McDuffie County, GA, aimed to reduce expenses by modernizing its aging water meter infrastructure. The county recognized that the traditional manual collecting of residential water meter readings was both slow and costly. With Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), the process becomes much simpler, eliminating the need for manual work orders and truck dispatches and transitioning to electronic data collection.
AMI represents a strategic investment. It effectively captures and analyzes vast amounts of valuable data, positioning it as a top-notch solution to enhance customer service, cut costs, and gain deeper insights into water distribution systems. McDuffie County chose a phased approach, upgrading meters zone by zone.
McDuffie County, nestled in the heart of Georgia, boasts a population of 21,632 as of the 2020 census and is renowned for its historical significance, with Thomson, its county seat, often referred to as "The Camellia City of the South" due to its abundant camellia plants.
The first area to deploy smart meters was a single route in the City of Thomson. Founded in 1837, Thomson's rich history is deeply intertwined with its role as a railroad depot, evolving over the years into a vital part of the Augusta – Richmond County Metropolitan Statistical Area.
McDuffie County officials decided to launch a pilot program, replacing approximately (3,000) 5/8" x3-4", (30) 1", (15) 2", (4) 4" water meters with transmitters complete with reconnection of existing water services with Sensus AMI meters. The goal was to fully integrate with the billing system to collect accurate readings of Sensus water meters and customer water consumption data by May 2023.
"Work also included replacement of deteriorated meter boxes where needed, - declared City Administrator John Waller.
McDuffie County officials selected Fieldman Software as the work management system for this project. The BSP construction field crew conducted the replacement of meters and meter boxes.
"Establishing a work management platform is a delicate process because it greatly influences project success," explained Vlad Kravchenko, CEO at Fieldman. "If there are any issues with data integration or mistakes in data validation, the AMI journey can quickly become a costly and time-consuming endeavor to fix later on."
Fieldman set up a work management platform specifically for this project, imported legacy meter data, and created a workflow in its field service app for technicians that included:
As a result of the data collected during the project, the Fieldman system created a meter exchange file to update the county's billing system. This step is crucial to ensure the new AMI network operates effectively and helps the county save taxpayers money.
Everything was progressing smoothly as field workers deployed new AMI meters until an issue arose in the middle of the project.
Fieldman's special report, which compared installed meters data with meter readings received from FlexNet, identified the problem: McDuffie County was stopped receiving automated meter reads from the newly installed meters. The report was presented to stakeholders, and county leaders immediately put the project on hold for examination.
The investigative team, made up of the engineering company Sensus specialist and Fieldman's support staff, researched the cause of the problem and discovered that the problem was caused by a recent upgrade to one of the systems involved.
Specifically, one of the files generated the wrong data daily and prevented the automatic transferring of meer readings to Sensus Analytics. Upon further investigation, the team discovered that one of the configuration files was reset during an upgrade.
This is one of those conundrums of today's complex systems. On one hand, systems need to be updated as often as possible to ensure the latest security patches are applied; on another, an update may introduce breaking changes.
"We take pride in the Fieldman platform's ability to identify a critical issue in the middle of the project," explains Vlad Kravchenko. "Not only were the new Sensus AMI meters installed efficiently in the field, but they were also connected to the entire Sensus system on schedule."
Thomson-McDuffie officials have reported significant enhancements in operational efficiency, leading to improved customer service and highly accurate meter readings across the entire system. The AMI implementation has greatly improved water operations efficiency and is anticipated to deliver the most substantial return on investment for Thomson-McDuffie.