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Smart water evolution: Badger Meter bolsters offering through BlueEdge™

Badger Meter, a water technology leader since 1905, serves water utilities, municipalities, and commercial and industrial customers globally. In late May 2024, the company introduced BlueEdge™, a customizable suite of solutions aimed at enhancing the visibility and optimization of water assets.

In his time at Badger Meter, Matt Stuyvenberg has seen Badger Meter move beyond the meter and build its portfolio of smart water solutions.

Stuyvenberg joined Badger Meter in 2007. Trained as a mechanical engineer, he progressed through the company’s engineering ranks. In the past five years, he has been responsible for growing smart water solutions at Badger Meter, including water quality, pressure and network monitoring as well as software development.

Currently, Stuyvenberg serves as the Vice President of Software and Water Quality at Badger Meter. He helps to oversee corporate strategy, guiding the company’s future direction and expanding its vision of smart water. Most recently, he played a pivotal role in the introduction of BlueEdge by Badger Meter. In this interview, we delve into Matt Stuyvenberg’s insights on the evolution of smart water solutions at Badger Meter, the key drivers behind their development, and the innovative BlueEdge platform.

Published in SWM Bimonthly 22 - June 2024
SWM Bimonthly 22

How would you describe the evolution of smart water solutions at Badger Meter in recent years?

With a 120-year history, Badger Meter has evolved from a metering industry leader to a premier provider of cellular AMI systems to a water technology innovator with customizable, scalable smart water solutions.

Our focus has expanded beyond metering to address adjacent problem areas for customers and utilities. Through a suite of sensors and monitors, communications, software and support, we assist our customers on their technology journey in a manner that removes some of the hurdles for getting the insights they need and solving the problems that they face.

Through a suite of sensors and monitors, communications, software and support, we assist our customers on their technology journey

What are the key drivers that have led Badger Meter to develop more advanced smart water solutions?

Many customers still struggle to deploy existing technologies, despite their long presence in the market. Meters now collect detailed data every 15 minutes to provide insights beyond total consumption, such as flow rate, temperature, pressure, freeze alerts, empty pipe, tamper alarms and more. Despite these additional operational parameters, many customers still rely on manual meter data collection or use their AMI data only to generate a bill. Instead, we leverage this operational data to solve broader problems. Our long-term view focuses on our customers' future needs — addressing water quality issues, transient monitoring, break alerts, remote data collection, and analysing and synthesizing the data collected. We make these solutions approachable to the utility, so they can focus on reducing non-revenue water, optimizing assets and fostering positive customer engagement. Ultimately, we make water visible to both utilities and consumers.

Water visibility and actionable intelligence are at the core of BlueEdge and the mission of Badger Meter. 

How does BlueEdge differ from previous Badger Meter smart water offerings?

BlueEdge is the next evolution of our offerings. In recent years, our R&D and acquisitions have served to bolster our core offerings. BlueEdge provides a name for our technology portfolio, complete with scalable and tailorable solutions.

BlueEdge is the next evolution of our offerings. In recent years, our R&D and acquisitions have served to bolster our core offerings

We’re proud that BlueEdge can meet customers where they are in their journey. Whether a customer is beginning with automatic meter reading with drive-by systems or ready for full network visibility with comprehensive water quality and pump station monitoring, BlueEdge offers the framework that guides a logical progression of solution adoption. It encompasses our entire portfolio, creating a seamless and extensible partnership for addressing smart water challenges.

BlueEdge is a new concept built around technologies that are already part of our portfolio. You may be familiar with Badger Meter through Syrinix, ATi, s::can, Telog or Badger Meter itself. BlueEdge brings our offerings together under a single umbrella and includes our complete portfolio.

What key advantages does BlueEdge offer water utilities?

BlueEdge offers tailored solutions to meet utility, commercial, and industrial customers' specific needs. It can support deployments as small as one lift station or a handful of billing meters, as well as full-scale network monitoring deployments inclusive of AMI, pressure, leak, and water quality for comprehensive distribution network monitoring. BlueEdge adapts to the unique requirements of customers, considering factors like region, size and infrastructure age — providing a versatile solution for diverse needs.

