Large scale automated meter reading systems, currently more familiar to electricity and gas companies than the water industry, are being adopted by leading water utilities in the United States. And advanced wireless data collection and communication technology is being used to enable the utilities to make significant operational efficiency gains.

The Barberton project

The first fixed-base radio frequency (RF) automated meter reading system for a water distribution network, designed, installed and managed by Schlumberger RMS, is now complete.

In a project that combines a meter upgrade programme with wireless communication technology, Schlumberger RMS has been able to help the City of Barberton Utilities make significant improvements in customer service.

Improving efficiency

In 1998, the City of Barberton, like many other municipal water authorities in the US, had problems with water losses, particularly from non-metered services and from under-registering, antiquated meters. The manual reading system that was in place at the time was inefficient, especially where meters were remote or hard to access. As a result, only one third of the meters were read each month and the rest of the readings had to be estimated.

Having established the need for total meter replacement, Barberton turned to Schlumberger RMS to provide an integrated metering and communication system that would deliver value to the utility and its customers. The primary objectives for the City were to improve customer service and to position itself for expected growth in the coming years.

As a result, in February 1999 an agreement was signed between the two companies under which Schlumberger RMS was to provide Barberton with a large scale solution for water meter automation to cover the utility’s entire service territory.

The package included detailed analysis of the City’s needs, proposals for the best technology package, a staged implementation of the new system in the field, and operation of data collection services for the next 20 years. It involved the replacement of an 11,000 meter population, and installation of a state-of-the-art wireless network which would deliver regular and on-demand automated meter reading.

Installation of new residential, commercial and industrial meters equipped with CellNet radio-based meter reading technology began in April 1999 and was complete by the end of the year.

Water meter data – including monthly consumption data, on-request reads, and real-time theft notification – is now collected and delivered over wireless networks to Barberton’s billing and customer information system. The data is sent electronically to the Schlumberger RMS data centre for verification, validation and editing. Using proprietary software, Schlumberger RMS is able to check the quality of the data, and correct any errors or gaps, before it is issued to Barberton for billing purposes.

Ray Schwarz of the Schlumberger RMS team explains: “In developing the solution for Barberton we focused on key customer needs, with integrated, state-of-the art metering and communications technology, comprehensive project management, and host software support for the utility’s customer information system.”

Phased installation

More than 95% of the City’s 11,000 meters are residential, but it is the much smaller number of commercial and industrial meters that account for about 60% of water revenue. In order to achieve immediate improvements in operational efficiency, Schlumberger began the meter replacement programme with the large and medium sized commercial and industrial meters (50mm and larger).

Replacement of residential meters began with a 1000-point pilot study in some of the areas where the topography and layout of buildings made RF communication difficult. The goal was to prove the reliability and integrity of the system in even the most difficult conditions.


Barberton residents have already seen improvements in the level of service provided by their water authority. They do not have to pay estimated water bills anymore or make arrangements to be at home to meet meter readers.

In the future, quarterly billing will be replaced with monthly bills, and meter reading will be supplied on demand. For larger commercial and industrial customers, more accurate consumption and profiling information and more frequent billing is helping them control water costs.

“The new remote reading technology ensures more accurate and timely billing, allowing us to provide an enhanced service to Barberton water users,” says Dick Waltz, Utilities Director for the City of Barberton.

Pittsburgh fixed-network contract

In July 1999, Schlumberger RMS was awarded a major contract to supply the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority with a Data Management Services package. The system will provide fixed network Automated Meter Reading (AMR) services to approximately 83,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers across Pittsburgh Water’s entire service territory and will be the largest fixed-network installation of its kind for water meters in North America.

The new fixed wireless radio network system will allow the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to access customer water usage information such as monthly consumption data, on-request reads, real-time theft notification and other data.

The data management system will enable the utility to enhance its customer service to water users across its territory by considerably increasing efficiency in meter reading and data processing. Furthermore, the new system will allow Pittsburgh Water to improve its own operational efficiency.

Under the terms of this multi-year contract, Schlumberger RMS will provide operation and maintenance services for Pittsburgh Water. Schlumberger RMS is manufacturing and installing the CellNet compatible AMR radio frequency interface units on to existing water meters.

John Hanna, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority explains: “As part of the initial planning phase of this project, we conducted an extensive evaluation of AMR systems and suppliers. We determined that a fixed network AMR system would provide the best solution for our current and future data collection needs. Through this system we will be able to offer our customers real-time consumption mapping, leak and theft detection, and on demand reads.

“We concluded that Schlumberger not only provides the best technology and services on the market, but that it has also demonstrated an ability to deliver the fully integrated solution we require.”

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