28 September 2011

American Society of Agronomy

{Photo from https://www.acsmeetings.org}
The annual meeting for the American Society of Agronomy (ASA)* is right around the corner (October 16 – 19) in San Antonio. Six years ago I attended my first ASA meeting in Salt Lake City, UT. Going to professional meetings is a great opportunity for us to engage with our customers and gain valuable feedback. It allows us to put a face to a name and learn more about their research. Some customers will share unique and innovative applications of our products. Others will share ideas for new sensor development. Another valuable tool is to resolve customers’ concerns about sensor performance and quality. Many of the incremental improvements continuously made to our core products can be connected to information received from customers.

This year Apogee is sponsoring two workshops prior to the meetings with Decagon Devices. The workshops are “Soil Moisture and Hydraulic Properties Measurement Instrumentation Theory, Application, and Hands-on Training” and “Plant Measurements from Leaf to Canopy: Light and Temperature Interaction.” Apogee has sponsored workshops in the past with Decagon and these have proven to be great experiences to work with researchers using a variety of instruments from several companies.

One of the things I like best about tradeshows and annual meetings is the interaction with customers. Many times marketing consists of putting out information unidirectionally. Print ads, websites and many other marketing avenues do not allow us to engage with our customers and discover if the intended concept was received correctly. Tradeshows allow us to do this, which in turn leads to improvements in how we communicate through our website and other medium.

At this year’s meeting we will be introducing an aspirated radiation shield, a hand-held meter for our infrared sensor and a new field-of-view option for our infrared sensor. We have also developed a 4 – 20 milliAmp output for our solar radiation sensors. We look forward meeting you at this year’s meeting. Please stop by booth 606 and say hello.

* ASA combines each year with the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) for their annual meetings. We used the letters ASA to make the post more concise. We are excited to join with the Canadian Society of Soil Science for this years meeting.

Devin Overly
General Manager

21 September 2011

Long-term drift: When is recalibration warranted?

I went to my dentist yesterday morning for a 6-month cleaning and check-up. Since I have had no special dental problems for several years, I quizzed him about the need for inspections every 180 days. He replied with an eloquent summary of the microbiological risks of letting small problems go exponential and turn into big problems. OK. So I will be seeing him again next spring.

Microbes don’t normally cause drift in environmental sensors, and drift rates rarely go exponential, but we could all use a wise old dentist to remind us to floss (a.k.a. keep our sensor optics clean). Even with conscientious preventative maintenance, sensors, like teeth, need periodic check-ups. Some sensors in some environments can benefit from recalibration every 6 months. Other sensors, in other environments, can be rock-solid stable for 6 years. Few manufacturers have taken the time to rigorously characterize drift rates as a function of the environment the sensor (or meter) was used in. Even when the recommended interval for recalibration is based on good statistical data, most users ignore it. How many users follow the recommended recalibration interval of two years for Campbell Scientific dataloggers?

Some manufacturers make a significant profit from their recalibration services and recommend frequent recalibration without the data to help users know when it is really warranted. Both Campbell Scientific and Apogee strive to help users understand when recalibration is warranted. We also offer low cost and fast turnaround for recalibration services.

Apogee is working to build a statistical database for the drift rate of our sensors in a wide range of environments. Many apparent drift problems can be solved by appropriate cleaning in the field (www.apogeeinstruments.com/infraredradiometer/cleaning.html). Our Clear Sky Calculator (www.clearskycalculator.com) was developed so that users of all types of radiation sensors could use the sun as a calibration lamp. We are pleased with the expanding use of this on-line calculator. It has helped many users fix problems without having to disconnect the sensor and call us for an RMA. This calculator has also been useful in identifying errors in software, such as an incorrect multiplier.

One effective way to test for drift is to put two sensors side by side and compare their output. If the sensors have the same output, either they are both still accurate, or they have both drifted down at the same rate. Alternatively, purchasing a new sensor and putting it next to an older sensor in situ is an effective way to determine the need for recalibration. The new Apogee hand-held infrared meter (www.apogeeinstruments.com/infraredradiometer/meter-pricing.html) provides a unique opportunity to check the accuracy of IR sensors in field installations.

We look forward to working with you in the quest to make better measurements. Keep flossing.



