Improvements in Safety, Efficiency With Digital Radios

Sometimes a giant leap in productivity and safety comes in a compact package. Just ask Callaway Electric Cooperative, which distributes power to some 3,000 residential, agricultural and commercial customers across the rolling terrain of central Missouri.

Motorola Utilities Electric

Sometimes a giant leap in productivity and safety comes in a compact package. Just ask Callaway Electric Cooperative, which distributes power to some 3,000 residential, agricultural and commercial customers across the rolling terrain of central Missouri.

The Challenge

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) narrowbanding deadline approached, Callaway Electric looked at updating its fleet of analog radios. As it explored options, the member-owned cooperative's management discovered one solution that was tailor-made for utility companies: MOTOTRBO digital two-way radios with integrated Bluetooth data. These two-way radios also interfaced with National Information Solutions Cooperative's (NISC's) Mobile WorkForce management software.

Greg Salmons, manager of operation for Callaway Electric, said, "We were going to have to upgrade about 60 percent of our radios that would not have switched over to narrowband, and we had budgeted the money for replacing them."

In addition to narrowbanding, the rural cooperative had concerns about the reliability of its communications.

"We have coverage issues around the outside edges, including a couple of substations that are in rougher terrain. We have hills and bluffs and several dead spots with the analog system," Salmons said. "Having constant, reliable communications in the field is important, especially for workers' safety for the type of work they perform."

Eliminate Time, Effort and Errors

"Our customer service representatives currently generate our work orders, get calls about outages, and talk to our trucks to send them out," said Clint Smith, manager of administration. "In the past, the linemen were unable to understand the work orders, especially in portions of our service territory. In many places a cell phone would not work, leaving linemen to either wait or leave the area, driving to the highest surrounding area to try and perform a call."

Work orders were presented on a piece of paper in the morning and, should anything arise throughout the day, information would then be transmitted over radios. They would have to stop and write down all information on a long sheet of paper. Then, when the workday was complete, it was manually transferred onto a service order in the office.

"The downsides were number of transposition errors as information was written down or when it was transferred onto the service order," said Lesa Akers in Operations Support. "It was a cumbersome workflow because you had to track papers all the way through."

Callaway combined the MOTOTRBO digital radios with the NISC Mobile WorkForce and its iVUE Work Management System, an integrated solution that minimizes errors and automates repetitive tasks. This Mobile WorkForce enables employees to access service order scheduling information from the field, reducing paperwork and electronically tracking all previous paperwork.

The Solution

"When I learned about the MOTOTRBO digital radios, what really shocked me was the price," Salmons said. "The money set aside for replacing part of Callaway's analog system was enough to replace its entire fleet of analog radios with a new digital system that allows for data applications to be sent over the MOTOTRBO two-way radio.

"In addition to the price, it also provided voice and data. The typical solution is to revert to cellular data, but cellular coverage can be unreliable so using a radio that offers better coverage and more reliability is a superb option."

The Benefits

With the new MOTOTRBO system in place, Callaway Electric is seeing improvements from one end of its service area to the other. The cooperative now saves time and improves service, reacting faster to unscheduled events by dispatching tasks to linemen in real time, in the field. There are no longer inaccurate or lost work orders, or second guesses on which worker is at a particular job.

"MOTOTRBO has given us the avenue to send data out without any cellular cost or monthly expense," Salmons said. "It has exceeded what phone service would have done because we knew there were going to be dead spots in cell phone service. We are not seeing that today with the digital radio.

"Workers are able to connect in the morning, having no further issues losing the connection throughout the day. Even moving computers from one truck to another has been effortless because no cables get in the way. Coverage has been excellent, and, instead of spending up to $70 a month for airtime, Callaway Electric no longer has monthly fees. The cost savings alone are worth the transition."

Enhancing Worker Safety and Continued Service

Safety is the main concern, with workers being able to call the office when away from the truck-whether to notify the office of a concern or for another worker to bring additional supplies. The ability to send data in real time over MOTOTRBO means customers can use voice for safety issues.

"Whether crews are working in a severe storm or on a simple meter change, MOTOTRBO is the lifeline for our linemen's safety, health and well-being," said Callaway CEO, Thomas Howard. "It allows them to do their jobs safely and efficiently and get service to our members restored as quickly as possible."

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