In May 2001, the Montgomery (Ala.) Water Works and Sanitary Sewer Board selected Neptune’s ARB Utility Management Systems to upgrade its existing 75,000 water meters to absolute encoder technology.
As part of the project, the board installed the manufacturer’s R900 Radio Frequency Meter Interface Units (RF MIUs) and implemented mobile data collectors to read the meters. The completion of this AMR project improved operational efficiencies and customer service, and put the board and the city of Montgomery on the forefront of meter reading technology, according to the Montgomery Water Works and Sanitary Sewer Board.
As a large utility covering 150 sq miles, there were many challenges facing the board. The board had recently installed a new Customer Information System (CIS) and wanted an AMR system that would complement the improvements in customer service.
In particular, the board wanted to move from bi-monthly to monthly billing for several reasons: to identify undetected leaks in a more timely manner; reduce delinquent bills; help eliminate unauthorized water use; and increase cash flow. Additionally, the board wanted to improve meter reading accuracy and decrease unaccounted-for water.
The board employed nine meter readers to read approximately 75,000 accounts spread across a large geographic area. Improved operational efficiency was another motivation for the installation of an AMR system. This would allow the board to reassign and retrain meter readers to function as field service technicians to assist with customer service work orders.
In 1999, the board became a field test site for the R900 RF MIU during its product development phase. This test provided confirmation that AMR would be a viable solution for Montgomery.
The RF MIUs provided many benefits the board required: improved meter reading accuracy; reduced costs; minimized read times; addressed hard-to-read meters; and installed easily.
During the field test of the AMR system, the board installed a new CIS. Neptune and the board’s CIS provider, Systems and Software, worked together to provide a seamless inter-face between the meter reading software and the CIS. The project “go-ahead” was given in January 2001authorizing the installation of 75,000 meters with ProRead (ARB VI) Absolute Encoders and R900 RF MIUs. Although the board worked with a third-party installation company, they were fully involved in the process, performing a majority of the installations themselves.
The new technology gave the board options that they never had before. Initial expectations were far exceeded and the following benefits resulted:
- Leaks are identified in a timely manner because of monthly billing, reducing costs for adjustments and unused water;
- The accuracy of the readings has reduced the number of re-reads, reducing the number of work orders and associated costs in both the maintenance and meter reading departments;
- Monthly billing enabled the board to reduce due dates from 21 to 10 days, increasing cash flows and decreasing bad-debt write-offs;
- Monthly billing reduced the cost of printing and mailing delinquent notices;
- Monthly billing also created a 30% increase in the number of customers signed up for bank draft, reducing mailing costs and guaranteeing cash flows on specific days; and
- Read-times were reduced so dramatically that the board was able to lower its meter reading staff from nine to four employees, enabling them to balance both work flow and cash flow. Some of these meter readers were reassigned/retrained to field service positions and the others took early retirement, resulting in reduced costs in salaries, employee benefits, uniforms and mileage.
The issue of unaccounted-for water was not one of the board’s original objectives because they had completed a changeout just four years earlier. As part of this project they replaced meters older than 10 years and lowered unaccounted-for water by 3%.
With Neptune’s ARB Utility Management Systems, the board has realized improvements in operational efficiencies, operational cost savings, unaccounted-for water and customer service. With this AMR solution, the board was successful in not only meeting but also exceeding its initial expectations.
“This AMR system was selected because it was the best choice overall,” said Charlene Wachs, assistant general manager of finance and administration for the Montgomery Water Works and Sanitary Sewer Board. “We are confident the results speak for themselves.”