BlueEdge includes instruments and sensors for data collection, communication systems for data backhaul, software-enabled insights, and dedicated support and training teams.

What are the main challenges that water utilities are facing now, in your opinion?

There are three universal challenges facing the water industry. First, aging infrastructure and leaks are a major concern. Many utility systems are grappling with infrastructure that has exceeded its intended lifespan, leading to significant water loss. Second, managing water supplies in terms of both quantity (addressing droughts and floods) and quality (including emerging contaminants like PFAS, particularly funding and remediation). Third, technology adoption in a traditionally slower-moving, risk-averse industry is a unique challenge. Finding the right human capital for the necessary change management to successfully adopt new technology, while also respecting the long lifespan of these assets, is a key and unique issue that the utility industry faces.

How can BlueEdge help utilities address these key challenges?

We designed BlueEdge to address customer pain points and solve these problems. Our goal was to make technology more approachable, and, in turn, this helps to solve challenges with water management, leak detection, and asset management. We introduced cellular AMI systems a decade ago, which have been transformative for many customers — providing easy access to data without the need for a utility to manage a network of collectors or rely on labour to collect readings. By leveraging reliable and resilient cellular networks, utilities can focus on what they do best, rather than worrying about towers, collectors, and communication network upkeep.

BlueEdge encompasses our entire portfolio, creating a seamless and extensible partnership for addressing smart water challenges

Beyond metering and AMI, BlueEdge extends to include water quality monitoring, from source to tap. This ensures the safety of water from various sources (like rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and aquifers) before it reaches the treatment plant or at the point of transfer from wholesale water producers. Integrating this information with meters at water production plants or pumping stations and DMA meters enables comprehensive water balance and pressure management across the network. Our pressure monitoring and acoustic leak detection offerings ensure that pipes, often designed to last 75 to 100 years, are not degraded by harmful transients that cause premature breaks or bursts and require replacement. By providing straightforward insights from sensor data, we help utilities to allocate resources effectively. Although these insights are made as simple as possible, a core pillar of BlueEdge is the support we offer our customers and their staff. We have dedicated teams that provide continuous training so our customers can maximize their investments and exceed their consumers’ expectations.

What role does data collection and analysis play in improving water system management?

Data collection is the first step, which involves ensuring you have robust sensors that provide valid data within the relevant timeframe for the problem you're addressing. We believe data collection and communication go hand in hand. Whether it's collecting 15-minute interval data four times a day from a billing meter or real-time communication from a water quality monitoring sensor at a treatment plant, it’s crucial to understand the specific problem each sensor and communication package aims to solve. Additionally, ensuring the software solution not only collects data but also presents appropriate alerts, alarms, and insights is essential. This process begins with the sensor and communication, ensuring near real-time visibility into previously unmonitored areas of the network or process.

How can BlueEdge help utilities combat data fatigue and better leverage information?

The key here is providing actual intelligence. In our industry, many organizations are still data-poor, especially “outside the fence” between production and point of use.  The amount of data can vary significantly based on the utility's size, financial capabilities, and data maturity level. Even when utilities have enough data in terms of quantity, the quality is often suspect.

Many utility systems are grappling with infrastructure that has exceeded its intended lifespan, leading to significant water loss

I would argue that outside of treatment plants, the network remains significantly under-sensored. For example, water quality is heavily grab-sample based and reliant on personnel to collect and labs to analyse those samples. While online monitoring won’t replace the lab, it provides invaluable insights between the required daily or weekly samples, ensuring compliance, improving quality, speeding emergency response, and bolstering the operation teams’ understanding of their network. 

Simply collecting and storing data isn't enough, though. We also need to make impactful decisions based on this information. Whether through simple alerts, dashboards or automated insights that leverage multiple pieces of information, our suite of solutions presents data in a way designed to address the needs of the customer. Whether you use BEACON® SaaS for meter-to-cash operations and customer service, EyeOnWater® for consumer engagement and notifications, or RADAR for pressure management and operational support to ensure assets are operating correctly, our offerings ensure all data functions together seamlessly and without silos.

