The Story Behind the 2250 Controller

I promised myself I would not make use of my blog for blatant promotion of our products. That said, we just released the 2250 controller and the long, tough saga that led up to it is finally at an end. I have this need to tell the story behind the 2250—the good, the bad and the ugly. If I promote so be it. It’s my blog.

When I purchased AquaMetrix in 2010 I quickly ascertained that the Shark was the first product due for a refresh. It had a well-deserved reputation for being nearly bulletproof and it did everything it was supposed to do. But it was quirky. When mounted on a wall it stuck out like a sore 9 inch thumb. The dual display was a very clever innovation but it was expensive to produce—even more so as the custom displays became harder to source.
So I decided to start design on a new controller that would leapfrog the Shark. The 2400 would have four channels and be web-enabled. Once the 2400 was finished we could pull out the circuitry and firmware that would leave us with a single input, non web-enabled controller the new Shark.
We then went on a four-year journey that involved two engineering firms. Both failed to instill confidence so we pulled the plug on one and then the other. We do have a partially complete 2400 and a solid engineering partner so we will soon get the 2400 back on track. But the detour was very expensive and the experience was painful.

In the meanwhile we found a web-enabled controller that took in four 4-20 mA and three pulse inputs. A very small company that made its mark in the model train business made it. It had all the features I envisioned for the 2400, albeit only for analog probes. But it had a confusing user interface. We struck a deal with the company—we completely redesigned the user interface in exchange for being the exclusive licensee of the controller. The result is the 2300 and it fit a niche a mile wide (if you’ll excuse the oxymoron). That niche is the small operator who needs remote monitoring and control of sensors but can afford neither the upfront cost of a SCADA system nor the continuing fee of programming PLC’s. In an industry that is fiercely resistant to change the world did not rush to our doorstep but, as change comes even to the water and wastewater market, sales of the 2300 continue to grow with each passing month.

Web-enabled process control is a giant wave sweeping over every industry and I’m glad that we are at the forefront of that wave. But the world right now still needs a solid, single input controller so we decided to put the 2400 into a queue and come up with a new Shark. For the past two years we have worked with a local engineering firm to design a controller that does everything the Shark does but do it better and at a lower cost. “Son of Shark” is a multi-parameter, single-input controller. To keep the price attractive we put in features that users will really use and we excluded features that scored advertising points. The conductivity circuit is the most accurate of any industrial analyzer on the market. For instance, you can calibrate pH with 3 points and conductivity with as many as 16. The latter is so that you can measure acid or base concentrations with conductivity. Both 4-20 mA outputs now offer PID control. Most importantly we worked on the menu structure for over a year so that it would be so insanely obvious to the user that the manual would never see the light of day. And, of course it no longer sticks out of the wall like a sore thumb.

“Son of Shark” is the 2250. I don’t like fish names so “Shark II” or “Great White” was out. The Shark’s predecessor, the 2200, had a loyal—almost fanatical—following among its users due to its aura of indestructibility. (We still repair old units and get orders for new ones.) So I decided that all new controllers would pay homage to this workhorse by being named with numbers that are greater than 2200—hence the 2300 and 2400. It was only natural that “2250” would be the name for the new controller.

In an earlier post from September 2015 I lamented on the struggles of working with engineering firms. I have since discovered that the contracting model—fee plus costs or fixed cost—doesn’t matter. An engineering contractor that wants to milk you for every penny it can is going to find a way. With a fixed cost model it will add engineering change orders until the cows come home. With a fee plus costs model it will add trips to Vegas on the bill. In that post I talked about a model called Contracting Manager at Risk (CMAR).

A good firm that wants a long-term marriage will make either arrangement into a win-win proposition. The firm is paid fairly and the customer gets a great product. The final bill will be the same regardless of the model in play. Having made two very expensive mistakes I learned this the hard way. We are now on the fast growth track I envisioned when we started out on the 2400. With the 2250 now shipping we will be coming up with variations that will connect to dissolved oxygen, toroidal and chlorine sensors.

Gotta run. I have a new controller to design.