Steam-powered Steam Trap Monitors: Should Someone Have Thought of This Before

One of the biggest problems facing Internet of Things (IoT) innovation today is battery lifespan. While start-ups are continually promising new battery-free IoT solutions, any claims of breathing life into the mythical perpetual motion machine are warranted a healthy dose of skepticism. That being said, the bright idea from venture-backed IoT startup PsiKick to power steam trap sensors with their own steam leaves one wondering how such an obvious solution could have been missed.

PsiKick—a company focused on wireless, batteryless monitoring solutions—recently released its Steam Trap Monitor (STM). The key innovation is that the STM runs completely on power harvested from heat or indoor light. The concept works only because IoT sensors ultimately require very little energy. As device monitors, their only job is to collect and upload small pieces of data to the cloud, often with broad intervals in between. Despite requiring very little power, it is still hard to get IoT batteries to last long enough to reduce maintenance cost to zero, thereby making the “hands-off” promise of IoT tech a reality.

“Considering even three-year battery lifetimes of wireless sensors, if the IoT industry hits a conservative total of 20 billion sensors, that would require 18 million battery replacements per day,” said David Wentzloff, PhD, PsiKick co-founder and co-CTO. “Few organizations have the labor or capital to maintain such systems.”

Wentzloff and the PsiKick team believe that their IoT-driven STM can save industries a lot of money in preventive steam loss measures.

“Poorly monitored steam traps result in billions of dollars of wasted energy annually across a large array of industries,” said Bob Nunn, PsiKick president and CEO. “Unless a company expends significant resources to maintain a rigorous inspection schedule, undetected blow-thru traps are the equivalent of leaving your doors and windows open with the AC on.”

The battery-free STM system primarily consists of the sensors—one per steam trap—that PsiKick calls Smart Sense Nodes (S2N). The S2Ns upload data to the cloud upon request by the user, employing low-power Psi-Fi protocol to Control Nodes gateways that provide multiple backhaul options.

PsiKick’s cloud, the PK Cloud, then analyzes the data uploaded from the S2Ns to predict STM failures. In the case of impending failure, the user is notified by the system. The cloud also runs the data through algorithms that can calculate the associated costs for the potential failure.

The first-generation Smart Sense Nodes can communicate roughly 100 feet in crowded industrial settings. The company is planning a next-generation S2N with a range of 900 feet, which will cover a full factory floor. According to PsiKick, this extension will be based on improvements to PsiKick’s silicon, which is designed in-house by their team of circuit designers.

As no battery maintenance is required, the lifespan of the current STM system is guaranteed to exceed 20 years.

Although the STM is PsiKick’s first available product, the company also has a batteryless motor monitoring solution in the works, which is expected to arrive in 2019.