There has been much discussion around internet of things (IoT) recently and the benefits it can bring businesses and building management in particular. FMs can now create a network of sensors to enable them to remotely track the status of assets, from a soap dispenser in a washroom to a boiler in the basement. When the sensors are integrated with FM software, the process of dispatching an operative can even be automated. The operative can then access the alert from their smartphone or smartwatch, and view and update the job in real time. This process relies inherently on battery power to supply each wireless device, and while more development has been going towards expanding device functionality, at last more development is being channelled into increasing battery capacity and efficiency.
While outwardly not a particularly interesting area of development, batteries are becoming more high profile. After all, the devices they power are only useful for as long as they are in operation. Currently, a standard lithium-ion battery, commonly used to power a wireless sensor, could last up for two to three years (or less depending on the energy used by the device) while a smartphone operates for less than a day on a full charge. These short timeframes require frequent attention to ensure functionality, and organisations with a large network of devices must account in their budgets for the costs of battery replacement.
However, new research is changing this situation. Dutch innovators have created an energy cell that can provide 24 hours of power to a sensor, but can be recharged with just four hours of low light, for example under an office desk. What’s more, it could last for 50 years, transforming the potential of the IoT and sensors in remote environments. Batteries have also been developed that can recharge using energy from solar power, and Washington University announced in July the creation of a battery-free mobile phone that uses energy harvested from radio frequency (RF) signals.
On the other side of the coin, mega-batteries are also making headlines – this week Tesla announced its plans to build the world’s largest lithium ion battery to store renewable energy to improve the reliability of electricity supplied across South Australia. Sustainability and energy management are high on every FMs list of priorities, so all eyes will be on the results.
Recognition in the importance of batteries, as well as in the devices they power, has led to a surge in new development to improve their efficiency. However, any limitations caused by short life-spans are offset by the results they achieve. Realistically, the savings gained using sensors in terms of preventative maintenance and energy and operational efficiency greatly outweigh the small inconvenience of changing batteries. Smartphones are a means to boosted communication between operatives in the field and the FM help desk, allowing the whole team to run like clockwork on a live stream of accurate information. While mobiles may only last for a day at a time, this is a reasonable amount for a shift and the device can be easily charged at the mains overnight or by using an external battery pack.
Sensors and smartphones are now key components in facilities management, expediting the flow and availability of information, leading to faster rectification times and more informed strategic decision making. While the demands placed upon sensor and mobile technology are outpacing current functionality, devices such as these are nevertheless propelling facilities management to new heights. Additional battery life will just be the icing on the cake to an industry already reaping the benefits of a more connected, more informed workforce.
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