual savings of over $1,000 per machine. 

As William Robinson, President of Nice Ice put it, “With CSI’s solution, our machines can be set up to make ice in off-peak hours which saves us hundreds of dollars in electricity bills. Without that solution, we would only know if there was a problem after we got a call from a customer. Then we would have to dispatch someone to diagnose the problem. Being able to monitor issues, with priorities so we know how urgent problems are, we can easily ensure that any mechanical problems can be resolved before the machine is empty.”

But in order to make this work, CSI needed reliable connectivity, so they turned to Sierra Wireless. 

The Cellular Connectivity Solution and the Future of IoT Remote Monitoring Systems

No one has ever used the phrase “as gentle as an ice machine,” and for good reason. They are loud, grinding machines that are often located outside. And they’re rarely treated with grace and delicacy. That’s why any wireless solution had to be rugged enough to withstand tough conditions, while being simple enough to suit users in a variety of venues—both indoor and out. 

For this connectivity solution, CSI turned to Sierra Wireless’ AirLink®, for a compact cellular gateway with a small footprint that allows for easy installation, and the ability to function at a high level even during extreme temperature changes, high humidity, intense vibrations, or any other kind of shaking and rattling. 

The gateway can be installed right out of the box, with a plug-and-play capability that doesn’t require specially designed software for IoT connectivity. This also makes it easier to retrofit machines that are already in the field. 

And that’s key to the new future of business. As we see with the example of the ice kiosk, nearly every business can benefit from the IoT. Remote management and machine monitoring can use predictive maintenance to eliminate problems before they happen, saving time, reducing costs, and increasing efficiency. 

From giant wind turbines in far-flung fields, to elevators rushing up and down urban skyscrapers, to lonely ice kiosks dispensing cubes amidst the sweltering Louisiana summer heat, the IoT is changing the way businesses are run. You can take control of your machines, no matter where they are. Start with Sierra for the best in connectivity technology.

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