Sensus Metering Systems is well into its second 100 years of service to utilities across the world. The company has gone through several name changes over the years, leading to its current name of Sensus Metering Systems – established in 2003 when Sensus became a stand-alone company after the prior owner decided to divest of its successful metering business.
While the company’s history is well documented with industry-leading metering technology product developments, it has been transitioning itself over the last two decades from a metering business to a total metering ‘systems’ business. The Sensus portfolio now includes comprehensive system solutions for both automatic meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) applications.
Today Sensus is the world’s largest manufacturer of water meters, but also manufactures electricity and gas meters, primarily for the North America utility markets and for select international markets. The company also produces heat meters for the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions. The metering systems business is comprised of two global operating regions, North America, and Europe, Central and South America, Africa, Asia-Pacific (ESAAP) which are aligned, for the most part, by global metering specifications.
Sensus has more than $600 million in global sales annually, including more than $420 million in North America, its largest sales region. Dan Harness, CEO and President, who has been with the company more than 25 years, leads the business. Headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, Sensus employs 3,800 people globally, with approximately 1,300 located in North America. Worldwide sales are made to utility customers using a direct sales force and through a network of distributors and manufacturer representatives.
Much of the success of Sensus’ transition to a metering systems business can be credited to Harness. Under his leadership of the North America water metering business in 1990, the strategic vision of the business was to become a leading provider of metering systems to the water utility market in North America. In 2001, Mr. Harness was assigned management responsibility for the company’s global electricity, gas and heat metering systems businesses. With that, the company’s vision expanded to include electricity, gas and heat meters and to delivering intelligent, communicating metering-based solutions to the utility industry worldwide.
“We see Sensus going forward and building on the strength of our core metering systems businesses,” says Harness. “Our challenge is to fulfil the expectations of our customers, our investors, and of Sensus employees and management. As a historic leader in the markets we serve, we continue to invest in developing not only high quality metering products, but also in leading-edge technology for AMR and AMI systems, because the capability of these systems is to do much more for a utility’s metering distribution system than just get a meter read.”
To fulfil the vision, Sensus invested in a Santa Barbara, California company which was developing the industry’s first mobile AMR system using spread spectrum technology. In 1993, the first AMR flagship product – the RadioRead® mobile AMR system – was ready for the market and was introduced at the 1993 AWWA (American Water Works Association) Conference in San Antonio. Today, Sensus boasts nearly 2,000 utility customers using the RadioRead system, with over three million endpoints in service and including electricity and gas metering systems.
DEVELOPING INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS
Harness goes on to say that ongoing technological advancement is key to Sensus’ planning. “We will continue to develop and/or acquire innovative technical solutions for the primary utility markets – electricity, gas, heat and water – 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, are the main drivers for us.”
With the turn of the century came new utility market needs and requirements. While the AMR utility markets had expanded through the 1990s, forecasts indicated that the market was now poised for double-digit growth.
Utilities began evaluating the next AMR system level of fixed network technologies, including both radio-frequency (RF) and powerline carrier (PLC) fixed network systems. The majority of this AMR market activity was still in North America, but AMR products and systems were beginning to show up in other world regions like Europe and Israel. To further its strategic vision of being a total metering systems business, Sensus moved forward by adding an AMR fixed network solution. It first partnered with NexusData for its gas and water metering systems, eventually acquiring the company in 2004. The NexusData system was a one-way RF fixed network system based on spread spectrum radio technology, with which Sensus was familiar from its RadioRead system. Sensus named the system FixNet and has over 20 systems installed. While the one-way FixNet system was adequate for gas and water AMR needs, Sensus recognised that a more robust AMR system with advanced functionality that included two-way network communications capability to the electricity meter endpoint would be needed to support the emerging electric utility market requirements for AMI.
ENTERING THE ELECTRICITY MARKET
Having entered the electricity utility market in 2002 with the introduction of the iCon® solid-state electricity meter, which was designed for easy AMI integration, Sensus sought the best technology solution to fulfil its vision in the electric AMI market. After evaluating internal product development and acquisition, Sensus entered into a partnering and exclusive manufacturing agreement with Advanced Metering Data System (AMDS) in 2004. The agreement allowed for both companies to promote the AMDS system with Sensus manufacturing system equipment. In early 2005, the companies signed an exclusive marketing and sales agreement whereby Sensus would market and sell the AMDS system and services to the North America electricity utility market under the brand name FlexNet® with AMDS Connect® system.
Over the past two years, with one fully deployed system, several ongoing field test systems, and more customer commitments, Sensus was able to get a good look at the AMDS technology in operation. It looked so good that Sensus announced in June 2006 that it would acquire the assets of AMDS. This acquisition officially closed in July 2006.
“The purchase of AMDS’ assets takes us to the top level of today’s radio-frequency (RF) fixed network AMI systems and complements our current metering and automatic meter reading systems and services,” says Harness. “Our experience working with the AMDS licensed spectrum AMI technology in the electric utility market has helped us realise the benefits that the system can provide across all of our electricity, gas, and water utility customers in North America.” Still known as the FlexNet system, the company’s newest product provides for robust twoway communications, primarily for electric utility systems, via the RF fixed network all the way to the meter endpoint. The system operates on licensed FCC and Industry Canada frequencies at a potent two-watts of transmit power. It will also handle gas and water fixed network applications for individual and/or multi-utility installations. The FlexNet system complements the Sensus complete line of electricity, gas, and water metering products and provides any utility with a complete ‘metering systems’ solution. While the company vision is in focus in North America, the markets for metering systems in Sensus’ ESAAP business unit is coming into view. Even though product specifications differ around the world, Sensus remains focused on providing metering systems worldwide through the same development, partnering, and acquisition strategy.
“With our utility relationships around the world, the drive for all of them is to operate as efficiently as possible,” says Harness. “Their justifications to implement metering systems are different when you may only read meters once or twice a year in some locations, but the need now is to get more frequent daily data from a utility’s distribution system as utility natural resources become scarcer in some regions. The only way to do that is with an efficient metering AMR/AMI system.” In ESAAP, Sensus is partnering with leading AMR systems providers to interrogate Sensus’ water and heat metering products. Automated meter reading systems are being used for both utility and submetering applications, depending on a utility’s distribution infrastructure. Other areas are applying automated prepayment systems.
As to the future of Sensus Metering Systems, Harness believes what has enabled the company to remain relatively intact over the past 100+ years will continue to drive it into the future. “Looking at the history of Sensus, we have always been a developer of leading technologies for both metrology, and more recently advanced metering communications systems that combine into what we simply call a complete metering system. We believe we’ve raised the bar for fixed network systems in North America and are in a good position in ESAAP. As for meters, like our solid-state electricity and heat meters, we believe there is another level for gas and water meters. If we see new technology benefiting the customer and creating good market value for Sensus, we’ll bring it to the market. That’s our vision!”