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Data Loggers 2.0: Automation And Alerting

Apr 10, 2013

Conventional data loggers have reached a critical evolution point, specific to the technology, software and the availability of data that is provided. From the Wikipedia page on data loggers, we can see the evolution in the verbiage overlap.

data logger (also datalogger or data recorder) is an electronic device that records data over time or in relation to location either with a built in instrument or sensor or via external instruments and sensors. Increasingly, but not entirely, they are based on a digital processor (or computer). They generally are small, battery powered, portable and equipped with a microprocessor, internal memory for data storage and sensors. Some data loggers interface with a personal computer and utilize software to activate the data logger and view and analyze the collected data, while others have a local interface device (keypad, LCD) and can be used as a stand-alone device.

In truth, data loggers have been incredibly useful and reliable since their inception. Still, the current generation of data loggers has additional features that broaden the applications of the device, and in fact provide much higher value to consumers.

One of the biggest drawbacks of a conventional data logger is the data recording process, which is typically done manually. As an example, a data logger unit may read temperatures safely and consistently while inside an oven, but the logger must be manually removed and connected to an external source in order to obtain the data. The process is thereby a two-step ordeal, in which extraction of data is not automated and variances in temperatures (for the oven example) may only be discovered in retrospect. This means that by using data loggers to maintain records for auditing/health checks, the problem(s) or temperature changes may only surface after the data extraction/manual review. In the world of quality control, this hardly represents efficiency. In conclusion, while data loggers may be the most 'simple' solution for tracking temperature changes, the manual processes involved can quickly become cumbersome.


On the other side, the current generation of data loggers has expanded on the utility and automation of the conventional options, and the result is a "Data Logger 2.0". In this new school of devices, the data loggers maintain the information in their location (like an oven), and transmit data through a variety of wireless channels, including WiFi and Cellular networks. The transmission of data cuts out the manual logging procedures and brings automated reporting into the mix. Aside from the automatic reporting capabilities, continuous alerting is perhaps the biggest development in the evolution of data loggers. Conventional loggers could detect variances in temperature or moisture, but without an automated system or enabled software, could not provide alerting capabilities to proactive personnel. Continuous alerting has proved to be a critical development for temperature sensitive applications. Vaccine storage and food safety are two of the main beneficiaries of this technology, as the alerting procedures can prevent temperature variance in vaccines and bacterial infections from spoiled food. Both applications rely on timeliness to solve a potential problem, which is precisely the goal of continuous alerting. Furthermore, the cost savings that result from continuous alerting can tremendous, given the near-unlimited value of vaccines and/or stored food products. These continuous alerts may include text messages, e-mails, or even phone calls, and these represent an on-demand link between the user and the device (ideal for vaccines and food safety). Notifications ultimately inspire action, and timely action is the main goal for sensitive monitoring applications.

Overall, the conventional process of 'manual data entry and evaluation' in data logging has been replaced by software systems that consolidate information (with intelligent logic) and deliver the information to the proper source.

While there are still applications wherein a conventional data logger is still useful, it's mostly been segmented into low-sensitivity applications that don't require continuous alerting, automatic reporting, and/or automatic data transmission. The tedious process of manual data entry, as stated, is not efficient for many businesses that require timely data reports and the notification of critical changes/events. However, the "new school" of data loggers is fully automated, allows transmission of information through conventional networks, and provides real-time alerting features that were absent from conventional devices.  When considering a continuous alerting device or data logger, remember that the differences are typically seen in automation techniques and alerting functionality. 




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