Large Meters: The Industry Workhorses

Feb. 19, 2008

About the author: Richard Straley is manager of marketing communications for Sensus Metering Systems. Straley can be reached at 724.425.7916 or by e-mail at [email protected].

Vendors to the water industry continue to improve technological strategies via advancements in automatic meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), and as a result, utilities are consistently provided with more solutions for overall operational efficiencies. But a closer look at the break-neck speed of this innovation reveals a gaping hole, one that shows a fundamental element woefully lagging behind: the commercial meter.

Despite statistics stating that approximately 50% or more of a utility’s revenue depends on large meters and that a utility’s fiscal health rests on the large meter’s efficiency, accuracy and dependability, these industry workhorses are commonly relegated to the margins of a water meter system strategy. That can be a dangerous proposition because the smallest inaccuracy of the high-flow volume can translate into a utility losing thousands of dollars each month.

On the flip side, there has also been a lack of development in large metering technology in recent decades. In fact, compound, turbine and fire service metering technology still use the same mechanical designs introduced 40 years ago.

To keep up with AMR/AMI advancements, current large meters utilize direct-read registers with enhanced functionality, enabling the meter to communicate with various AMR/AMI solutions—a welcome improvement. But the direct connection required from the meter impeller to the register, which requires mechanical gearing, has not changed from its original design.

How it Works

AMR/AMI is top-of-mind throughout the industry because of its ability to deliver enhanced customer service, generate accurate reads, detect leaks, aid in conservation efforts and provide tremendous efficiency for a utility. The logical step is for large commercial meters to now also fall in line and provide solutions that increase revenue and improve operational efficiency.

Based on successful field testing and years of development, large meter experts at Sensus Metering Systems believe they have the answer. Sensus is releasing OMNI, a large commercial water meter, to answer the bell and protect revenues while providing operational benefits in its North American market.

As a bottom line, Sensus’ OMNI meter captures extremely low water flow measurements with an innovative concept that requires virtually no maintenance because there is only one moving part. The center of this new meter is a concept called floating-ball technology (FBT).

FBT is a water-measuring device that is virtually weightless in water and has no friction while it operates as the ball impeller floats. The result, according to testing data, is a large meter that measures at both high and extremely low flow rates.

This expanded accuracy range allows recovery of more revenue than a traditional large water meter, giving a better return on investment. This expanded accuracy range also gives utilities the option to install an OMNI meter in place of a compound meter.

“We expect OMNI and its floating-ball technology to revolutionize the way data is collected in large meters,” said Jack Jackson, product manager for large meter technology in North America. “This meter not only satisfies all large meter requirements, but it does so in a manner that reflects what the industry is in need of—a reliable meter with pinpoint accuracy that doesn’t wear.”

By having only one moving part—the floating-ball impeller—the OMNI meter is easy and simple for customers to maintain. When service is needed, the measuring element will most likely be the only part needing attention, if at all. The simplification of internal components allows utilities to change the measuring element in a matter of minutes, keeping utility maintenance costs low.

OMNI also includes an all-electronic register that provides the customer with two electronic outputs. This enables customers to link the OMNI meter to an AMR or AMI system and a SCADA system at the same time. The register also contains a programmable display and a 31-day data logging function. All features are designed to optimize utility operations through advanced field support tools.

OMNI is designed for any variation of large metering applications and can be installed in all orientations. The meter will provide numerous opportunities for utility managers to revisit their large metering program and deploy new metering technology to optimize utility resources and generate revenue previously not captured.

Materials contained in the OMNI meter meet stringent environmental and regulatory concerns. OMNI has an epoxy-coated iron main case and a measuring chamber upper plate, plus durable composite internal parts. The meter also includes an integral strainer with a stainless steel strainer screen. All manufactured components are NSF-compliant and 100% lead-free.

The OMNI meter underwent years of research and development at the Sensus large water meter engineering facility in Hannover, Germany. Over this period, Sensus put the meter through rigorous testing paces to determine how the technology would perform at minimal flows never imagined possible by a large water meter.

Put to the Test

Before releasing OMNI to the industry, Sensus tested its abilities at several utilities, including one in Vancouver, British Columbia, to verify the meter’s operating performance as compared to Sensus’ current large meter products and those of competitive meters.

“By installing meters in actual utility meter locations, we were able to see the OMNI in action,” Jackson said. “The meter performed better than our expectations, especially in tight meter installations with pipe elbows and shutoff valves connected to the meter where today’s large meters would not last.”

The Vancouver utility put the OMNI in a difficult location, hoping to test its limits. The meter has right-angle piping immediately upstream and downstream from the equipment, and it is underwater at various points during the year.

Chris Dowsett, supervisor of maintenance and meter shop for the city of Vancouver, said its OMNI meter that was installed more than two years ago operates beyond expectations. “When initially discussing the pilot, we liked the features of a fully programmable, all-electronic register that could store data for 31 days, and the three modes of operation that can be changed and viewed in the field,” Dowsett said. “Additionally, we were very impressed with the accuracy range of the meter.”

According to Dowsett, testing is done on a quarterly basis using standard large meter testing procedures and an extremely low-to-high flow rate range, focusing on five different flow rates per test session.

“Once in the field, we actually became more impressed with the meter,” Dowsett said. “The all-electronic register simplified our maintenance and operational review of the meters, and the low-flow accuracy surpassed the original specifications communicated to us. In addition, after reviewing and putting the meter in operation, we got a better understanding of the measurement chamber and the floating-ball technology. With only one moving part and no mechanical gearing, it became obvious that this meter was going to be much simpler to maintain.”

OMNI is filling the technological void in the large meter industry. The result for utilities could mean retrieving previously lost revenue, saving in maintenance repairs, conserving water and providing customers with a solid, modern solution to high-volume demands—all with an environmentally safe metering technology design.

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About the Author

Richard Straley

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