Elster AMCO Water has pioneered the production of polymer-bodied water meters, installing more than 2.5 million throughout the world. Think polymers and not bronze, also think lead free, electronic and no moving parts, says Dan Harvey, who wrote this report about a pioneering Florida-based operation.
An evolutionary enterprise, Elster AMCO Water Inc. is taking water flow from its bronze age and into its polymer age. When it comes to water supply, bronze metal usage has prevailed for years. Elster is changing that and offers innovative products to underscore the point. “We are actively developing and deploying polymer products to replace bronze,” says Thomas Gwynn, the company’s president.
This development should have far-ranging impact: As Gwynn indicates, there are about 50,000 water purveyors in the United States, and each is a potential Elster customer. The Ocala, Fla.- based company has already captured a significant percentage of that number (a large market share!) – in part to its high level of customer service. But success involves far more.
“Customer service demonstrates that we care, and it helps us retain customers. However, customer service alone does not carry the day,” says Gwynn. “A truly successful company needs to introduce new products and technologies that will affect a market change. And that’s what we are doing. We’ve established a reputation as a manufacturer of sophisticated metering technology and systems solutions that are changing the game.”
In June 2011, Elster (which also offers electric and gas measurement products and systems) backs up Gwynn’s comments with demonstrations when the company displayed advanced water meters at the American Water Works Association (AWWA) annual meeting. This conference/exposition placed Elster in a bright spotlight, enabling the company to showcase metering technology characterized by improved measurement accuracy, performance and operational efficiencies – elements that are modernizing water infrastructures across the world.
In particular, Elster demonstrated how its new products comply with lead-free initiatives. “Our new products communicate a three-part message: electronics, no moving parts and no lead,” says Gwynn. “Indeed, ‘lead free’ has become our mantra.”
Legislative actions, which require the reduction – even the removal – of lead-containing products attached to the water stream, will substantially impact the US market, as well as markets in Mexico and Canada. “And, as my duties take in all of Elster’s North American activities, this is something I am very focused on,” Gwynn adds.
The Environmental Protection Agency and similar watchdog organizations indicate that lead can be harmful to health, and Elster embraces the inevitable changes being mandated and driven by new legislation. “Removing lead from drinking water is one of our goals,” says Gwynn.
The company already offers products that comply with current as well as future no-lead or low-lead initiatives.
Customers are on board. “Many administrators of water systems realize that low-lead initiatives are a major driving factor in our market,” observes Gwynn. “That is not only positive for end-user consumers, but it is something that will help our business as we move forward.”
PROVING ITS POINT
At the recent industry showplace, Elster highlighted its evoQ4 product, an electronic meter designed for commercial and industrial applications. It involves no moving parts and is, of course, lead free. This stainless-steel polyethylene epoxy-lined, electromagnetic meter provides customers a high degree of accuracy through a wide range of flows and varied conditions and applications. It also delivers to the company a sweet dilemma. “This very successful product gave us a problem that every manufacturer wishes to face. Response has been so great that we are working hard to keep up with demand,” says Gwynn.
Other Elster metering products displayed at the event represent technological breakthroughs that will enable water utility organizations to update infrastructure and offer new customer services. These products include the SM700 Smart Meter, which is well-suited for advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployments. The polymer-lined, battery-operated product features a no-moving parts fluidic oscillator that improves performance, accuracy and reliability. Gwynn describes the relevance of the “no moving parts” concept: “That means that we can provide water meters with parts that won’t wear out because of mechanical movement, and that is one of the reasons why we can offer better accuracy for the life of the product,” he says.
“This helps us to move forward in a market climate where AMI systems are becoming more prevalent. The accuracy is superior to what was offered about 20 years ago, and has assumed increasing importance, because it makes meter data easier to review. In turn, this makes inaccuracies more discernable – a clear and present market value,” Gwynn adds.
The conference also allowed Elster to highlight its C700, a polymer meter that combines advanced engineering (e.g., integrated metal threads) and field-tested measurement technologies that support the aforementioned no-lead initiatives. The threading is innovative because most other polymer products use plastic threading that is easily stripped, or cross-thread, which renders the meter useless. Elster’s integrated bronze threading makes the polymer meter usable for a longer duration and is well-accepted by the marketplace.
Elster AMCO Water Inc. is part of Elster Group SE, one of the world’s largest electricity, gas and water measurement and control providers. The parent organization, which successfully completed an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in 2010, has delivered more than 5.1 million smart metering devices and more than 90 EnergyAxis® Smart Grid systems throughout the world. Its technology has touched North, Central and South America, as well as Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean. As the parent company relates, smart metering systems allow utilities to implement energy conservation measures, demand response programs, Smart Grid initiatives, and smart home solutions. All of this drives operational efficiencies that deliver value creation previously unperceived.
Meanwhile, Elster AMCO Water Inc. has placed its fingerprint upon the United States’ largest metropolitan centers. “We serve the major potable water markets, which means the largest cities such as New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Boston, Cleveland and Las Vegas,” says Gwynn. “There you will find hundreds of thousands of small meters that register water use, and it is there we come into play.”
For instance, in June 2011, Elster signed a three-year contract with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP), meaning that Elster would deliver more than 120,000 C700 water meters (the leading product spotlighted at the AWWA meeting). This contract award builds on Elster’s existing relationship with New York: Since 2008, the company has delivered more than 450,000 of its C700 meters to the city. The NYC DEP, which manages the water supply for nine million residents in and around the city, was attracted to C700 technology, as it is an oscillating piston-type water meter that features an advanced positive displacement design. The NYC DEP deems this important, as its infrastructure supports efficient and safe delivery of about one billion gallons of water daily.
In the same month, the City of Cleveland Division of Water chose Elster AMCO Water Inc.’s C700 meters as part of its new AMI project. The city plans to install 100,000 meters and deploy retrofit kits for 51,000 existing Elster meters.
Gwynn adds a strong point about Elster’s offerings. “We have developed a broad line of commercial and industrial meters to serve large accounts, so that doesn’t just mean drinking water. It also includes water used for industrial purposes.”
And that points to an accurate adjective for a company that promotes accuracy: multiple. “Our talent resides in addressing multiple opportunities by bringing multiple products to multiple markets around the world,” says Gwynn. “And in the past five years, particularly in the United States, we have brought multiple innovations to the market, as a result of our investment in research, development and design.”
Gwynn adds a closing comment that, appropriately, involves water. “We are building up steam. You may not have even seen the best of us yet.”