“Automation gives Itron the ability to maintain a competitive presence in the market while manufacturing quality products within the United States.” —Mike Higgins, Operations General Manager, Itron
Itron develops new integrated switch for smart meters
With energy prices and the cost of building new power generation infrastructure rising rapidly, utilities are increasingly plugging into smart meter technology as a way to better manage demand.
To meet that increasing demand, smart meter manufacturer Itron Inc. launched an aggressive automation project intended to take cost and cycle time out of the production of its OpenWay CENTRON smart meters. Partnering with ATS Automation, Itron deployed a wide array of automation technologies, including six-axis robots, stamping equipment, vision systems, touch-screen PLCs, and real-time statistical process control systems.
In only one year, the company was able to develop a simulated mesh network to test smart metering functionality and to implement manufacturing tests for gauging reliability, measurement system performance, and process control. The automation system, though a complete platform, has independent controls that allow each station to be offline for maintenance while other stations continue activities.
As Itron implemented the new automation system, it took care to keep its customers informed. The company created product information letters to inform them about upcoming product changes and added functionality. They also formed a new business continuity plan to make sure the customer’s risk is mitigated in the event of a problem.
The system delivered impressive results. The project required an investment of $5 million, and Itron realized an annual labor savings from automated solutions of about $1.43 million per year. Capital equipment savings from meter assembly and testing systems came to about $1.77 million. Itron achieved a 99.96% pass rate and rolled throughput yield of 93.43%. In the end, OpenWay CENTRON meters produced using the new automated process represented $400 million in revenue.
Those results earned Itron a 2011 PM100 Award for Operational Excellence.
“Automation gives Itron the ability to maintain a competitive presence in the market while manufacturing quality products within the United States,” says Mike Higgins, Itron’s operations general manager.
“Due to increasing product complexity and stringent customer requirements, our manufacturing process would not be possible without the use of automation. To be acknowledged for operational excellence with such a prestigious award is a true honor for us.”