Case Study

Start-up DCO Systems at the Forefront of Innovation

Pioneering monitoring solutions for industrial steam users

Company: DCO Systems
Product: Mounting device for an energy harvester
Service: CNC machining


There are many out there who think that the steam industry, well, ran out of steam in the last century. But whilst steam trains may have mostly been relegated to the sidings, hospitals, schools, factories and businesses around the world are going strong, all powered by steam. It’s no exaggeration to say that the modern world as we know it would collapse without our continued use of that great 18th century development.


Now innovative startup DCO Systems, a pioneer in energy and efficiency monitoring solutions for industrial steam users, is harnessing truly 21st century technology. They have developed a range of monitoring equipment that give companies invaluable insight into how well their steam equipment is performing. The monitors send continuous analytical data, allowing remote surveillance of equipment performance with real-time notifications and alerts for operating and safety issues. Integration with DCO System’s cloud-based dashboard, analysis and reporting services provide companies with a unique and comprehensive “out of the box” solution for their steam equipment. 


However, as for many in the IIoT domain, DCO Systems had the challenge of finding a reliable energy source for their monitoring equipment. Many companies might offer what they call a wireless solution, but these options often run on batteries. They may suggest a 10-year battery life, but in reality, with continual activity, the batteries need to be replaced a lot more frequently.


If there’s one thing in abundance in the world of steam, it’s heat. So in order to make their devices truly wireless, DCO Systems proposed the use of a device that would attach to pipework of the equipment they wanted to monitor. This compact bit of kit harvests the energy needed to power the monitoring equipment directly from the heat source, generating a continual, reliable and sustainable supply of electricity to DCO’s monitoring devices.


At A Glance

dco systems challengeChallenge

Steam energy and remote monitoring solutions provider, DCO Systems, need a mounting device that will attach an energy harvester onto pipework. The piece must efficiently and reliably transfer heat and withstand high temperatures. It will also need to be robust, cost-effective and be easily fitted onto a range of different size pipes.

dco systems solutionsSolution

DCO Systems and Protolabs collaborated through a number of iterations to produce a prototype that met the criteria. Protolabs CNC machined an aluminium flat plate with a curved substructure. A number of shims were also manufactured so the mounting device could be adjusted to fit various pipe diameters.

dco systems outcomeOutcome

Protolabs’ quick-turn short run production model and the expertise of its team of application engineers were a great fit for this project. DCO Systems now have a template for a mounting device that they can use for large-scale manufacture. With the capability to mount an energy harvester, they have established a sustainable power source and their monitoring equipment is now truly wireless.


The next step was finding a way to attach the energy harvesters directly onto a wide variety of pipework. For help formulating this vital part, the company  turned to Protolabs. Andrew Doherty, founder and Managing Director of DCO Systems explains why:

We’d worked with Protolabs in the past and they’ve produced our higher quality, more specialist 3D printed parts. We were keen to use them again as it’d been a very positive experience. Their online quoting tool is excellent and the turnaround time is great. We knew that if we passed a job onto Protolabs they’d just get on with it, which is exactly what we needed.

Protolabs worked with DCO Systems on the research and development stage of the mounting device. For this project, the DCO team chose CNC machining as the more economical option for the metalwork. There was a lot of early stage testing to find a part that was robust, would withstand temperatures of 180°C, transfer heat efficiently and was easy to fit.


Mounting device
Mounting device

Through six iterations, the preliminary part evolved into a much slimmer version that was both solid and cost effective. This final piece that became the template for final production manufacture was a 15mm square aluminium flat plate with a curved section underneath. Pre-drilled holes allowed the part to be bolted onto the pipework from underneath.


However, there was a further obstacle in that there was no standard size of pipework to which the energy harvesters would be attached to. The team faced having to make numerous mounting devices in different sizes to accommodate a variety of pipes – something that was not a cost effective option. To solve this problem, the DCO Systems and Protolabs collaboration CNC machined various size shims. This allowed one standard size mounting unit to be adapted to fit different size pipes, simply by putting a shim in.


Protolabs were very helpful. It was useful having access to the technical expertise of their Application Engineers. We had some long conversations with them about cost implications, what we could and couldn’t do, small production and later scaling up to larger production.

The end result was a template piece that fulfilled DCO Systems’ criteria that they were very happy with. The company now has their initial batch of 500 mounting device units that are ready to deploy out to various sites.

Our experience with Protolabs was excellent. Their speed is superb, there’s a high level of technical expertise, and you know you’ll get a reliable end product out of the process. They are great at what they do.
Mounting device in situ
Mounting device in situ

There will be more prototyping collaborations with Protolabs in the future as DCO Systems develop further one-stop monitoring solutions for their customers. The company is not only focusing on mechanical parts found in the steam industry but equipment commonly found in the home such as small steam boilers and water heating equipment. They’re also delivering applications that aren’t related to steam. For instance the company works with the NHS, where large sites mean there’s an increasing need to automate equipment alerting systems, thus helping to take the pressure of NHS engineers’ workloads.


However, this is just one of a two-pronged approach that DCO Systems is taking. Whilst they focus on the UK/European market in the short term, the company has ambitions to scale up and expand overseas. Their plan is to use the technological expertise they’ve developed in Western markets to provide affordable and reliable solutions to steam powered industries in the African and Indian subcontinent.


As Andrew explains, “There’s the world of IT and there’s the world of mechanical engineering. Steam is an area that’s dominated by mechanical engineering, but there’s a lot that cutting edge IT innovation can do for the steam industry. DCO Systems are bringing those two worlds together for everyone’s benefit.”



About DCO Systems


UK based DCO Systems provide energy and efficiency monitoring solutions for industrial and commercial steam users across the globe. Their automated monitoring and analysis technology helps customers improve performance in steam generation, consumption and condensation collection.


By optimizing the performance of their steam systems using DCO Systems’ sensing equipment, customers can increase productivity and reclaim valuable time, by reducing the need for manual intervention by Engineers, delivering significant financial and environmental benefits.