This comprehensive data integration allows information intended for meter-to-cash operations and customer service to also serve as an operational tool. BlueEdge ensures data standardization, presenting meaningful insights to the intended user — whether a utility operator or a homeowner.

Where can BlueEdge be incorporated into water systems to help achieve water stewardship goals?

The first, and simplest, step is making water visible. The more we can see and measure in terms of water usage and quality, the better we can manage it. This means source-to-tap monitoring and full network-based visibility: how much has been drawn out of a river, lake or aquifer, where it goes, and what is being returned to the system.

This encompasses the way large commercial or industrial users are managing their own water — and making sure that data is not sequestered within the utility, but instead shared to the user of the water in a more granular way, like through our consumer engagement app, EyeOnWater. By ensuring the commercial or industrial customer has access to the same high-resolution consumption information as the utility, we can help those consumers better understand how much water they are using — and if they have a problem, it can be addressed before it becomes a major issue for the utility and industry alike.

Concerning notifications and full visibility to the homeowners about their water use, we recently released several specific alerts, alarms and algorithms for irrigation, because it is one of the largest drivers of water usage for homeowners and utilities in the U.S. People can manage what they are using for irrigation and see if they are overwatering or going against irrigation policies.

We start with the basis of making water visible to those who are using it, so they can better manage their use of it and then ideally reduce their overall consumption.

How can water quality solutions from Badger Meter, such as optical and electrochemical sensors, enhance water management and monitoring?

Historically, water quality has been monitored with lab samples or with wall-mounted cabinet analysers using reagents. While some of our portfolio still includes these traditional methods, we have advanced toward electrochemical and optical sensors that offer real-time visibility without the need for expensive maintenance contracts, chemicals, or bypass streams.

Our low-powered, inline, online and reagent-free technologies enable water quality monitoring to move from the lab to the field. This provides real-time information regarding disinfection levels (chlorines and chloramines), pH for corrosion control, turbidity for flushing, scale issues and more. When these sensors and parameters are paired with more traditional pressure, flow and leak products, they can help corroborate other issues like bursts, unintentional valve closures, and more. 

We have dedicated teams that provide continuous training so our customers can maximize their investments and exceed their consumers’ expectations

For example, a Badger Meter customer in the southern U.S. deployed real-time monitoring throughout neighbourhoods and detected periods with no chlorine in the system. The customer initially assumed it was a faulty reading, but real-time monitoring revealed that there was no chlorine at certain times due to water stagnation and elevated temperatures. Furthermore, a number of our utilities have begun deploying sensors to verify water quality for large commercial customers or to ensure appropriate quality for sensitive populations like hospitals and daycares.  Outside of any operational benefit this has also helped build trust between the utility and the consumer.

What role do network monitoring technologies play in protecting water resources?

Network monitoring technologies play a crucial role in protecting water resources by ensuring the longevity and reliability of water infrastructure. Our PIPEMINDER devices specialize in high-resolution pressure monitoring, transient detection, and network calming. These tools not only detect and locate pipe bursts, but also help ensure that assets last as long as they should by minimizing harmful pressure events This proactive approach helps to prevent leaks and failures before they occur, rather than just fixing existing issues.

BlueEdge ensures data standardization, presenting meaningful insights to the intended user — whether a utility operator or a homeowner

While many leak detection technologies focus on addressing problems after they've occurred, our solutions are designed to ensure that water network assets perform optimally for their expected lifespan. This is achieved by monitoring and mitigating various stressors within the system. For instance, our technology can identify and address issues caused by hard pump start-stops, improperly weighted or malfunctioning valves, and significant pressure variations due to commercial customer demand. These stressors can send damaging transients through the network, potentially compromising pipeline infrastructure.

The next step in the evolution of our full network monitoring package incorporates data from devices like our E-Series® Ultrasonic meters at the furthest extent of a network (the entry point of the home) to the explicit network monitoring devices mentioned above to enhance pressure management.

How does Badger Meter help utilities achieve their sustainability and water management objectives?

Badger Meter technologies are key enablers for utilities to achieve their sustainability and water management objectives through advanced measurement and monitoring technologies. Utilities have water management and GHG emission reduction goals. Approximately 90% of the electricity consumption, and 80% of Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions at a typical utility come from pumping water and wastewater.  By providing solutions aimed at reducing water loss, our solutions enable GHG emission avoidance. 

