Lorie Russo tells the story of Invensys, a Pennsylvania company founded a century ago to produce water meters – and still helping utilities to optimize the efficiency and economics of their metering systems.
Since the late 1800s, water utilities have been using water meters to measure customer usage for the purpose of billing them for their consumption. The more accurately the meter measures, the more revenue the utility obtains to pay its expenses and keep its system well maintained. Answering the call for efficient and cost-effective metering is Invensys Metering Systems – a company that, since 1870, has been a leader in providing water utilities with advanced metering equipment.
Although it has branched into the production of automated meter reading systems for gas and electric companies, by far the predominant focus of the company’s business is water metering equipment and services. Invensys offers a wide range of water metering products, ranging from 1/2-inch sizes for typical residences to 16-inch Turbo Meter™ sizes used in industrial applications. In the 1950s, the company introduced the industry’s first meter with a sealed register, which revolutionized meter design and eliminated myriad problems caused by water infiltration of meter registers. Since the 1970s, the company has also been the industry leader in providing innovative systems for the automated and automatic reading of meters.
A Decade of Change
Based in Uniontown, Pa., in the last decade Invensys has undergone transformations that have enabled it to increase the quality of its products, streamline production, minimize lead times and better control the costs of bringing its products to market. In 1989, after a long tenure as a division of Rockwell International, Invensys was sold to BTR, a multinational conglomerate based in England. Says Doug Neely, vice president of sales and marketing, “We became a wholly owned subsidiary of BTR and chose the name Sensus Technology, the name that represented us until 1999, when a merger of BTR with Siebe resulted in our becoming Invensys Metering Systems.”
Invensys manufactures its products in four plants, all of which work under strict quality-control conditions. The mother ship is in Uniontown, where meter sizes up to 2 inches and meter registers and other electronic products are made. Texarkana, Ark., is the home of the company’s Turbo Meter™, SRH Compound Meter™ and FireLine Meter™ production. Orlando, Fla., is where Invensys’ multijet line of meters is manufactured. Juarez, Mexico, is a multipurpose facility. A fifth location, in Santa Barbara, Calif., does advanced research and development of electronic systems incorporated into Invensys products.
“We’re positioned quite well for the future,” says Neely. “We continue to engineer and manufacture innovative, premium products, and we’re making significant investments in our manufacturing facilities to ensure quality and keep costs in control. It’s all aimed at remaining the leader through serving customers’ needs. Something we’re particularly attuned to is providing prospects and customers with what we’re confident is the best presale and post-sale customer support and service in the industry. I don’t know what company first used it, but we bend over backwards to pay off the old saying, ‘Our customers don’t get to know how really good we are until they call us for technical support or to get help with solving a problem.’”
Raising the Bar
“Over the past couple of decades, we’ve developed some industry-leading AMR (automatic meter reading) systems, which make meter reading and billing processes a lot more efficient, accurate and economical for utilities,” says Blake Anderson, Invensys’ marketing manager for AMR products and services. “A primary benefit of Invensys’ AMR systems is that they give a utility a lot of flexibility and cost-effectiveness in terms of starting out with a basic, semi-automatic system, then upgrading it into one of the most advanced systems presently available. Then they can upgrade even further to more advanced systems that are just now on the engineering drawing boards or even still in the concept stage.
“For example,” Anderson continues, “a utility could start out with our least expensive TouchRead™ System, which is now considered semi-automated, then upgrade it to either our RadioRead™ or PhonRead™ System, which are among the most advanced of automatic reading systems.” The TouchRead™ System requires that the meter reader, equipped with a reading “gun,” physically touches the tip of the gun to a TouchPad module that is wired to a meter register and located in an accessible place, such as an outside wall of a building. With a pull of the trigger, the reading is recorded in the solid-state memory of a shoe-size unit clipped to the meter reader’s belt.
With the RadioRead™ System, which uses low-power radio transmission methodology, the readings can be transmitted and captured in a recorder contained in a vehicle that merely drives along the meter-reading route. As opposed to a meter reader having to go inside each building to read a meter, the efficiency and cost saving benefits to the utility are significant.
With the PhonRead™ System, the meter registers are wired to an electronic interface unit that automatically phones in the meter readings to the utility on a schedule set by the utility. It’s all done automatically, without someone having to go out to do readings, and the utilities like that because it allows them to deploy their people on other projects.
According to Tim Harriger, national product manager, the AMR systems are attuned to geographic traditions as to where the meters are installed. “In the colder climates, the meters are installed inside to avoid freezing,” says Harriger. “In warmer climates where that isn’t a problem, meters are almost always installed in an in-ground pit or vault covered with a meter box, with typical meter settings being 1 to 6 feet below grade.”
Because it’s not uncommon for the pits to become flooded, which makes visual reading of a meter nearly impossible, in the TouchRead™ System a touch pad that’s wired to the meter register is incorporated into the meter box lid. In such installations, the tip of the reading gun is at the end of a canelike reading unit so the reader doesn’t have to bend down to get a reading.
Both the RadioRead™ and PhonRead™ Systems feature an electronic interface unit that transmits the reading data via radio or telephony methods, which is installed with the meter either inside a building or in a meter pit. Engineered for the purpose, the interface units are designed and made to work reliably in high-moisture environments.
Says Harriger, “A major advantage of the Invensys RadioRead™ System is that it uses Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum, or DSSS, technology, which was developed for the military so they could communicate between submarines and surface ships. Invensys engineers in Santa Barbara adapted the technology for meter-reading applications. The strong signal that DSSS produces gets through where other types of modulation can’t, and thereby provides extended reading ranges. Major features and benefits of our PhonRead™ System are that it doesn’t require batteries as with some other systems, and it doesn’t require any special arrangements or equipment with the telephone company, which eliminates telephone company tariffs. And, with all Invensys AMR systems, built-in diagnostic features make it virtually impossible to get an incorrect reading. If something’s not working right, an error message is both signaled and recorded to alert the utility to the need to check out the situation.”
Adjunct products that support Invensys AMR Systems include Windows-based AutoRead software systems, which are used by a utility to get its meter readings into its computer system (usually a PC) to generate customer bills and provide a wealth of reports used for management purposes. A sister company, IMSof-Tech, based in Texas, produces a number of billing-software systems, further allowing Invensys to pay off one of its slogans, “Providing Total Metering System Solutions.”
Another adjunct company, IMServ, headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., carries the concept even further by providing metering project management services. Says Neely, “Somewhat akin to, but not going nearly as far as, privatization, some public utilities are now outsourcing various functions within their metering system operations, a slow but growing trend. To further serve our customers, IMServ was created to provide a host of services that include writing specifications and soliciting proposals for equipment, purchasing, inventorying and installing the equipment, to doing the billing and revenue collecting for the utility. Piecing it all together, we can literally give a utility whatever it needs for its metering program, from the metering equipment to a periodic revenue payment.”
Neely exhibits confidence when he says that Invensys Metering Systems is well positioned to meet the present and future needs of customers in its targeted core markets. “First, we’re always soliciting and getting feedback from our customers as to what their present needs are and what their future needs are likely to be. We invest substantially in research and development to bring innovative, cost-effective products to the marketplace. We’re always looking for and implementing ways to enhance our quality and optimize our manufacturing operations. And we bust our backs to give customers the best quality support, training and service that’s possible. As long as we keep that approach, and we have every intention of doing so, we know we’ll always be right for today, and ready for tomorrow.”