Fixed-Network Automatic Meter Reading (AMR)System Can Transform Any Water Utility Into An Efficiency Expert
Putting the right information, in the right hands, at the right time, can not only transform a utility into a productivity engine but can also make it a world-class customer service organization.
Putting the right information, in the right hands, at the right time, can not only transform a utility into a productivity engine but can also make it a world-class customer service organization. If that sounds more like wishful thinking than what's presently possible, think again. With its STAR® Fixed Network Wireless AMR System installed on over one million meters nationwide, Hexagram, Inc. (Cleveland, OH) has done the unthinkable by helping many utilities (gas, water, and electric) reap unexpected benefits for their organizations and customers alike.
More Than Just Meter Reading
There are some basic fundamentals to automatic meter reading — from reduced labor costs to more accurate bills. What sets Hexagram's STAR System apart is that from every meter, every day, it consistently and reliably delivers accurate meter readings, virtually eliminating estimated bills. In fact, Jerry Johnson, General Manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), with over 120,000 meters connected to the STAR System, stated in a recent interview "with the STAR System in place, estimated reads are a thing of the past, providing for faster bill payments and improved revenue for WASA."
The STAR System is also a complete end-to-end solution — from multiport transmission units, to intelligent data collection hardware, to sophisticated software tools and diagnostic reports. Everything is provided to enable a utility to realize major productivity gains.
STAR at a Glance
The STAR System is a three-part, fixed-network AMR solution. Meter Transmission Units (MTUs) are installed on each meter in a utility's service area. MTUs transmit meter readings to solar-powered Data Collection Units (DCUs), which in turn send the data on to the utility's Network Control Computer (NCC). From there, the utility's billing, meter, and customer service departments all have access to the steady flow of information. STAR System software tools, especially for use by customer service representatives, enable timely, accurate answers to call questions and quick problem resolutions.
Every Meter, Every Day
STAR System MTUs work with nearly every brand of water meter and encoder, which eliminates the need to change out every meter for just one AMR technology. Each MTU is packaged in a hermetically sealed polycarbonate housing and is completely waterproof and submersible, making it impervious to moisture or debris intrusion. At preprogrammed intervals, each MTU collects usage data, then automatically transmits this data to data collectors located several miles away. Usage data is also more timely because readings are taken at least twice a day versus monthly or quarterly for manual readings. The STAR System can actually transmits readings as often as every five minutes, so value-added services, such as usage profiling, for high revenue generating C&I customers can be easily provided.
One STAR MTU can actually be used to service two meters, a real plus for utilities that provide multiple services (water and electric or gas) or have multiple meters at the same location. Maintenance costs and requirements are negligible — MTUs have a 20-year non-replaceable battery life, eliminating expensive battery changeout programs.
The STAR System's steady stream of data also aids in quick problem identification and resolution. Leaks, outages, tampers, and theft-of-service situations are easy to spot and address.
STAR System DCUs are pole-top or roof-top mounted. Each is solar-powered with battery back-up. A DCU collects data from thousands of meters within a several mile radius. It receives, time stamps, error checks, and stores data from each MTU. At least once daily, or more frequently if desired, the DCU transmits the data it collects to the utility's network computer. This can be done by telephone modem, cellular modem, or a range of other communications options, including a utility's dark fiber network or WiFi technology.
In fact, according to Jim Theis, Facilities Manager, Holland Board of Public Works (with over 37,000 electric and water meters), one of the reasons why the City of Holland, Michigan, chose the STAR System was that it could easily connect to the city's existing fiber-optic network. Unlike many other AMR systems, the STAR System met this critical requirement.
Your Own Broadcast Channel
There are multiple ways that AMR systems transmit data via radio frequency. Most use spread spectrum, 902-928 MHz, Part 15 devices, which represent an unlicensed portion of the spectrum, shared with transmitters for toys, remote controls, cordless phones, and similar devices. Range is limited to several hundred feet and potential for interference is great. The other option is assigned frequency, 450-470 MHz, narrow-band, Part 90 technology. STAR employs the latter, giving customers a secure, safe channel, the ability to operate at higher power, and to transmit across many miles compared to unlicensed systems.
Payoff on the Desktop
Collecting data is one thing. Transforming the raw data into useful information, then providing it to the utility's front line personnel — that's where the real value of an AMR system lies. STAR's software specialists have put together a system to take the information transmitted by the DCUs and disseminate it to everyone who needs it — customer service teams, system managers, field maintenance, security, and billing. STAR software features intuitive screens and useful tools for getting on-the-spot answers to customer queries. Employees have access to the data they need to do their jobs faster and better. Wishful thinking? Not hardly. Stellar performance is what the STAR AMR System is all about.
For more information, contact: Hexagram, Inc., 23905 Mercantile Road, Cleveland, OH 44122, 800.969.1057, 216.464.1057, Fax: 216.464.5308, Web: www.hexagram.com