Why we’ve added remote monitoring technology as standard

When we started out four years ago, Futurepump made all of its pilot sales to farmers in a small geographic cluster around Kisumu, Western Kenya. When pumps need servicing (and they ALWAYS do at some point) our technicians were able to easily reach customers with the required spare part or advice. We could also stop by the farms and chat to farmers about how they were getting on with their purchase.

The Kisumu pilot also gave us crucial feedback on how the pump was performing. Did the design need improving? Were farmers making improvisations that we could learn from? Were there misunderstandings about how to use the product? Could our installation manual be better? All of this is critical information for learning how to make a better product.

In late 2016, we started selling more widely across Kenya, and by the time 2018 arrived, we were selling our pumps through distributors in nine countries, and that number is only set to grow.

We have also taken the bold step of offering a five-year parts and labour warranty on all of our solar water pumps. That means that – via our distributors – we are making some big promises to our end-customers about the quality and lifespan of our solar pump.

So how do we keep those promises?

It begins with robust design and ISO-9001:2015 quality certification at our factory. Next, every customer is supplied with a spare parts kit, point of sale training and a manual, since many common maintenance tasks can be completed by the farmer themselves. At the next level, we ensure all our certified distributors have completed our technical training courses. Through this we equip them to easily respond to after-sales-support, and giving them further supplies of spares and tools.

But even with all this, as the manufacturer, Futurepump is still is once-, or twice-removed from the customer. Our brand and reputation are important to us, we want every farmer to be delighted with their purchase. This is where remote monitoring comes in. All SF2 pumps include our data logging system with a SIM card, which sends performance data over mobile phone networks about each individual pump. We can track the pump’s location, its daily utilisation, and electrical and mechanical technical data. All these together enable us to understand how well the pump is working and whether a service might be required.

Habari remote monitoring
Example data from a remote monitored solar pump in Kenya

Servicing – from reactive to proactive

Our vision is that, for a few cents a month, we should be able to proactively determine the condition of each solar pump, anywhere in the world. If the data tells us a rubber seal needs changing, we can send a text message to the customer suggesting she fits one of the spare seals we supplied her, or to the local distributor asking him to stop by. Developing countries are sadly, full of well-meaning technological interventions – especially water pump for irrigation – which fall into disrepair for want of a new inexpensive part or a simple fix. We don’t want our pump joining these white elephants.

This kind of remote monitoring was made famous by the manufacturers of jet engines, like Rolls Royce, who amazingly, continuously monitor the condition each of their engines in flight, wherever they are in the world. We’re borrowing the same idea but making it very cheap using the wonders of modern electronics and telecoms. Why should the advantages of such technology be limited to multi-million-dollar machines?

Author: Toby Hammond