n-Situ has been providing in-field water level monitoring, flow monitoring, and water quality solutions for four decades. In recent years, In-Situ has expanded from its traditional focus on water level through ambitious R&D work and strategic acquisitions, moving into flow and water quality monitoring and process. In 2017, In-Situ acquired the Australian company MACE, which manufactures ultrasonic flow meters, data loggers, and controllers.
In this interview, Mathew Campbell, the Australia-based application development manager for flow at In-Situ, and Helen Taylor, In-Situ’s content manager, speak with Municipal Water Leader Editor-in-Chief Kris Polly about the company’s flow monitoring systems and how they are helping irrigators and wastewater managers across the globe.
Kris Polly: Would you please tell us about your background, Dr. Campbell, and how you came to be in your current position?
Mathew Campbell: My father Lawrence started the company MACE in Sydney, Australia, in 1968. I was born into the business, but once I left high school, I basically decided I did not want anything to do with the family business. I went to university and completed undergraduate studies in agriculture and environmental science. In 1993, I received a PhD in environmental science with a focus on agriculture, dealing with cotton and other irrigated crops. Before I went to university, MACE had been primarily involved with data logging—taking sensors from other companies and providing a data logger, along with some pretty cool interface technology, including voice telemetry and early modem technology. During the early 1980s, we had a bad problem in Australia with sewer overflows, which could happen in the middle of the Sydney’s main street.
Of course, as soon as the general public saw raw effluent flowing down the gutters, it became a political football, and the government decided to spend money on a solution. MACE received funding from government-owned water authorities to develop a better way of measuring sewer flows and developed the Doppler ultrasonic velocity sensor.
One of the problems in irrigation is measuring the water that is used to irrigate crops. Historically, that was done with mechanical meters with a little propeller that moved inside the pipe. Those irrigation pipes can be quite large—anywhere from 6 to 90 inches in diameter—and are full of water. If you put a propeller in a pipe in the field, it inevitably gets clogged up with leaves, grass, and mud. With my research into irrigated cotton, I saw a market in agriculture for our Doppler sensor, and once I was finished with my studies, I decided it was a good time to come back to the family business. We moved into agriculture in a big way from the mid-1990s, around the time I came back. While we maintain our wastewater business, I also work with farmers to develop products that work in the field. It’s one thing to have a sensor that measures flow, but it’s another thing to have an instrument that you can
literally put out in the middle of nowhere and run on battery power or maybe with a solar panel. The bigger flow-metering companies in the world all have great technology in their own right, but their products cannot necessarily be put out in the middle of nowhere. That is what we focused on.
We were approached by In-Situ around 3 years ago about a potential acquisition. Personally and from a business perspective, we were spending an awful lot of money on R&D. We are constantly improving products, but as a small family business, we had only so much R&D funding. In-Situ has something like 25–30 R&D engineers in Fort Collins, Colorado, and the opportunity to stoke the fire on product development was too good an opportunity to pass up, so we were acquired in February 2017.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about In-Situ’s history and its current operations and size.
Helen Taylor: In-Situ is celebrating its 40th year of incorporation. The company was originally founded in Laramie, Wyoming, to address needs in the uranium mining industry. Its original focus was level monitoring. In fact, the company produced the world’s first in-well water level data logger. We have a
strong history and strong reputation in water level technologies. In recent years, we’ve expanded our focus to include flow and water quality, and we are now even moving into process. That’s part of the reason for our upcoming webinar. Our other additions and growth strategies are heavily focused on R&D and strategic acquisitions.
Kris Polly: What are In-Situ’s top issues as a company today?
Helen Taylor: We are moving strongly into the field of water quality with our new products. Another major focus for us is the software and data management services that make it possible for people not only to more easily collect their data, but to analyze it and use it more effectively. Our VuSitu mobile app and our HydroVu Data Services software are a huge focus for us, as we see the industry going in that direction.
Mathew Campbell: We focus intensively on R&D and data. It is important not only to be aware of what your competitors are doing, but to be aware of what your customers are doing. That’s probably one of the bigger issues: getting out there and understanding the applications that the customers need and providing them with solutions.
Kris Polly: What are the main applications that In-Situ’s flow-monitoring devices are used for?
Mathew Campbell: From a flow perspective, we’re split about 50/50 between agriculture on the one hand and wastewater and storm water on the other. In agriculture, we basically do measurements of farm turnouts, or the water that is actually delivered on the farm. When a farmer lifts the gate or turns on a pump, we measure the water that flows out. That water flow is totalized, and the irrigation district generates a bill based on that total. Our insertion Doppler sensor also allows us to measure flow in pump situations.
