Water Meters Out of Africa

Like so many success stories, Atlantic Meters had its origins in a series of chance circumstances. Part of the British privately-owned Atlantic Group, it was established only in 1997 but behind it is more than two decades of experience in water meter developments in the UK and Europe.

Nigel Ebdon, Commercial Director of Atlantic Meters explains that the Atlantic Group was established by David Hudson in the mid-1970s as a plastics moulding business. One of its earliest projects was to develop an improved plastic meter enclosure for a local water authority. So successful did this prove, becoming used throughout much of the UK, as well as elsewhere in Europe including France, Denmark and Germany, that it set the future direction of the Group.

At the same time the Group was expanding its scope both technologically as well as geographically, and in 1995 it started looking at opportunities in South Africa, where in the wake of the return to democracy large numbers of new houses were being built, with corresponding water meter needs.

This was also to mark a new direction for the Group, as until that time it had been involved in producing only the meter enclosures. Now it needed its own meters. Accordingly it developed two mechanical meters, in effect a complete meter box, for the South African market.

But just about that time prepayment started becoming an issue and after various attempts to develop partnerships with other companies in this field, Atlantic Meters went ahead and developed its own prepayment units in-house, with production starting in early 2000.

The resultant product embodies the basic philosophy of the company of simplicity and flexibility and comprises a single thermoset plastic concentric meter box, incorporating a concentric meter connection with a manifold into which either a mechanical or electronic meter can be fitted.

The electronic ‘AquaSmart’ meter system also incorporates two options, either the Standard allowing a preset daily consumption, or Prepayment, with the latter including radio and cable connection options (depending on individual circumstances) from the meter box, which is normally located on the property boundary, to a smart card operated ‘customer interface unit’ (CIU) in the home. A ‘tamper-switch’ that shuts down the system when triggered is built into the box, and the lithium battery power supply has a lifetime of 8-10 years, in line with the meter accuracy checking period.

An accompanying point of sale/management system is also provided, with terminals to issue credit via the smart card technology and a full multi-user SQL Windows-based server database with capacity to handle up to 5 million customer records.

Interestingly Atlantic Meters’ first contracts have come not only from within South Africa but also from outside, including providing prepayment meters to the government-owned water and electricity utility Aqualectra for its Pagatinu project on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, with an initial order of 2,000 meters and the prospect of a total of 5,000 by the year end.

The Atlantic Group has now scaled down its manufacturing operation in the UK, and is concentrating on its core business as a specialist metering contractor, but the South African arm is growing, with a plastics moulding and mechanical product manufacturing plant at its Montague Gardens, Cape Town operation and an electronics division at the nearby town of Stellenbosch. Its focus is the developing world.

“We see a big future for prepayment technology in the developing world and many opportunities for specialist contractors to manage revenue collection,” says Ebdon, adding that Atlantic Meters is currently establishing joint venture companies in Namibia and Brazil to introduce its meters into those countries.

And, he says, “as a developing country South Africa is an appropriate place for such technology to be developed, and it has a good manufacturing base with competitive costs.”