AMR in Plano, Texas - Raising the Bar, Lowering Headcount
Ask any utility in a booming Sunbelt state and the meter-reading team will probably tell you that service hook-ups have a funny way of outpacing personnel budgets.
Ask any utility in a booming Sunbelt state and the meter-reading team will probably tell you that service hook-ups have a funny way of outpacing personnel budgets. And when meter readers are stretched thin, utilities are more likely to face reading errors, customer complaints, employee injuries and staff turnover.
To keep up with city growth and keep valued employees safe, The City of Plano, TX, could have found the money to increase meter-reading staff. But, why merely get the job done when you could improve customer service and elevate meter-reader status through a more innovative approach? That’s what Plano decided to do by deploying an automatic meter reading (AMR) system to serve its water utility customers.
Plano needed 10 readers prior to installing its automatic meter reading system. Today, the city only needs two to do the job.
Located 20 miles north of downtown Dallas, Plano is home to 350,000 residents, and it is one of the fastest growing suburbs in the region. The City boasts 1,080 miles of water lines with a capacity of 225 million gallons of water daily through more than 77,000 meters.
In light of their access, manpower and safety concerns, the team at Plano’s water utility realized that the time had come for AMR. That’s when technology evaluations began, and the group evaluated several AMR vendors. Like managers at many utilities, Plano’s staff had a long list of system requirements.
First and foremost, the group wanted their AMR system to be cost effective, scalable, easy to install, and adaptable to any water meter. Data logging was also on the wish list. Plano managers sought a system that would provide enough interval data to proactively find leaks.
Another must-have: customer service capabilities. City managers wanted the power to tap daily consumption profiles and provide customers with information about unexpected usage and surprisingly high bills.
During 1998, the city field-tested AMR products from all major vendors. In the fall of 1999, Plano selected Datamatic Ltd.® to install a system throughout the utility’s operating territory. Installation began immediately, starting with problem areas such as difficult to read commercial meters and other time-consuming routes. The project was eventually expanded to include installation on residential-route meters.
Datamatic’s FIREFLY system “fit our specific needs and will allow all of our meter and AMR unit upgrades and replacements to continue smoothly well into the future,” says Keylon. “This helped reduce installation costs and accelerated the implementation process. We were also able to use our existing meters with Datamatic’s FIREFLY MIU, which saved us both time and money.”
Giving Customers Better Service
Datamatic’s FIREFLY MIU archives consumption data at user-definable intervals using a feature called ProfilePLUSTM. When set to record hourly readings, each water FIREFLY can hold over 74 days of hourly consumption readings. Data is extracted from the MIU using a ROADRUNNER handheld or field laptop computer that can generate detailed reports, graphs and consumption timelines.
Before installing its AMR system, collecting data from 1,000 meters took all day. Now it only takes one hour.
“AMR has increased the amount of information available to help our customers,” Kemp explains. “With the capability to store daily and hourly information on individual customers, we can show customers their pattern of water usage over a period of weeks. We can demonstrate not only overall monthly consumption, but also how usage was distributed throughout the day.”
This profiling capability has been a huge help to many customers whose water, and dollars, have gone down the drain with wasteful leaks. In one case, customer service representatives helped a landlord find a leak in the vacant portion of a strip mall. When total consumption didn’t match up with the sub-meters in the mall, technicians knew a problem existed. When they found it, the landlord’s bill dropped by 500,000 gallons of water per month.
At another site, the profile found lawn sprinklers kicking on soon after a factory closed at night and staying on for the remainder of the night. “A simple adjustment to the irrigation system solved the problem,” says Jean Spencer, Plano’s Customer and Utility Services manager.
Spencer also recalls the time an elderly couple called with high-bill concerns. “The couple only used one of their two bathrooms,” she explains. “The other was used only when they had family or friends visiting.” As it turns out, the extra toilet leaked, and with no houseguests around to jiggle the toilet handle, the leak resulted in a high bill. Fortunately, continuous consumption shows up in ProfilePLUS.
“Datamatic’s profiling feature has been a great tool in resolving customer water consumption and billing issues,” Spencer says.
She adds that the technology allows the utility to raise the level of service to customers by giving them access to usage data, as well.
Not surprisingly, Spencer also notes that utility managers and elected representatives alike view the AMR project as “an absolute success.” More than a cost-saver, AMR has been a political asset for the City of Plano. As Spencer enthusiastically says, it gives city officials “bragging rights.”
For more information about Datamatic AMR systems and products, visit www.datamatic.com or call (800) 880-2878.
About the Author:
As Vice President of Sales, Scott Durham has been responsible for Datamatic’s successful marketing and customer acquisition activities for the past five years. His background includes market research, sales management, analysis, operations and business planning/strategy. With a degree in mechanical engineering, he is equally adept with the technical aspects of integrated and automated systems.
Datamatic is a leader in utility meter reading automation. The company’s innovative ideas created an industry when it installed the first electronic meter reading (EMR) system in 1980. For nearly a quarter of a century, Datamatic has been at the forefront in the design, implementation and support of advanced utility meter reading and field data collection solutions for gas, water and electric utilities worldwide. Additional information about the company and its products is available at www.datamatic.com.