Remote reading of meters in dangerous locations keeps employees safe

Remote meter reading, Increased safety, Operational efficiency

A recent pilot project has helped water company Vitens ensure the safety of their field staff when they have to read water meters in locations that are dangerous or difficult to reach. With remotely read smart meters and a drive-by solution, meter reading can be done directly from the car and in a matter of seconds.

The largest drinking water company in The Netherlands, Vitens, delivers high-quality water to 5.6 million people. More than 1,400 employees work every day to make that happen including around 20 field staff members whose tasks include the reading of water meters.

For Vitens, the safety of their employees is a top priority. So when it was time to replace an outdated system, the Managing Board saw this as an opportunity to also solve the safety issues involved in reading certain meters. They therefore decided to do a pilot with 500 remotely read smart meters in locations that made manual meter reading hazardous and problematic. 

“The locations where we have now installed remotely read meters are mostly dangerous meter pits or holes deep underground, hard to reach cellars and dangerous industrial rooms – so basically places where you don’t want to be,” explains Paul Looman, Project Manager at Vitens.

After looking into different manufacturers and technologies, Vitens chose Kamstrup’s READy drive-by solution and MULTICAL® 21 water meters. “We tested solutions from different manufacturers and also different communication technologies like Lora and FlexNet. But in the end the Kamstrup READy system came out best for this purpose.”

“For us, this is about safety. Nothing is worth more than a human life. 
But you don’t have to be a scientist to calculate that there is also a business case in this specific area. The meters are relativity inexpensive compared to the resources and man hours spent on manually reading these meters previously.”

Paul Looman, Project Manager, Vitens

Safety comes first 

In total, Vitens has an estimated 4,000 meters installed in dangerous or difficult to reach locations. Out of these, 500 meter locations were selected as suitable for the pilot project. In most cases, billing related to the meters was based on estimations, but every few years, a manual reading is required by law, and this used to involve a big risk for the meter readers according to Paul Looman.

“Depending on how unsafe a specific location was, it would require one or two people to do the job. This could be meter pits filled with water, big cellars where our people had to climb down ladders, or industrial rooms with asbestos.”

With the new meters and remote reading solution, Vitens’ field staff no longer have to gain physical access to the meters in order to read them. In fact, in most cases, they no longer even have to get out of their car.

Benefits from changing to remote reading and new meters

Meter reading in seconds

The time and resources previously needed to manually read the meters in the pilot varied depending on the individual location and conditions, and as a result, the exact time savings per meter are difficult to conclude. “How much time we’ve won very much depends on the situation. For instance in some cases, field staff members first had to pump a meter hole dry before they could manually read out the meter,” says Paul Looman. 

But with an estimated previous average time spend per meter of around 15-30 minutes, it is clear that reading meters has become much more efficient with the READy drive-by solution. “Now meters are digitally read out in seconds just by driving or walking by, where it took up unto half an hour when reading them out manually.”

Feedback from the field team members using the new solution has also been very positive: “Our meter readers have really embraced this new technology. I think it’s mainly because the equipment is easy to use and reliable – not to mention fun. The field team members in this project were all very interested and surprised by the many application possibilities.” 

An additional benefit with their new solution is the wealth of valuable information that the temperature measurements can provide. This includes risks of frost bursts, e.g. in meter holes, which allows the utility to take preventive measures to avoid leaks, and knowledge about areas where high temperatures or risks of bacteria growth could impair the water quality.

Successful pilot

With the new meters all installed and also read multiple times, the pilot has now been completed according to plan. Despite a complex preparation phase, which included determining the definition of unsafe locations, as well as a risky installation process and an adaptation of the READy Manager application, the project went smoothly.

And while discussions to determine the next step and a long-term plan are still in progress for Vitens, the pilot is considered extremely successful. 

“We consider the pilot a great success. READy delivers just what we expected: safety in unsafe situations and easy access in hard to reach places,” says Paul Looman, who is also very happy with how it has been working with Kamstrup: “In one word: fantastic. Great people to work with, very approachable and professional.”

About the project

•  Project: Pilot with 500 meters

•  Meters: MULTICAL® 21

•  System: READy, mobile reading

•  Status: Pilot successful, solution in normal operation

 

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