Small Changes, Big Impact
One natural gas utility’s journey to reading meters 26.8x faster using Holland’s AMR Solution
Study by Katie Flowers & Caleb Hulbert
Arlington Natural Gas Company is a family-owned and operated utility provider located in Van Buren, Ohio. Arlington was one of the founding members of the Ohio Gas Association and has served over 100 years in the industry. Today, the utility maintains a small-scale operation supported by only five employees. Like many other private utility providers, Arlington serves just over 2,000 accounts, but covers an expansive territory made up of three counties.
Performing the day-to-day operations at a natural gas utility is a lot of work, and a wide geographical territory can be particularly demanding on utility providers with a smaller staff like Arlington. Another area of strain for their small operation involves the considerable time and energy devoted to performing manual meter reads during each monthly read cycle.
For decades, Arlington technicians spent 80 man-hours each billing cycle manually reading meters from the far corners of the territory to everywhere in between. Reading the entire service area typically required about two full days’ worth of labor between four or five technicians. It often took the team of technicians 15 man-hours just to read the four hundred meters concentrated in the town of Van Buren.
Each Arlington technician could expect to walk between 6 and 20 miles during every meter reading period. Over the years, these processes began to shed light on another challenge facing Arlington and the natural gas industry alike – an aging workforce. The time, energy, and labor involved in collecting manual meter reads started becoming more difficult for the crew and eventually, more taxing on routine or ancillary operations performed during the read cycle. After considering these factors, the staff at Arlington began investigating new technologies and meter reading methods to ease the pain-points caused by a now antiquated method.
The Holland Solution
Our large offering of industry-leading gas products allowed us to find a solution that best fit the Arlington staff’s needs. After consulting with the Holland Supply team on the best available solution for their problem, in August of 2021, the Arlington team began to implement a drive-by automated meter reading (AMR) solution in the town of Van Buren, which is one of their more densely populated service areas. Sensus SmartPoints were deployed at the town’s 374 accounts. In addition to the SmartPoints, the Holland Supply AMR solution was designed with a combination of a Vehicle Gateway Base Station (VGB), the AutoRead and AutoVu software solutions, and the CommandLink Wireless Interface, all from Sensus, to provide a turn-key solution. This technology provided physical relief from the many miles previously walked during manual meter reads and the remote reading capability, enabled by the VGB, protected technicians from inclement weather. The data-logging capability of the SmartPoints also enables Arlington to provide historical hourly consumption data to their customers in the event of a billing dispute. The alarm functionality of the deployed SmartPoints can notify the utility of possible meter set tampering and potential leaks downstream. The Holland team provided relevant training on each component of the system and was an on-site partner during implementation. Even with the Van Buren deployment completed, our team continues to offer technical support when needed.
By implementing this solution, Arlington technicians are now able to read meters by driving their routes with the VGB collector installed in their work vehicle. As the technician is driving, the VGB collector communicates with the SmartPoint radio attached to each meter, and meter consumption data is electronically transmitted to be processed by the AMR software and later synced with the billing system. By transmitting meter data from the VGB to the customer billing system, Arlington further benefited from not having to manually enter consumption data. Prior to the new solution, it would take their clerk a full 8-hour day to manually enter the consumption data for each of the 2,000 accounts into the billing system. The new AMR solution eliminates this portion of clerical duties.
Reading the 374 meters in just the town of Van Buren alone previously took a three-hour period for four or five technicians to complete, a total of 15 man-hours each month. With the AMR solution in place, it now only requires 30 minutes of one technician’s time each month. Another benefit involves the time saved during data entry. Prior to the AMR deployment, data entry for Van Buren alone would take at least 1.5 hours with nearly an additional hour just to spot check the data. Now the data for the Van Buren accounts can instead be verified by spot checking in under 10 minutes. This means the AMR solution in Van Buren helps Arlington read meters 26.8x faster by reducing the total monthly man-hours by 96.26%. The AMR solution also saved Arlington time in the billing department while mitigating potential errors caused by manual data entry.
Arlington has seen significant time savings by deploying this technology over a small portion of their service territory just in Van Buren. There are high expectations for substantial time-saving benefits once the solution is completely deployed throughout the rest of their meter population.
Arlington is preparing to add additional Sensus SmartPoints to the remainder of their service area. Once their entire service territory is outfitted with SmartPoints, the Arlington staff estimates it will take approximately 7 man-hours for just one technician to read every meter in their system. The expected result is that Arlington will be reading their entire meter population almost 12 times faster and will see a 91.58% reduction in man-hours for each monthly reading cycle.
Interested in seeing how an AMR solution could improve your utility’s meter reading process? Contact our team to get started!