Kenya December 2021
As I complete my first full year at the helm of Van Walt I had the opportunity to support our South Africa office with the installation of a telemetry system in Kwale County, Kenya. The ask from our customer was for a reliable and accurate telemetry system to monitor water level and quality. Telemetry was required due to the remote nature of the installations and time taken to get to them. Installation was for eight locations with 17 monitoring points within a 25 square kilometer area. A tight deadline needed the installation completed by the end of the year to support regulatory and environmental reporting requirements.
Where possible we always do a site visit prior to any system build and installation. Site visits allow us to plan for what we need, and to solution any bespoke components that may be required. Most importantly it allows us to validate that the system will work to the customer requirements.
Due to geographical separation and the travel restrictions this was not possible, so preparation for the installation came in the form of video calls, Google maps/imaging and site photographs. We developed plans A, B and C, prior to building, configuring and testing in the UK.
As I landed at Ukunda Airstrip it was exactly 30 degrees warmer than when I had left London. Everyone had a smile, and everyone was welcoming. In our society we are sometimes guilty of making assumptions as to the operations of less developed countries but the efficiency of our hosts was second to none. They managed the courier logistics without fault, organized transportation for us daily, provided a team to assist with the installation and kept us fed and hydrated throughout. Everything done with processes that were designed for safety and efficiency – all executed with a smile.
Day 1 and we completed the site drive through. The installation points were located within local community areas, off track, remote, and within forested areas – very different to what Google Maps may have suggested.
We needed plan D – somehow increase the cable lengths in a way to allow sensor venting and security – driven by a separation of monitoring points from secure installation points. At home this would usually mean a white-boarding session and overnight shipping of the required components. Not possible when out on a remote site, so we went to visit the mine warehouse. A warehouse of spare parts and components that rivals most hardware superstores. All run with perfect efficiency catalogging every component for storage and use tracking. The result was a very neat solution to a problem, one that we document for future use.
Throughout the week we were assisted by the local team, who learned about both the installation requirements and the maintenance needed.
The final solution used two DataHubs splitting the site into two zones. The site was split to maximise the coverage area and add some data contingency to the solution. The 17 monitoring points used DataSlaves operating on two different radio frequencies relaying sensor readings to the DataHubs for publishing to our VanWaltCONNECT cloud server. A standalone device was used for the most remote point where signal strength was unpredictable and low (Plan E).
Now back in the UK I can reflect on the project and solution that we implemented. There are lessons learned and improvements we can always make for next time. It is an evolving topic, and no two installations are the same. Preparation is always key, but so is being able to adapt when you are in the field. Every challenge has a solution, and it was a pleasure to work with the team both at Van Walt and Base Titanium to find them.
David van Walt
Kenya, December 2021