In November 2001 the Actaris group took over the activities of Resource Management Services, Schlumberger’s metering division. Actaris is one of the world leaders in the design and manufacture of metering products and systems. The company has sales offices throughout the world, and also benefits from a strong industrial base, with a significant presence in Europe, Asia and South America. The company has 6500 employees in 60 locations spread over 30 countries, and revenue reached 647 million euros in 2002. Pierre Bezzina, Pascal Michaudel and Michaël Ohana, marketing managers respectively for electricity, water and gas, explain how the new company has evolved and describe their market vision for the future.
After completing the sale of non-core activities over the past two years, Actaris is now an international leader dedicated to developing and manufacturing metering products and systems for the distribution and allocation of electricity, gas, water and heat. Newly organised by business lines – the electricity, gas, and water and heat divisions each have their own R&D, manufacturing and sales specialists – Actaris is now ready to face the challenges which exist in the utility marketplace.
Globalisation, privatisation and deregulation of markets have been changing the environment in which utilities, municipalities and industries operate. Reducing losses and operating costs and complying with local regulations have all become essential. Smart meters and flexible communication systems are therefore imperative for the suppliers of water and energy who expect cost-effective solutions. In this context, Actaris’ main objectives are to provide ever higher metering accuracy and a reliable data collection and analysis through open communication systems.
“For Actaris, this is nothing new!” says Pierre Bezzina, Electricity Marketing Manager. “We’ve been designing and producing high-end intelligent and communicating meters since the early 1990s. Almost all of the available communication techniques have been tested and implemented in our meters, from wire connection (Euridis, M-Bus, PSTN, video cable) to PLC and RF communication with both mobile and fixed networks. Now we have expertise that allows us to respond to any requirement from our customers. Our offer ranges from the meter supply to installation, commissioning and integration of systems, whenever required by our customers. Our experience in so many projects all over the world, and across all energies, is a key advantage for our customers. When facing new questions, we know that somewhere in the company we have the solution.”
MAKING METERS AND SYSTEMS OPEN
Actaris’ strategy is clear: make the meters and systems as open as possible. To do this, the company offers several alternatives, enabling customers to choose and implement the solutions that best suit their needs at the time that suits them best. For example, Actaris designs meters capable of communicating and interconnecting with existing systems, using widely recognised and approved standards such as Radian and DLMS Cosem.
The company also develops its own systems, making full use of its ability to add value. These systems include load management, prepayment and remote meter reading solutions.
Finally, in order to meet customers’ needs to integrate different protocols and meters, Actaris incorporates various technologies that are well accepted in the marketplace into its systems. Two partnership agreements were signed in 2002 and 2003 with HomeRider Systems and Senea AB, to offer RF and PLC integrated meters compatible with their systems. These non-exclusive agreements allow Actaris and its partners to provide turnkey solutions, from the meter and communication infrastructure to best-in-class data collection software.
The need to get information that is 100% reliable will grow in the coming years, specifically because of new local regulations requiring, among other things, that all end-users receive accurate bills. As a result, Actaris is developing and improving its AMR systems portfolio to become more and more powerful and cost-effective.
“We are really aware of the strategic importance that metering and data collection represents for our customers,” says Pascal Michaudel, Water & Heat Marketing Manager. “As water meters are an important investment for utilities that are also looking for the best ROI, Actaris decided as long ago as 1995 to pre-equip its whole range of water meters with a new patented technology – the cyble target. Immune to magnetic tampering and environmental conditions, this technology ensures the integrity and reliability of the data transmission – critical when the data is to be used in billing and allocation applications. “What’s more, this pre-equipment allows our customers to consider future evolutions towards remote reading systems whenever they want,” explains Michaudel.
Cost effectiveness is also a major criterion for gas metering. “Liberalisation of the gas market, particularly in Europe, has brought increased competition and pressure on prices,” says Michaël Ohana, Gas Marketing Manager. “As a result, optimisation of the cost of metering is necessary, while improving accuracy and reliability. Actaris’ recent development of data remote reading through the cellular GSM network is a specific answer to these needs. The remote information can be processed by a meter and/or a volume converter installed in hazardous areas. This helps industrial customers as well as gas suppliers to undertake safe data monitoring and collection – for example, to control gas quality parameters, remote alarms or for billing – at a reduced cost!”
In order to be proactive in the development of new technologies and anticipate customers’ needs, Actaris also participates in many of the standardisation groups for metering activities, such as OIML, ISO, EN, IEC and CENELEC.
QUALITY AS A TRADEMARK
Actaris is also proud of maintaining a reputation for total quality and reliability that has been established over several years – the company is conscious that many of its products will still be working in 20 years’ time. Whilst all Actaris manufacturing sites are ISO 9000-certified, most of them have already obtained ISO 9001:2000 certification. This standard integrates clients’ requirements into all the company’s processes – from design to delivery – and fully conforms to the TQM (Total Quality Management) programme set up by Actaris a few years ago.
The purpose of this quality programme, which is supported by management, is to constantly improve clients’ levels of satisfaction. With this in mind, all the employees have been trained in TQM in order to develop their personal performance and thereby improve the quality of work at every level. As a result, quality has been built into the cultural fabric of the company, ensuring that customers enjoy complete peace of mind.