Fast Forward to Full Fixed Utility Takes AMI System Further Without Moving an Inch

The Borough of Pennsylvania installed E-Coder® AMI solutions to replace its obsolete meter reading system, allowing for more efficient use of the utility’s human and financial resources.

Amr Ami R900 Gateway 1308ww

According to Utility Operations and Maintenance Supervisor Kenneth Klinepeter, October 2004 marked the beginning of the Borough of Middletown, Pennsylvania's move from the "dark ages to the 21st century" of meter reading. That's when it said goodbye to antiquated visual walk-by reads and began implementation of Neptune's migratable R900® System.

Amr Ami R900 Gateway 1308ww
Borough of Middletown utility staff gather around the R900 Gateway v3.

Prior to 2004, the Borough had a difficult problem to solve: its meter reading system was obsolete. The mix of different-brand, remote-odometer, pulse-based meters was not just aging, it was dirty — to the point where nesting spiders and ants affected the movement and accuracy. System-wide, the rate of non-revenue water stood at 35 percent.

Seeing the need for a system that allowed for more efficient use of the utility's human and financial resources, Middletown installed E-Coder® solid state absolute encoders, R900® radio frequency meter interface units (RF MIUs), R900® Gateway fixed network data collectors, and N_SIGHT™ R900® host software.

By June 2005, the Borough's Utility Operations and Maintenance Department had a complete fixed network in place to serve a population of 9,254 comprised of 2,592 residential, 86 commercial and 27 industrial accounts, as well as nearly 1,700 people in neighboring communities. Initially, Klinepeter used 10 collectors; the introduction of the second version of the Gateway in 2009 reduced the number to just four.

The results transformed operations. The R900 System not only provided meter reading accuracy, but it also allowed Middletown to reduce non-revenue water by almost 10 percent, reduce reading man-hours needed from nearly 2,000 a year to 48, and — most impressively — achieve a $250,000 increase in revenue from combined water and sewerage services. The entire project paid for itself in just four years.

And Then There Were Two

In July 2012, the Borough replaced its four collectors with just two, installing the third version of the R900 Gateway data collectors in two of the same, more central locations.

And what has changed? "Not much," said Klinepeter. "And that's a good thing, as our system was working very well before. However, immediately after installing the Gateway v3, we saw we were getting the same number of reads and the same consistency with half the number of Gateways, and no drop-off in percentage."

In addition to the added range of each Gateway v3 and the ability to get more accurate data more often, Klinepeter is impressed with a new feature: version 3's UPS (uninterruptible power supply), which provides a backup power supply and preserves data in the event of a temporary power outage. "We had a big storm that hit the middle of town, and power was out for two hours, but we didn't lose anything," he said. "The UPS did its job."

Leaving the Gateways to do their work has led to a unique challenge. "We perform re-reads with the handheld so infrequently that, when we have sent someone out to check a read that looks abnormally high or like a possible stopped meter, they've forgotten how to operate the handheld," he laughed. "It's a testament to how reliable the system has been."

Smaller Changes for the Bigger Picture

Klinepeter also appreciates the reliability and performance of N_SIGHT R900 host software, which helps his team keep up with the ever-increasing pace and complexity of day-to-day operations. "Neptune has allowed us to see more data without changing the structure of the software," he said. "The system health is more detailed and, with its dashboard display, we can view the number of reads from each Gateway, as well as the number of MIUs that might not be getting a read due to a cut wire or other event. We can also catch a reverse flow or a continuous leak without having to go looking for it or run a report to see it," he said. "It's really operator-friendly."

Another enhancement in N_SIGHT R900 host software that he is especially enthusiastic about is the ability to customize date ranges on the calendar. "Now, say, when a business customer calls and wants to know its water consumption for the month, we can actually provide the data for the month instead of the billing cycle, which starts in one month and ends in the next," he explained. "It's really nice for customer service."

Sticking With What Works — Extremely Well

Still, what Klinepeter admires most about Middletown's R900 System is what hasn't changed since its installation: The reading and billing efficiency, the allocation of fewer man-hours to meter reading, the freeing up of manpower for other tasks including preventive maintenance, and the contributions to proactive customer service. "We continue to see leaks and notify customers before they have a chance to discover them," he said. "Recently, we noticed high consumption for one account. When we went by the house, it turned out that the residents went on vacation, leaving a garden hose running with water ponding in the backyard. We were able to just turn the water off."

Continuing to build on the same Neptune AMI system is also a huge plus, as the Borough still uses the same meters, encoders and MIUs that it installed seven years ago. "Once you have what works really well, you don't want to throw it out," said Klinepeter. "And when we've had improvements, there have been no disruptions in our operations. We don't have to totally relearn things when a new version comes out."

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