In a world where everything can communicate with you, from your car to your refrigerator, it may not surprise you that water feature technology has jumped on the bandwagon, too. Ten years ago remote control access was in its early days in the fountain industry. Today, Delta Fountains offers a variety of remote control and remote connectivity options that can be accessed from your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
To be clear, none of these options are necessary for a well-functioning fountain system. In fact, many older fountains continue to work without any ties to the outside world (shocking, we know). The recent need to pause for more discussion over these control additions is due in part to the benefits every owner can gain from having at least the most basic of remote connectivity options. Owners with fountains we designed fifteen years ago are now retrofitting their controls to include remote connectivity. For mature and new features, we’ve found that beyond the obvious convenience of quick, off-site programming changes, remote network connections the ability to alert support staff to potentially critical issues with enough advance notice to save them from expensive repair bills should the problems have progressed.
As with any quickly expanding technology, there are several options available on the market to allow remote access to fountains. However, we have found the top three remote fountain connection options to be through direct Ethernet cable connections, cloud-based remote access devices, and Wi-Fi antennas.
Direct Ethernet connections can be the most economical choice for remote access, depending on the environment. It’s often the simplest method of connection, as a standard Ethernet cable is the only additional equipment necessary. By using an Ethernet cord to hard plug into your control panel, you have the ability to offer secured remote access from your Programable Logic Controller (PLC) programming to people both on site and off, through a virtual private network (VPN). Once your control panel and Ethernet connections are established on-site, you will create a username and password. Only the people with this username and password will be able to connect to your PLC.
It’s important to note that an Ethernet connection only allows access to your fountain’s PLC programming, it does not allow access to your touchscreen device (also known as Human Machine Interface, or HMI). To access your HMI with an Ethernet connection, some PLC and HMI manufacturers require you to purchase an additional software license.
A Cloud-based Remote Access Device is our most recommended method of remote connection. This is a secure connection through a device installed in your control panel before it’s delivered to the site. The device uses either a VPN or VNC (Virtual Network Computing) to create a cloud-based tunnel to a specific, static IP address on your network ring. The device is its own firewall, so you can only see what is directly connected to it (in most cases, this is your touchscreen and PLC). Cloud-based remote access systems do not require entrance or access to the building’s network.
This method is accessible through a secure website via computers, smartphones, and tablets. Users must log in with an account number, username, and password that you assign. Up to three users can be connected simultaneously. The website creates a Connection Report to trace the date, time, username, machine, and traffic to track all remote connections.
On top of access to your fountain controls, all Delta’s Cloud-Based Remote Access Devices come equipped with an alarm management feature. We can program the device to read the alarms and sensors on your water feature to then send a SMS text message or email to alert you to any maintenance necessary. This feature reduces the need for maintenance staff to check on the system daily, though we recommend weekly whole-system status checks while using this feature.
The Wi-Fi Remote Access method offers all the capabilities of the Cloud-Based Remote Access Device, with an additional antenna required. We do not recommend this connection method unless Wi-Fi is the only option your fountain system can accommodate, because your remote access will be completely reliant on the strength of your Wi-Fi signal. Should your signal go out for any reason, you will lose all connection to your controls and alarm management. These occurrences are rare, but we feel they are an important discussion point to bring up to your fountain design team before finalizing your system. If you’re unsure of the stability of your Wi-Fi connection, your designer can offer several methods to test the strength of your signal before moving forward.
The option to include remote accessibility to your fountain is a decision that needs to be discussed with the fountain design team before the final designs are in place, or at the beginning of a controls redesign. As demands on our time increase, the convenience of being able to monitor our fountain systems from anywhere in the world is attractive to both owners and fountain experts. For more information about your options, contact us and we will guide you to the best-fit solution to your needs.