Our low-powered, inline, online and reagent-free technologies enable water quality monitoring to move from the lab to the field

By accurately measuring water flow and consumption, utilities can optimize water balances and reduce leakage, ensuring treated water is effectively utilized. This efficiency reduces the need to treat and pump excessive amounts of water, in turn lowering both electricity usage and emissions. Effective water management not only conserves resources but also aligns with sustainability goals by reducing the environmental impact of treatment.

In wastewater treatment, Badger Meter provides solutions for aeration optimization — a process that can significantly reduce electricity costs associated with blowers and chemical usage. Real-time monitoring equipment can optimize the amount of chemicals needed and, in turn, lower chemical and electricity costs.

Finally, our cellular AMI solution does not require the build out and maintenance of proprietary infrastructure and energy-intensive equipment given it utilizes existing, efficient and resilient cellular networks.

Badger Meter has over a century of experience in the water technology industry. How has the company maintained its leadership and adapted to market evolution?

Badger Meter is still one of the only pure-play water companies around. Every day, we wake up with a focus on how to solve customer water challenges. Along with our 120-year industry experience, we think on the same time horizons that a utility does: understanding that assets being put in the ground are expected to last a decade or more. We plan on those horizons and strive to be market innovators.

We were first to market in the U.S. with drive-by meter reading systems, ultrasonic metering, direct cellular communications on every meter, and cloud-based solutions for those cellular-connected meters. With a forward-thinking approach, we maintain our leadership position and ensure new technologies and solutions are robust enough for the market.

Network monitoring technologies play a crucial role in protecting water resources by ensuring longevity and reliability of water infrastructure

We don't assume that a new consumer technology will automatically fit into the utility space. Instead, we understand the specific environment in which these products need to function. For instance, a meter might be submerged in a vault for its entire 20-year life, so it requires specific treatments to ensure it lasts as expected.

Our pragmatic view on technology adoption ensures that any technology we roll out meets the needs of the utility. Enabling us to build a trusted brand and strong relationships with our customers and partners.

How have recent acquisitions, such as Telog, contributed to the company's growth and innovation?

Telog is a natural extension of where we have been. Moving from metering to water quality with ATi and s::can, to pressure monitoring with Syrinix, Telog is another fantastic addition that allows for remote data collection and software insights.

Telog enables flexible data collection from simple single-channel monitoring points up to full multi-channel monitoring. Outfitting locations like lift or pumping stations with SCADA-like functionality for remote sites at a fraction of the cost and complexity. While most of the BlueEdge portfolio is custom tailored to function as a sensor and communication solution, Telog enables you to bring your own sensor or enable connectivity to sensors that have already been deployed. Furthermore, the offering features long-lived but replaceable batteries, edge computing for smart alarms, and more, all while being underpinned by the same robust cellular communications and SaaS capabilities that are core to our portfolio. It fits naturally into our offering and extends the ability for our customers to gain visibility into their remote assets. 

Effective water management conserves resources and aligns with sustainability goals by reducing the environmental impact of treatment

What are the key growth strategies Badger Meter is implementing for the future?

Badger Meter will continue to be on the lookout for M&A opportunities to acquire other technologies that can enhance our set of solutions or our geographic presence. We’re also committed to significant investment in our own research and development – continuing to advance the state of core and acquired technologies alike. We’ll innovate our metering solutions, communications technologies, and the integration of businesses we acquire into our BlueEdge suite of offerings. Expanding and enhancing the usability of sensors and communication — whether it’s through lower power, lower cost, higher frequency, or better insight – as well as improved software capabilities will remain a core focus.

With a forward-thinking approach, we maintain our leadership position and ensure new technologies and solutions are robust enough for the market

While there's a lot of buzz around AI and digital twins, in my opinion, we’re still far from the practical realities of some of these technologies for much of the customer base. However, we’re prepared to offer solutions for early adopters and will continue to synthesize data from our extensive network of sensors to ensure utilities gain actual intelligence and actionable insights.

