BioLab Commercial Water, a Georgia-based manufacturer of water treatment products and a subsidiary of the Great Lakes Chemical Company (NYSE: GLK) was looking to differentiate itself from other chemical manufacturers by establishing a closer link to both its dealer channel and its end customers. The company realized that in order to grow as a manufacturer, it needed to offer more than just chemicals; it needed to include a value-added service with its offerings. BioLab decided that a remote monitoring service that could deliver real-time data to customers relating to their pool conditions would provide this differentiation from competitors.
BioLab enlisted the help of nPhase, a Chicago-based systems integrator specializing in enterprise-class solutions for monitoring and managing widely dispersed assets. nPhase quickly implemented an action plan for BioLab that included Opto 22's remote monitoring hardware.
The BioLab technical team led by Dr. Shawn Lin visited Opto 22 to talk about developing a monitoring system for BioLab customer pools. By chance, during a break in the meeting, Dr. Lin was introduced to Opto 22 control engineer James Davis who described how he was in the process of instrumenting his own pool with the same hardware Lin was considering for BioLab. Lin and Davis hit it off immediately and soon, the two had slipped out the Opto 22 offices to see Davis' application in person.
Davis' homegrown monitoring system for pool temperature and pH and ORP levels was all Lin needed to see. "Seeing what James had accomplished with the Opto 22 products-in basically just his spare time-sold me on the fact that the hardware had the capabilities we were looking for. That, and the fact that everything I was looking at was web-enabled, was half the battle. All that was left was aggregating the data and presenting it an easy to use format for the customer."
Although Lin and his team were primarily looking for strictly a monitoring system, after witnessing the extensive control capabilities for pool pumps, valves, and heaters Davis' system had, BioLab scrapped plans for a controller they were developing and asked Opto 22 to add that functionality to the monitoring system it was purchasing.
Soon, Opto 22 had developed a custom BioLab pool controller based on Davis' home application The controller was mass produced and deployed at BioLab customer pool locations all over the US, including hotels, YMCAs, waterparks, and universities. This system monitors the pool conditions and controls chemical dispersion equipment. It also gathers real-time operational data such as pH balance, oxidation reduction potential (ORP) values, chlorine and other chemical levels, and water temperatures. Using embedded mobile technology, these readings are sent back to a network operations center-hosted by nPhase-where the data is collated and presented through a secure web portal (accessible from any PC or PDA) to the customer, the dealer, and to BioLab.
The new pool controllers give BioLab real-time access to chemical supply and usage at customer, that is, pool owner locations. This helps the company plan its chemical production activities back at its factory and better coordinate deliveries and service calls. Lin says BioLab is now able to accurately measure how much sanitizer and other chemical is being used at each site, allowing the company to optimize production, consolidate deliveries and reduce operating costs.
As for BioLab customers, the ability to view pool-related data anytime from anywhere has positively impacted their operations as well. Many now have archived web-based reports on water quality, chemical usage, and other key operational elements, which helps reduce or eliminate litigation stemming from liability claims involving their facility and also helps them meet regulatory compliance reporting mandates.