Thank you again for attending our session on Sustainability in Infrastructure and Smart City Projects. Here are the questions that followed the presentation and their answers. If you have additional questions, be sure to reach out.
Do the choices around technology for efficient farming and infrastructure change, depending on the size of the operation?
Curt: It does and then it doesn't. As we engineer networks, the larger the deployment is, typically the more nodes that you're going to use, and it may be the more gateways or take-out points that you need to put out there.
We have a pretty unique technology I'd encourage people to look at if they've never looked at it. We have a network technology called DigiMesh®. And DigiMesh is really interesting. It's a flat network; it's a self-forming network where basically, software will take data from one point to the destination, and it'll go through the mesh of a network. And the network is self-forming. Let’s use agricultural irrigation pivots as an example.
If you're out in the field in Nebraska, you may be at one pivot, and you can see the farmhouse from that pivot, and you can see another pivot. But then you go over the horizon and there's a hill or an obstacle, or there may be a row of trees or buildings or structures in the way. The traffic will route around those as long as it can see another endpoint somewhere in the network. And we can extend that – not infinitely – but extend it a long way to meet the needs of a very large farming operation. So, the difference is the number of components maybe in some of the technology that you would use. Maybe meshing versus a point-to-point type, or point-to-multipoint type of technology. And to that, Trevor?
Trevor: Yeah, I would agree, Curt. I think the biggest thing is that when we look at this, how do we deliver the information that becomes valuable in a more seamless transition and experience that it ultimately can be adopted and find that it is valuable? To Curt's point, absolutely, you know, it can depend upon the size of the actual operation, and how you're going to manage that. But the information you're looking for results in the same outcome in terms of the efficiency that you need.
I think from a market perspective, and what we're really seeing on the horizon is there's a multitude of uses not just from what's been developed in precision agriculture today and in the farmland, with autonomous or semi-autonomous pivot capabilities. But we see ourselves as an infrastructure company in alignment with Digi to be able to go and deliver those critical solutions. When you look at what we're providing in two major arteries in an operation for row crop farmers is power and water. Well, that's what we do in a pivot, is power and water.
And so, we have that opportunity to be able to expand different innovations and technologies so that we can create more of kind of a seamless operation. But at the same time, you start looking at how we're evolving into new innovations and ideas. Look at EV (electric vehicle) charging. We do that today for bus transit, for public city bus transit in the projects that we're working on today. More and more farmers are going electric. They're going out with more electric trucks. You're starting to see that and evolve. I see the same thing happening with tractors and other areas. EV charging is becoming a thing and it's going to be an opportunity, just as we've seen with smart poles.
There's obviously an initial investment to move to the wireless technology you've discussed. Then presumably we will see expected benefits such as predictive maintenance and fewer service calls. Are your customers seeing significant ROI? Can you speak to that?
Curt: So I'm assuming we're talking about the grid – monitoring for transmissions, for example. Yes, we’re developing that ROI model. But we think there are some really compelling things to talk about here.
The first and obvious one is when the tower falls over and something bad happens like the Dixie Fire, I think it's pretty easy to justify the ROI in the investment. Another example is in the utility industry. A lot of those line workers – the guys that climb the poles – are retiring. There's a serious workforce issue. So, automation – and making people more productive and efficient – is really, really important for monitoring a transmission line. So that obviously has some huge cost benefits and efficiencies. Trevor, do you have some other comments?
Trevor: Yeah, I think you hit it on the head there. Now, the biggest thing is where is the ROI that you can simply justify the technologies you're needing. Especially when you're talking about predictive maintenance.
You know, predictive maintenance is something that everybody wants to achieve and it's very hard to do without having what we call post-harvested data. It's reactive information, and data that you're immediately getting. You can go and do something with that and then basically, rinse and repeat that, so that as that happens the next time, it's something very familiar, and you have a high probability rate of being able to predict that this is an issue that's going to happen.
That's artificial intelligence. And it is mission critical on these types of structures, because the structures themselves are not cheap. When you start looking at building out infrastructure, it's very easy to cost-justify the return on investment to ensure you have data, and intelligence with sensors, software, and smart pole technology.
So we're building infrastructure, and with the newer solutions we can provide a turnkey solution that can just be turned on and easily managed and maintained so you have quicker response time into those remote areas that we discussed earlier.
Regarding the Digi LoRaWAN gateway. Is it an outdoor gateway? Does it work in the 868 MHz spectrum?
Quinn: I think the answer to that is yes to all of those. The gateway can be an outdoor gateway – we have both indoor and outdoor – and they will operate the 868 MHz and 900 MHz spectrum. In fact, with the gateways that Valmont are testing in one of the pilots that are based outdoors, it's an outdoor-rated enclosure with solar panels, as Trevor mentioned. So yeah, very industrial, very much suited for outdoor use.
Trevor: We like to say we could drop it off a Blackhawk helicopter and just throw it back up on the pole and it just works.
Quinn: Yes, they’ve got to be rugged, or they just won't last. Well, I think we're just about to the end of our time. So I really I appreciate it. It's been a fun conversation again. And any last parting thoughts from Curt and Trevor, anything else you'd like to end with?
Trevor: Thank you, everybody, for staying on and watching. Appreciate the questions. And you know, if you guys have more questions, obviously, you can go to valmont.com. Take a look at our website of all the things that we're offering as it exists today. Thank you, Quinn, for moderating, and Curt, for being able to collaborate in this conversation, in this space, and just looking forward to providing more sustainability.
Curt: And the last thing I'd add is this. If we do have customers out there, or if you're an OEM or solutions provider, and you're looking for help to try to put this puzzle together to deliver solutions, please reach out via our Contact Us page. We'd love to help you.