Tamper proof meter seal ideal for security and revenue protection

  • Industry News
  • Feb 10,22
It is high time to start using new generation meter security seals which provide higher security than the decades old meter seals. The new generation seals, according to Rajesh Kumar Banka, are more robust and tamper proof. In today's smart meter digital era, meter security seals must have DPM 2D barcode or QR coded serial number for correctly reading and verifying the meter seal's serial number and logo through smart phone or barcode scanner.
Tamper proof meter seal ideal for security and revenue protection

Today electricity distribution companies (discoms) are concerned about finding ways to lower their AT&C losses and be self-sustained and profitable. One of the main reasons of revenue loss is power theft by meter tampering. The meter tampering is not new and has been in practice since the very beginning of meter invention. Every distribution company is doing their best to reduce the loss by preventing meter tampering but often fails to achieve the desired results. One of the main reasons of failure to control meter tampering is that many discoms don't recognise that the meter seal is a security device for revenue protection. It requires proper attention to the entire process which includes selection, adoption, standardisation, procurement, application, record keeping, vigilance and disposal. It is the general impression of many utilities that meter seals do not work, and as a rule of regulatory authority, meter seals are being slapped over meters just as statutory requirement. No one has ever analysed the root cause of failure of meter tampering and the importance of tamper evident meter security seals and how effectively they can combat meter tampering. Before one gets into further details, first, one needs to know a few important facts about meter security seals.

About meter security seals
Meter security seal is a security item, whose failure results in a substantial revenue loss to the electricity distribution companies and has a direct impact on their balance sheet. A meter security seal is a security and safety product and hence its specification is required to be kept secret, which is, generally not maintained.

A meter security seal is the most important product that any electric distribution company procures, though the monetary value is very negligible to its total annual procurement value. Being a revenue protection product, a meter security seal, must be robust, foolproof and most importantly, it should not be accessible by counterfeiters.

Meter security seal must be selected intelligently and the specifications must be under wraps. Generally, everything is clearly mentioned in tender technical specification: shape, type, design, size of the meter security seal, details of security ID, company identification, and serial number details etc. All this provides a ready reckoner for the counterfeiter to be well prepared beforehand to do his job.

A meter security seal must be unique and should not be changed frequently as it goes directly in favour of counterfeiters. Unique means in shape, size, design and by ensuring that an identical meter security seal is not readily available in the market.

The focus is now on what happens when one adopts a tender process to procure a security item and reasons why it should not be procured through a tender process.

  • Select a unique technically superior type of meter seal and make a specification
  • The specification of the revenue protecting device, the meter seal, is made public to get maximum bidders to buy the cheapest
  • In the process one selects say, meter seal manufactured by ‘A’ and ends up buying from manufacturers ‘B’ or ‘C’. Or sometime one orders both B and C because their prices were lowest.
  • During the next procurement tender manufacturer ‘D’ and ‘E’ gets the order for being L1 & L2 bidders.
  • Over a period of time the meters are being sealed with 5-6 different types of meter seals. Meter security seals on some consumer meters are changed for maintenance or replacement and on some meters the security seal remains the same. Normally electric distribution companies maintain records of meter seals’ serial number but never are the design details like type, design, make etc on records. This gives very easy access to counterfeiters to easily tamper the meter and replace the seal with the same serial number and hence tampering is never detected. Normally, only the logo and serial number are verified. Under the process, the vigilance team fails to recognise the duplicate or fake seal without their fault.
  • More than 70% meter seals used are very common in shape and size because they meet the general technical specifications of the power distribution companies and hence are easily accessible to the counterfeiters.
  • All the above practices may save a few cents per meter but they result into high power theft without any trace. This has been ruining distribution company’s balance sheet year after year, thus accumulating higher losses.

    To achieve desired results, it is high time to rethink standardisation of unique security seals for protecting utility meter: their manufacture by reliable and professional manufacturers, the procurement process, keeping a long-term view of meter security seal's usage, storage and installation process, as well as the disposal system. Being a small value product, many financially and/or morally weak plastic moulding units are claiming to be meter seal manufacturers and selling the product with cheaper prices to gain business. This low pricing is not possible for any innovative manufacturer, investing in research and development teams to update their security products from time to time and innovate new methods to defeat newly identified ways of malpractice by counterfeiters.

    Today people are under the impression that by replacing the traditional meters with smart meters they can stop power theft completely. Smart meters or AMI or prepaid meters have remote reading facility which reduces the physical contact of the utility with meters installed in the consumer's premises. Hence, it makes it all the more essential to seal the new meters with a smarter unique meter security seal that will have authenticity for a longer period of time.

    The inconspicuous meter security seals can do wonders to prevent revenue losses to electricity distribution companies. The power theft losses by meter tampering of the electricity distribution companies can be attributed to the fact that they are "Penny-wise-Pound-foolish" while selecting the security guards (security seals) for revenue cash register (meter) thereby, missing the most important security aspect of the seal. All security guards are not equal. They are different because of their training, performance and the experience of the security guard agency. One cannot compare the cost of a security guard from a renowned agency with that of a local small agency. Similarly, there will always be a difference in prices between a seal supplier and a security seal innovator. Genuine manufacturers strictly follow professional ethics and know their responsibilities towards their customers in the revenue protection security product business.

    In view of the above facts, the procurement of meter security seals needs to be reviewed simply because in ‘Cheaper’ or ‘L1” process one ends up being “Penny wise and Pound foolish” by compromising on quality of the product and poor security of meters which is the "cash register" for electricity distribution companies. Quality comes at a price and “poor security is no security” which is clearly visible in the AT&T losses of power distribution companies over many decades. The meter security seal must be purchased from the original manufacturers on Long Term Purchase Agreement (LTPA). Revenue Protection is a need, not a choice for utilities.

    It is high time to start using new generation meter security seals which provide higher security than the two-three decades old meter seals. The new generation seals are more robust and tamper proof, In today's smart meter digital era, meter security seals must have DPM 2D barcode or QR coded serial number for correctly reading and verifying the meter seal's serial number and logo through smart phone or barcode scanner. In the meter app, provision for seal details can be incorporated so that the serial number, when scanned through smart phones, can directly go into the system. Meter security seal is 24x7 security guard on ones meters to safeguard revenue and hence treat your loyal revenue protection device well for best results.

    The Covid 19 Pandemic has taught everyone worldwide that preventive measures are needed to improve the immune system to save oneself from the Corona virus. Similarly, preventive actions to prevent meter tampering can save loss of revenue to electric distribution companies.

    About the Author:
    Rajesh Kumar Banka is the Managing Director of Safcon Seals Pvt Ltd
     and is in the security seal business for 25 years. He invented tamper evident polycarbonate meter security seal two decades ago to replace age old lead seals used on the meters. He has invented many innovative security seals during the past two decades and has many patents. He can be reached on email rajesh@safcon.co.in

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