Regional expansion is also a high priority. Historically, Badger Meter has been a U.S.-centric company, but markets outside the U.S. face the same type of water challenges. We are committed to bringing our proven BlueEdge suite of offerings to new markets. We aim to increase our presence in regions where we may currently be known only through a portion of our brand portfolio, tailoring solutions across some or all of our offerings.

How do you see Badger Meter evolving in the water industry over the next decades?

Over the next 20 years, we anticipate a continued evolution toward digital solutions to solve ever-increasing water challenges. We maintain hardware-enabled software as a core tenet of our portfolio, which will ultimately power digital twins and full network operations.

While the term "digital twin" is often mentioned, I approach it with caution in the near term. This may be a somewhat contrarian point of view, over the next decade; however, I don't believe that most utilities will have the robustness of data required to fully drive a self-powered digital twin, especially when it comes to “outside-the-fence” operations. I do believe that linking full water lifecycle management will be crucial, though.

Badger Meter will continue enabling utilities to better manage both the quantity and quality of the water they produce and, at the same time, allowing consumers to manage their consumption while knowing the quality of the water they use. Consumer awareness of water quality challenges, such as the presence of lead, PFAS, or other contaminants, has also increased. I expect the trend of miniaturization and lower power, more stable water quality sensors to continue. This will eventually empower homeowners to know exactly what they are consuming and take mitigating action as necessary.  Despite the best efforts of utilities to provide high-quality water, this issue is more pressing than ever, and we’re committed to developing the solutions needed in the coming decades and beyond.

What is your personal vision for the future of smart water solutions and how is Badger Meter positioned to lead this evolution?

In my opinion, over the next decade we will see broad-scale adoption of hardware-enabled insights and automation. This shift will be driven by the widespread installation of devices, improved data communication, and software-enabled insights — helping utilities optimize their resources and focus their investments effectively. Digital transformation will hit its stride with actionable insights generated from the robust sensor and communication deployments. This will go a step further to digital agents and assistants that will amplify the ability of utility operators and managers to make informed and efficient decisions.

Water reuse and small-scale local water treatment is another exciting development that may change some of the traditional water cycle — enabling water to stay closer to where it is used and not relying on centralization and subsequent dilution practices.

Digital transformation will hit its stride with actionable insights generated from the robust sensor and communication deployments

Badger Meter will lead the way with reliable, robust hardware-enabled software insights that can be deployed at scale. Our technologies are designed to solve real problems for utilities, providing a return on investment through personnel optimization, improved asset management, and optimized and sustainable operations.

What advice would you give to other water industry leaders looking to implement smart water solutions in their organizations?

First and foremost, it's crucial to understand the specific problems you're trying to solve. While there is a lot of discussion about broad-scale solutions that claim to solve all problems, each utility faces unique and urgent issues. Identifying these specific problems and selecting the right tools to address them is essential.

We make solutions approachable to the utility, so they can focus on non-revenue water, optimizing assets and fostering customer engagement

Secondly, consider the adjacent priorities and ensure that your chosen solution provider can grow with you. I recommend that utilities avoid selecting too narrow of a provider, which might lead to integration or usability problems later.

Lastly, avoid chasing the lowest-cost option; instead, take a long-term view and choose a partnership that will support you on your smart water journey. This approach will have long-term implications for the financial viability of your organization and the satisfaction of your customers.

What do you find most rewarding about your work at Badger Meter and in the water industry in general?

In the water industry, it's incredible how passionate people are about managing the world's most precious resource. Initially, I fell into the water sector by chance — but it has been an incredibly rewarding industry to work in. I’m inspired by the dedication of those responsible for producing, protecting, and delivering water to those who need it.

At Badger Meter, it’s our ability to take a long-term view of the industry's needs and execute a strategic plan to bring essential technology to those who need it. Unlike other industries driven by quarterly results or consumer-based buying cycles, the water sector allows for a long-term perspective. This enables us to address the industry's challenges with a focus on enduring solutions rather than short-term gains.

While the water industry is often described as risk-averse and slow-moving, this characteristic allows us to take a holistic and long-term view of what the industry really needs. We’re focused on addressing the problems not just from a business perspective but also looking ahead to the long-term trends and needs of the industry.