DMR platform keeps utility's field crew safe

Wednesday, 19 April, 2023 | Supplied by: Zetron Australasia Pty Ltd

DMR platform keeps utility's field crew safe

Keeping the lights and gas on for 442,000 customers across New Zealand’s North Island is no easy task. The country’s second-largest utility provider, Powerco, said it prides itself on safety and reliability for all, including fault crews in the field working alongside nine networks of electricity and gas lines — but emergency communication has been an issue in the past.

“We had fault staff driving an hour and a half to the top of a hill to get coverage to contact the control room,” said Powerco Network Operations Manager Phil Marsh. “There were areas where they didn’t have any comms or cell phone coverage, losing all communication with the control room, which is dangerous in an emergency.”

Echoing Marsh, Powerco’s primary field services provider also understood the need to act. John Batchelor, General Manager Power and Gas at Downer New Zealand, said, “When working with electricity during an emergency, having quick and reliable contact with those controlling the electricity network, without worrying about black spots affecting radio coverage, is vital.”

To provide a safer work environment, Powerco set out to design a digital radio system capable of ensuring at least 90% coverage across its expansive work zones. Other key criteria included enabling Powerco to retain control over the network, and improving efficiency, while prioritising field staff’s access to communications.

After evaluating multiple providers, Powerco chose Zetron’s ACOM Command & Control System for the company’s 32-position console system to complement its new fleet of Hytera DMR radios. Other solutions were considered, but ACOM was found to check all the boxes. Aside from its highly customisable touch screen display, it supported multiple simultaneous active calls, included visual/audio alerts, and provided advanced features such as Bluetooth, encrypted messaging and SIP gateways, in addition to request-to-talk (RTT) and press-to-talk (PTT) communications.

“Zetron performed a proof of concept, which gave our evaluation team insight and confidence that Zetron was the right fit,” Marsh said.

The project began with Zetron and Hytera establishing a joint regional testing facility in nearby Brisbane. Technicians from both companies worked to install and integrate the new DMR system with the assistance of Powerco’s engineers and lead project manager. Upon successful testing, the equipment was shipped and deployed at Powerco facilities in New Plymouth and Tauranga, and Zetron led training workshops for Powerco staff.

The system went live with zero unplanned customer or service outages. Powerco executives described the implementation as “round smooth”, with minor challenges promptly addressed and successfully managed by Zetron.

Soon after deployment, the ACOM system underwent its first real test. Major storms battered the North Island, cutting power to thousands of Powerco customers. In the past, the company’s network operation centre (NOC) would activate a storm room with additional operators to manage call overflow. But increased operational efficiencies of the new system enabled Powerco staff to tackle the increased call volume without incident or needing to activate the storm room.

“There were four separate storms in December, probably the worst I can remember for lightning strikes,” Marsh recalled. “We had 700 strike faults to handle and 75 transformer replacements.”

Since deploying the ACOM system, Powerco reports overall NOC operator call handling efficiency increasing by 50% to 70%. Marsh concluded, “Powerco now has coverage in remote parts of New Zealand that no other provider of mobile or radio has. We are set up for the future.”

Phone: 07 3856 4888
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