A lot of irrigated agriculture in Australia, as well as in parts of Texas and California, uses pump-driven irrigation. We can happily measure river-pumping stations with pipes anywhere between 6 and 100 inches. We also do some open channels, although our technology is only effective with channels up to about 10 feet in width. Beyond that, we would probably recommend that users seek out a different technology. In the wastewater market, we sell a lot of down-manhole flow meters. Those instruments literally go down the manhole, with their sensors in the flow stream. Inflow and infiltration studies are probably our biggest markets in the wastewater industry, along with combined sewer overflows and wastewater treatment plant influent/effluent.
With our insertion Doppler sensor, we’re finding more applications in sewer lift-station monitoring. Lift stations are commonplace in the United States, and it can be important to know almost in real time what flows are entering and exiting wet wells so that treatment plant capacities are not exceeded or, by contrast, underused. We can provide this data back to operators’ mobile devices so they can make real-time decisions.
We do a lot of storm water as well. We measure the flows through things like box culverts or even twin pipes going under a highway. We can also drive a water sampler in order to capture water samples for pollutant loading studies. One of In-Situ’s newer products is the Aqua TROLL 500, which is a water quality probe. That allows us to analyze water quality in real time, rather than having to take a water sample back to the lab. Not only is it faster, it eliminates lab costs, which can be astronomical. Our products can work in anything from a sewer treatment plant in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere to a treatment plant in Chicago.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about the advantages of Doppler sensors.
Mathew Campbell: Our sensor portfolio includes what we call the insert sensor, which is designed for full pipe flow, as well as an area/velocity sensor for partially full pipes and open channels. Our full pipe insertion sensor is the only continuous-wave Doppler insert sensor in the world. There are a couple of other Doppler technologies out there, but they are horrendously expensive. We have a massive cost advantage over any other way of measuring full pipe flow in dirty water applications. Doppler doesn’t work in clean water—it requires particles of dirt in the water, whether that dirt is human effluent or dirt off the ground.
We also have a significant installation advantage. Installation is a one- or two-man job, and it takes about 2 hours to get it done, whereas historically, in that climate, with bigger pipes of around 30 inches, it might take 2–3 days to install a mag flow meter and require ancillary equipment like cranes and forklifts as well as a full process shutdown.
Kris Polly: Who are your customers, and how do you reach them?
Mathew Campbell: As I mentioned, about half our marketplace is agriculture, and half is wastewater and storm water. We are quite lucky in that most of our ag customers are irrigation districts. They are large organizations in their own right, so they typically get dealt with directly by our regional sales teams. Some are so big that they’re actually water districts for the communities that they are based in. They will provide irrigation water, drinking water, and the local sewage network. Some of them even generate electricity. They really are utility companies rather than just irrigation districts.
Distribution in the wastewater market is a bit funny. A lot of big companies are selling products that are competitive in terms of the applications they are used for. Those products might cost $50,000, while
ours cost $5,000. A lot of reps in the industry obviously would prefer to sell a $50,000 meter. So in terms of distribution representation, we tend to do better by dealing directly and providing the specifications our customers need.
Kris Polly: What trends do you see out there, and what is your vision for the future?
Mathew Campbell: Realistically, I think the future is smart sensors that can provide better, more accurate data. I see a future where we have more wireless ability with transducers. We want to set up a network of sensors that talk to each other in a wireless network across whole wastewater catchments and allow for comprehensive data management.
The catchphrase everyone knows is “big data.” We want to get the deep data side of things rather than just using a one-off data logger, whether that is with a Doppler sensor, an electromagnetic sensor, or any other kind of flow sensor.
There are still so many combined sewer overflows that would not happen if the flow measurement were done early enough. There are a lot of capacity constraints in sewer treatment plants and in sewer networks. If you can install a network of sensors relatively cost effectively, you can save a lot of money downstream. With R&D, I’m actively working on this vision. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I’m hopeful that in a handful of years that sort of technology will be able to provide upstream answers to downstream problems.
Mathew Campbell is the application development manager for flow at In-Situ. Watch Mathew’s free webinar, “How Doppler Sensors Offer a Cost-Effective Alternative to Electromagnetic Meters,” at www.in-situ.com/flow-webinar. For more information about In-Situ and MACE instrumentation and software, please visit www. in-situ.com or call (800) 446-7488.