When a major water utility in Honolulu, Hawaii, recently decided to move ahead technologically by switching to automatic meter-reading (AMR) devices, Sensus Metering Systems Inc. got the job. That project turned out to be one of largest water utility AMR installations in the United States – and a prime contract for a world leader in designing and manufacturing water, gas and electric meters and AMR technology.
The expertise that makes Sensus a global force in the meter industry has been developed for more than 100 years. The flow of events began when National Meter Company was founded in 1870. Most recently, in December 2003, the name Sensus Metering Systems was established to identify the newly acquired company, formerly named Invensys Metering Systems.
David Herchko, vice president of business development and marketing communications at Sensus and a 22-year-veteran of the organization, has a practical perspective on its new status as a public company. “We see Sensus going forward as an independent company and building on the strength of our core business as exciting. Our challenge is to fulfill the expectations of our customers and investors and of Sensus employees and management.”
Sensus has more than $500 million in global sales annually, including more than $325 million in the United States. Dan Harness, president and CEO, who also has been with the company more than 20 years, leads the business. Corporate headquarters are located in Raleigh, N.C. Sensus employs about 3,000 people around the world, with approximately 1,300 of them in the United States. Sales are made directly to customers and through distributors. The U.S. sales force comprises 60 representatives.
Sensus’ stature in the meter-manufacturing industry is well established: number one in water meters, among the top three in gas meters and number one in clamps and couplings. Having entered the electric-meter business within the past two years, the company is steadily building its customer base in that utility market. Additionally, Sensus’ investment in AMR technology has resulted in state-of-the-art products that are increasingly used to monitor gas and water flow in both residential and industrial settings.
Herchko says ongoing technological advancement is key to Sensus’ planning. “Our goal is to develop innovative technical solutions for the primary utility markets – water, gas and electric – and to support our products with superior service. The needs of our customers, who operate under cost and resource pressures that must be monitored and maintained efficiently, will be the main drivers for us.”
An overview of the manufacturer’s history provides highlights of Sensus product developments that set new standards in equipment for utility readings. Founded in 1870 in Brooklyn, N.Y, the company initially produced disc and piston water meters. In 1886, Pittsburgh Meter Company was started by George Westinghouse. The Pittsburgh, Pa. company merged with another meter manufacturer in 1927 to form Pittsburgh Equitable Meter Company, a producer of water disc, compound and turbine meters. In 1941, Pittsburgh Equitable moved to Brooklyn.
Willard F. Rockwell, who had become head of Pittsburgh Meter Company in 1921, bought Pittsburgh Equitable Meter Company in 1945 and renamed it Rockwell Manufacturing Company. In 1953, water-meter manufacturing operations were moved to a new facility in Uniontown, Pa. The plant produced positive displacement (disc and piston) and turbine water meters and a newly designed single-register compound meter. Operations at Uniontown, which remains a major manufacturing site for the company, developed with the product line. Product milestones for the company included:
• 1957 – The industry’s first revolutionary magnetic drive 5/8-inch SR (sealed register) piston-type water meter was introduced after a $5 million development and testing program. More than 30 million SR meters are currently in service around the world.
• 1960s – The industry’s only right angle, magnetic drive high-performance turbo meters were developed, establishing a new industry standard.
• 1972 – A world-class plastic injection-molding operation was established.
In 1972, Rockwell Manufacturing Company merged with North American Rockwell to become Rockwell International. Ongoing research and development programs produced advances in remote meter-reading technology which in the 1970s included the introduction of remote meter-reading equipment generators and encoders, and instrumentation for monitoring, recording and controlling both water and gas flow was developed. In 1984 the company introduced the TouchRead(tm) System with a digital electronic communication register (ECR).
In 1989, Rockwell International sold its meter-manufacturing operations to BTR plc, a multinational conglomerate headquartered in London. The acquired business operated under the name Sensus Technologies, Inc. During the period from 1989 through 2003 Sensus continued to develop AMR technology and introduce new products, such as the RadioRead(tm) system, which uses low-power radio transmission methodology to transmit readings and capture them in a recorder contained in the vehicle driven along the meter-reading route. Another revolutionary product during that period was the PhonRead(tm) system, which uses meter registers wired to a battery-less telephone based electronic interface unit that automatically phones in the meter readings to the utility. BTR merged with Siebe plc, another British company, in 1999 to form Invensys, plc. The meter business was then named Invensys Metering Systems.
In December 2003, The Jordan Company and GS Capital Partners 2000, two New York-based private equity funds, purchased the meter operations from Invensys. The investors renamed the company Sensus Metering Systems.
Sensus’ global network of manufacturing facilities has evolved over the years with the product lines. In the United States, the facility in Uniontown, Pa., produces water meters, AMR equipment, and provides automated meter-reading support services. The site also accommodates what Herchko describes as “a world-class injection molding facility.” Gas meters are made at the Dubois, Pa. plant. Residential and commercial and industrial water meters are made in Orlando, Fla. and the iCon electric meter is manufactured in Norwalk, Ohio.
Operations at two subsidiary companies complement the Sensus meter lines. Sensus Precision Die Casting Inc. in Russellville, Ken., is a premier supplier of precision-manufactured aluminum die-castings that are used for gas-meter housings; the company also produces high-pressure automobile parts such as power steering and air conditioner housings that are sold to tier one automotive suppliers. Smith-Blair Inc., located in Texarkana, Ark., is the leading North American manufacturer of clamps and couplings used by water and natural gas utilities to join, repair, and tap pipe.
Sensus’ international operations are located in several countries. High-volume register production for gas and water meters is accomplished in Juarez, Mexico. Plants in Brazil and Chile produce water meters. The facility at Ludwigshafen, Germany, produces residential water and heat meters, while the Hannover, Germany, plant manufacturers bulk water and heat meters. Gas meters are produced in China and India.
Herchko emphasizes that high manufacturing standards are integral to Sensus’ production processes, which produce one million water meters and 400,000 gas meters annually in North America and more internationally. “We practice good quality as measured by Six Sigma, and we continually strive to improve operations. Automation and innovation in our manufacturing are part of our continuing effort to strive for efficiency. We also look for ways to improve materials handling and the use of robotics in order to achieve better quality and more efficient workflow. All of this focused on providing our customers the best quality products.”
Employee safety and productivity are two more areas that receive priority at Sensus. As Herchko says, “Sensus strives to provide a safe environment for our employees in all areas of manufacturing. We also maintain very good relationships with employees, both union and non-union. We count on them to help us maintain our market position and our product and customer service quality.”
The importance of strong relationships with suppliers is also a key factor in Sensus’s operations. Herchko says, “We have close and longstanding connections with our suppliers for materials. For example, we purchase a high-volume of resins for plastics, precision bolts and screws, and special rubber components from companies who know how to make those products right. We rely on these relationships for quality.”
Herchko says that Sensus Meter Systems will continue develop metering technologies that are compatible with its existing AMR products so that utilities can upgrade to the advanced equipment efficiently and cost-effectively. “We will continue to be a leading provider of metering solutions. We will build our technology and grow from our current position by focusing on efficient operations and services. We will continue to provide our customers with quality equipment they can rely on for accuracy that gives them a good return.” Sensus Metering Systems Inc. – moving forward in a positive flow.