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Itron Smart Meter Production
RF Cafe Videos for Engineers

Itron Smart Meter Production - RF Cafe Video for EngineersA friend who has been an RF design engineer working in the smart meter industry since its inception sent me this video of Itron's (a competitor of his) smart meter production facility in Oconee, South Carolina. My first response upon viewing the video was gratitude to Itron for actually locating the plant in the U.S.! Then, I settled in to enjoy the high quality of the video production by the crew from How It's Made*.

If you have never been in an electronics assembly environment, you cannot fully appreciate the capability of these automated machines. Bare printed circuit boards have solder paste silkscreened onto them via an automated process that guarantees repeatability, and then are moved to the assembly area. BTW, equally amazing is the process used to manufacture the PCB itself (at another factory). The speed and accuracy of the pick-and-place machines is mesmerizing; I find myself staring in awe while watching the head pick up the component from the feed tape (sometimes after visually verifying the component by its markings), position itself over the PCB, rotate for proper orientation, deftly place the component into the screened-on solder paste footprint pattern, then zip over to pick up the next part and repeat the process over and over. Fully populated boards are then moved into an oven where carefully engineered temperature ramping assures a perfect solder joint that accommodates component package requirements and avoids detrimental effects of air pockets in the solder and mechanical stress in components. A combination of manual and automated inspection and test processes help ensure that every meter that leaves the factory is in perfect working order, and will function properly for its designed lifetime under often times severely harsh environmental conditions.

Top political figures in the U.S. have recently publically lamented the lack of jobs that automation has supposedly created. ATMs are evil in their estimation because they put bank tellers out of work, to name an example (I wish it was a joke). The truth is that even with a high level of automation, there are a lot of jobs created for engineers, managers, production line and shipping workers, plant maintenance staff, and personnel for many other tasks. There are not enough willing and able manual laborers in the world to produce the volume of products needed to satisfy demand. Anti-science and anti-progress thinking like the aforementioned would have us stuck in the third world.

* Warning: I cannot be held responsible for the amount of time you might spend viewing all the How It's Made videos once you go to their website - they're addictive.



Itron Smart Meter Production Video



Smart Meters are at the center of a lot of controversy, mainly for their adverse health effect and privacy invasion potential. The guy who sent me this video link also sent a link to a humorous video that lampooned the notion that smart meters are responsible for either of those two conditions, but in the couple days since he sent it, YouTube has taken down the video due to copyright issues. I can't find is anywhere now. It's a conspiracy!

An excellent overview from the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems titled, "Nonintrusive Appliance Load Monitoring: Review and Outlook" is available on the IEEE Xplore website, but you need to either have a subscription or pay for it separately. The fact is that while first-generation smart meters may only report consumption data, their planned evolution includes an ability to transmit detailed, time-stamped information that includes separate values for current, voltage, and power factor. That allows use of statistical models for extracting  likely usages of appliances, computers, lighting, heating and air conditioning, etc. If you think that is a stretch, just think of how those same three metrics are used routinely now in radar to assess target identity, capability, and intention.

Now, for a little levity, check out this video where CBS Channel 5 News reports on smart meters catching on fire. Of course, they found a toothless guy to interview about the dangers of the meters.


Smart Meters Catching Fire


Here's utility company smart meter installer being chased off someone's property. As you can imagine, there are scores of similar videos available.


Smart Meter Installer Chased off Property



Posted  2/29/2012
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