AMR system benefits small Illinois utility
Water utilities continue to have to do more with less; in the town of North City, Ill., the same is true for North City-Coello Water, the municipal water system. As a very small utility, it has limited budget, staff and resources. Yet when it came time to change out all meters and implement a new automated meter reading (AMR) system, the utility had to tackle the project without any complications.
According to Loretta Basolo, water clerk for North City-Coello Water, success depended upon effective project planning and coordination with partners.
Prior to the new metering system, North City-Coello’s meter reading process involved an outside contractor manually reading meters. Between the 30 hours of work the utility was invoiced per month and the high number of estimated reads, North City-Coello decided it was time to invest in a new meter reading solution. “We decided that if we’re going to invest in a new system, let’s get something that will last,” Basolo said. After completing the selection process, the utility chose smart ultrasonic meters and an AMR system from Kamstrup.
The scope of North City-Coello’s meter changeout consisted of replacing 350 meters, all residential, some more than 40 years old, with smart ultrasonic meters and installing a new AMR system. North City’s team, consisting of Basolo, one IT consultant, and two city volunteers, managed the project and performed the work. The steps to the project can be separated into three elements: preparations, installation and AMR system setup.
Before the work started, North City-Coello used its annual newsletter to notify customers that work would take place at the meter locations. Then, during the winter months, before meters were delivered to the utility’s office, the city began retrofitting meter pit lids to accommodate new pit antennas where needed. The process included removing each lid, taking it to the shop to drill the hole, and returning it to cover the pit. As the lids were removed from their locations, both the pits and lids were numbered on site so that they were easy to return to their correct locations; additionally, temporary tin lids were put in place of the meter lids for safety reasons. The pre-work of retrofitting the lids before meters arrived was key to closing the gap between installing the meters and being able to read them immediately with the new AMR system—so as to have no gaps in the billing cycle.
Once North City-Coello received its new meters, it created an operational “convoy” to manage the meter installations. Comprised of three people, the first worker cleared each meter well, as it is not uncommon for North City’s meters to be filled with water. Then, the second worker installed each meter; it proved helpful that this smart water meter is compact and therefore easy to install in challenging or tight installation conditions. Finally, the third worker cleared the area of the old meter and the new meter’s packaging.
“With such efficient teamwork, we were amazed at how quickly the meters were installed,” Basolo said.
“We cooperated with a phenomenal team to install 63 meters a day, including fitting our pit lids with the external antennas, in just 10 working days,” said Linda Gilbert, one of the city’s volunteers on the project.
AMR System Setup
The next steps were to set up and perform the first meter reading using the AMR system. With the AMR system North City selected, the meters are read using geocoding, or geographic coordinates, on Google Maps. The meter reading process then only involves the meter reader taking a tablet and small radio converter that is about the size of a smartphone into the vehicle. Together, these two devices make up the only meter reading equipment necessary to read all meters in the system. On its first meter reading route with the new system, North City achieved 100% meter reading. Additionally, while it used to take an outside contractor more than 30 working hours a month to manually read the meters, the new AMR process took 3.5 hours and can be handled internally by a North City-Coello employee.
“It was worth the time and effort to install this new system—well worth it,” Basolo said.