T&D World Magazine

DCSI Advances Remote Firmware Upgrades

Distribution Control Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of ESCO Technologies Inc. and a member of the ESCO Communications Segment, is remotely upgrading firmware to enable new meter functionality in thousands of its previously installed Universal Meter Transponders (UMT) for utilities across the country. Many of these meters were deployed up to three years ago.

The capacity to remotely upgrade firmware demonstrates DCSI’s ability to “future proof” its products. Future proofing is an expression describing the requirement that Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) technologies be flexible and robust enough to anticipate future needs of the power, water, propane, and gas utility markets. DCSI’s Two-Way Automatic Communications System (TWACS) technology meets that challenge today.

The flexibility of DCSI’s process allows utilities to upgrade a single, individual meter or thousands of meters simultaneously, all without system downtime or loss of data. Using TWACS technology, a remote download is broadcast in the background of power line communications so that regular system operations can take precedence. However, if a utility has the need to upgrade hardware immediately, it can override some or all of the regular system communications.

While the basic capabilities of TWACS AMI modules are extensive, the ability to upgrade existing endpoints allows utilities to take advantage of emerging software platforms designed to address the growing information needs of the utilities and their customers. DCSI has improved the overall performance of the TWACS technology, resulting in enhancements to system throughput of up to 30 times what it was just a few years ago. All of these improvements have come without obsolescing any of DCSI’s more that 250 existing fixed-network deployments. This is an important consideration in that utilities making technology decisions five years ago were just as concerned with future proofing as utilities today. These performance enhancements, coupled with remotely upgradeable endpoints, assure utilities a system that provides reliable data today and meets the challenges of tomorrow.

Utilities with the ability to remotely upgrade firmware experience tremendous cost savings in labor as it relates to eliminating drive time to each endpoint, paperwork involved in a meter exchange, and meter shop testing. “The ability to remotely upgrade system hardware provides a stable platform for our growing needs,” said Joe Schlaefer, technical services supervisor at Delta-Montrose Electric Association in Colorado. “These software enhancements increase the lifespan of our fixed-network assets, so they can meet the needs of our customers both today and tomorrow. We also obtain one to two hours of labor savings per endpoint using TWACS technology for our firmware upgrades.

“DCSI has demonstrated that it can provide AMI reliability as well as adapt communications to new needs and applications, both of which are essential factors that utilities should consider when selecting an AMI vendor,” Schlaefer added.

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