Taking to the Road

An AMR package helps a rural North Carolina water utility save labor and costs, improve billing accuracy, and get a handle on leaks
Taking to  the Road
Field technicians can track route progress on laptop computers in their vehicles. Data from the day’s work is easily updated to the billing system.

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Davie County Public Utilities in Mocksville, N.C., had 11,000 water meters divided into 30 rural reading routes spread across 400 square miles. Meters are often separated by a half-mile or more. Covering the routes took a driver and meter reader 50 days, an expense that stretched the utility’s budget.

“The utility was growing and we couldn’t keep up,” says director Johnny Lambert. “Consequently, we began researching automated meter reading, what the systems provided, and the cost. Since we bill every other month, we looked for solutions that allowed us to pull the whole billing cycle out of a meter if necessary.”

The answer lay in the next county. A Mueller Systems representative offered a pilot program of 25 Hersey brass water meters and the company’s Hot Rod automated meter reading package. “The program included the Hot Rod transmitters, Street Machine receiver, Pit Stop RF Reader, EZ Reader route management software, and the Mi.Node W interface unit,” says Lambert. “Mueller even provided the laptop computer.”

For the pilot project, Lambert selected a town with meters that were more than 25 years old. The test was so successful that the utility changed out 1,200 more meters, then began replacing 2,000 per year. It has upgraded half the meters, and the meter technician, Josh McChesney, now has time to ride hot spot routes to check for leaks.


High performance

The Mueller Systems representative installed the software and integrated it with the utility’s billing program. He also trained the office staff on how to load and unload routes into the laptop, then instructed McChesney on how to use it.

The Hot Rod transmitter modules on the meters convey data every two seconds on multiple channels, increasing the ability to capture drive-by readings by up to 400 percent. The lightweight Street Machine receiver transfers data to the laptop.

During the reading process, McChesney can view route progress screens, including the number of meters remaining to be read, collected meter readings, and meter status data. At the end of the day, he downloads the data to the EZ Reader software, then uploads it to the utility’s billing program with a few clicks of a mouse.

Meters, in boxes at the rights-of-way, appear as green dots on route maps. As McChesney drives past the locations, the dots disappear as the information downloads. The dots turn red if the data logger detects a small and continuous leak, reverse flow, or no flow, or registers a disconnect.

Because the system enables McChesney to read 3,000 meters in two days, he has time to repair mechanical problems immediately. He uses door hangers to notify customers of meter issues, especially if the problem is between the meter and the house — the homeowner’s responsibility. If the leak is severe, he may cut off the service to help prevent potential property damage.

“Josh can run three- to 90-day reports on the alarms,” says Lambert. “They tell how long the meter has had 24-hour usage and provide a thorough history of the problem. This is a huge benefit.”

The data logger shows Lambert at what hour a leak started and when the water was shut off to fix it. He can print and mail records to customers. “The information provides irrefutable evidence that water went through the meter,” he says. “It’s very cost efficient to do, and the longest anything leaks now is two months.”


Improved efficiency

The modules also store six months of hourly consumption data. To download it, McChesney launches EZ Profiler software and swipes a magnet over the top of the module to display the monthly, daily, or hourly consumption data on bar graphs. “The graphs help us justify the amount being charged and resolve high-water-bill complaints,” says Lambert.

Accurate profiles and measurements have improved billing. “It’s easy for readers to confuse numbers when they read 300 or 400 meters a day, or for the co-worker in the truck to possibly hear the readings incorrectly,” says Lambert. “Since we implemented this system, we have not had to recheck readings.”

The user-friendly program has reduced human error, improved billing and usage tracking, and increased the security of the water system. The time savings enable workers to pay more attention to areas prone to leaks or other service-related issues.

“Implementing the technology helps us meet our commitment of providing customers with the best service we can while ensuring that they continue to receive safe, clean drinking water,” says Lambert.


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