Bruce Bugbee


14 September 2011

Apogee's Origin Story

I started working in graphic design and marketing at Apogee in June of 2010. I love the feel of working for a small business. I enjoy seeing how my work directly helps our customers. I have worked here for over a year, and I wanted to learn more about how Apogee, now 15 years old, came in to being. I did some research through website archives, talked to fellow co-workers, and eventually caught up with our company’s founder and President, Bruce Bugbee, to learn how Apogee got started.

The idea that led to Apogee began when Bruce Bugbee started making inexpensive light meters for his studies as a doctoral student at Penn State University in the late nineteen-seventies. Faculty at universities across the country found these meters to be highly useful and started to request them for their own studies.

In response to this demand for low-priced meters, Apogee Instruments was founded in the spring of 1996 in Bruce’s garage in Logan Utah. Apogee Instruments draws its name from the word ‘apogee’ which means the highest point in an orbit. Bruce had used this name before for a type of short, high-yield wheat that he and his Utah State University students developed for a potential food source for astronauts on long-term missions.

Apogee’s first product was the quantum meter for measuring photosynthetically active radiation. Other light meters and sensors followed: the pyranometer for measuring shortwave radiation, and the ultraviolet sensor for UV radiation. Apogee also developed an infrared radiometer for use in measuring the surface temperature of plant canopies and other surfaces.

After 10 years in Bruce’s garage, Apogee needed more space. In 2007, Apogee moved into its current location next to Campbell Scientific. Our new building is state-of-the art, highly energy efficient, and is constantly monitored by sensors, many of which are made by Apogee. The new building has extensive facilities for calibrating sensors both inside and outside on a secure rooftop.

Apogee is continuing to grow. Within the next few years Apogee will be releasing several new products. We are also working on improving accuracy of current products and providing all-inclusive recalibration services. Apogee Instruments is dedicated to making high-quality, affordable instruments and providing excellent customer support to back them up. We believe in higher education and support students and research through funding and donations. Apogee strives to be environmentally sustainable, both through our energy-efficient building and providing tools for studying climate change. We hope to support a better tomorrow through creating innovative instrumentation for measuring climate change, improving sustainable food production and developing renewable energy.

Whitney Mortensen
Marketing & Graphic Design

07 September 2011

Meter Guidelines

The latest version of our meter has been out for 3 years. Based on customer feedback I have compiled this list of ways to use it more effectively.

Battery Life/Master reset

The meter display is the biggest draw on the battery. The display is designed to shut off if there hasn’t been any activity (button pushing) for two minutes. The battery life can be extended by manually shutting off the display using the power button. The meter will continue to record data even when the display is turned off. Pushing the power button again reactivates the display.

The second biggest draw on the battery is long-term storage, even when the meter is not in use. The microcontroller is always on and using a small amount of power. We recommend removing the battery for storage longer than about 9 months to preserve battery life. The meter should normally be turned off before removing the battery. Removing the battery while the meter is on and reinserting it after a few seconds is the master reset, which will erase the data in storage. The master reset also helps to resolve other problems, such as a low battery warning even after putting in a new battery.

Communication Cable

The AC-100 communication cable provided by Apogee has been uniquely designed to work with the meter and is necessary to download the data to a computer. The meter outputs data using the UART protocol and requires the AC-100 to convert from UART to USB. Other cables with the same connectors on the ends cannot make this conversion.

Data Collection

The data transmitted to a computer is usually changed into a more readable format by clicking on the file option in the upper left hand corner and choosing one of the two options. Both options transfer the data to a spreadsheet in a vertical configuration. This allows for other parameters, such as time/date, to be entered and auto-filled in the spreadsheet. The most accurate way to know the time of the 30 minute average is by adding 30 minutes to the time when the meter was put into Log Mode. If the start time is not known, the end time can be used but this is less accurate because the number of minutes into a 30 minute average is unknown. The daily total is often more important and is calculated and stored in the meter. The meter is designed to detect when it is night and uses that information to calculate the daily total. The last value in the daily total data thus always represents the previous day.

The Apogee AMS software is available here: http://www.apogeeinstruments.com/files/ApogeeAMS_1.0.zip

These are just a few suggestions that we have received from our customers. If you have more, be sure to comment on this blog so others can make better measurements.

Skif Smith
Electrical Engineering