As we know, changes in technology can be challenging and investing in new technology can be a complex discussion for many companies. With so many competing forces for capital spending these days, from new store investment, remodels, food service, self-checkout, EV chargers, and more, it can be difficult to build a case for operational technology to improve your overall business. However, operational savings can far exceed the return on investment in other areas. But the “hard sell” for operational investment remains.
In today’s fuel forecourts, many things can go wrong, often without your knowledge. Or, at the very least, without your immediate knowledge. In most cases, quicker reaction could have been taken and lowered your eventual loss or repair costs. Fuel leaks, fuel theft, meter drift, clogged fuel filters, broken dispensers, delivery shortages, and other issues can occur at any time. Unfortunately, only after the 10th or 100th customer complaint, does the issue reach the ear of the store manager. In the meantime, your customers have gone to your competitors for fuel.
Today, manual effort and legacy processes consume an inordinate amount of time for store and corporate staff. While manual effort can be considered a soft cost for corporate and store staff, the amount of labor used, and the lack of true operational insight may be costing your business substantially more than you realize.
In a nutshell, any manual process you are performing today in the areas of environmental fuels compliance and forecourt maintenance diagnostics can be automated, freeing up store and corporate staff to focus on more important tasks related to the customer. The other benefits include more immediate control and insight into how your forecourts are performing, potentially leading to an improved overall operation and higher customer satisfaction.
Below are just 5 ways that technological investment in your remote monitoring services could make your programs easier to execute and improve results:
Automatic Tank Gauge (ATG) Alarm Management
In many travel center and c-store chains, the management of critical ATG alarms is handled in a manual way. ATG alarms occur and may only sound at the ATG panel inside of the store. A store manager or alert clerk then reviews the alarm, assesses how critical it may be, and reports the more-serious ones via telephone or email to the appropriate party for repair. In some cases, these alarms may be silenced and not reported, leading to potential shutdown, fines, leaks, contamination, and costly delays in repair. In some cases, the alarms are reported via e-fax or email to corporate staff for review. However, alarms such as printer out of paper may receive the same level of attention as a PLLD shutdown, given the amount of alarms that are generated by ATGs across multi-site operations. The overwhelming amount of alarms, critical and less-critical, can lead to paralysis or inattention to more-serious alarms.
Technology exists today to electronically-prioritize a set series of priority alarms to generate emails, texts, and even voice calls and immediately alert essential parties to the more-serious ATG alarms. All alarms are tracked and archived, but corporate staff or support desks only need to be concerned with the priority alarms they receive. This process may lead to more attention to critical issues and faster, less-costly repairs.
Leak Detection Compliance tracking, report generation, and collection
The collection of leak detection results in a multi-site fuel operation can be quite time-consuming. Not only do you need to collect the results for potential regulatory inspections, but the locations should also be monitored daily for issues that may be indicating leaks or preventing the “passes” needed to meet regulatory requirement frequency. Smaller operations may be asking store staff to execute commands on their ATGs in order to generate the report results once every 30 days. This may require quite a bit of follow-up by corporate staff or local regional managers. Plus, when the report deadlines occur, it could be too late to fix the issues at hand, resulting in failed “passes” and the requirement to report the failures to the state environmental agency as potential leaks.
These ATG report results are then scanned or photographed and emailed or texted to corporate staff. These often-unreadable reports are then manually noted on a tracking spreadsheet or other tool and filed for future reference. In some cases, corporate users can “dial in” to the store ATGs and electronically pull the reports one or more stores at a time.
However, technology exists to free up store and corporate staff from these manual processes. Connected software can monitor daily testing for “passes” and report on which stores have not yet passed their 30-day testing. When the stores do receive passes, automated reports are generated and archived in electronic form on the supplier’s dashboard. The supplier’s dashboard can also share sensor status and other equipment information, such as active ATG alarms and history, to help diagnose when a tank, line, or sensor is not in a normal status.
Fuel Inventory and Delivery Control
Today, many companies are reliant on standard tank gauge level and delivery readings, delivery bills of lading, and point-of-sale information to compute their tank inventories. There is a high chance for error when using what is considered an old-fashioned approach to fuel inventory control. The variances generated from this method can result in high fluctuations from day to day as well as overall high write-downs of fuel related to fuel “shrink”. While using this process is “what we have always done”, there are better ways to account for your fuel inventories.
With the latest technology in place, precision inventory control can give you a better idea of where you stand on inventory and where fuel variances could be occurring. For example, when a tank is installed, the original tank chart information is normally programmed into the ATG. Over time, the tank can settle, tilt, and deform based on the groundwater and soil composition. However, the ATG is not always updated. Advanced precision charting can be performed on the tank, taking these issues into consideration and providing a more-reliable tank level chart.
Deliveries and current tank contents are also dramatically impacted by temperature. Advanced analytics can take the temperatures of the deliveries and current tank contents in mind and compute the new tank levels after delivery, with density, temperature, and other physics considered. The end result is more accurate inventory levels. Other advanced systems can also track sales dispensed during a delivery to give you a calculated delivery amount for every load. These insights can help to pinpoint delivery shortages or overages by drivers, haulers, and terminals. Comparisons can also be made between calculated deliveries and fuel bills of lading to determine any unusual variances. Finally, when you add up all the new insights obtained with the latest technology, you can more-accurately track the inventory levels and variances within any tank. Not only can you better-track the source of fuel loss, you can better ensure that you are not losing product to theft, loss, or leakage.
Flow Rate Detection
The reporting of slow-flowing fuel dispensers is a manual process for many fuel operators today. Often, the burden of reporting inadequate fuel flow at the lanes lies on the customer and store staff. However, it can take several customer complaints before a store manager reports the concern to company maintenance. By this time, some customers have left your business out of frustration, never to return. Other opportunities for failure include delays in reporting, failure to report the repair need, or reporting the repair incorrectly.
Technology exists today to track flow rate and alert the operator when the flow rate of a dispenser gets below an acceptable level. This allows the operator to target filter changes to specific dispensers. Often, when slow flow occurs on a dispenser or two, the inclination is to change all filters on every dispenser. That is not necessary with repair targeting and maintenance savings can add up fast! Also, by tracking flow rate on all dispensers, you can also identify when submersible pump issues may be at play. With connectivity, your supplier may be able to troubleshoot equipment issues early on before it becomes a larger problem for your forecourt.
Dormant Dispenser Detection
Today, the reporting of broken dispensers can fall upon the shoulders of the store manager and store staff. Often, there are delays in reporting of the repair need or the repair is reported incorrectly or ignored by the service provider.
Technology exists today to electronically track each dispenser for alarms and errors that may indicate that they are no longer functioning properly. Many applications track sales from each dispensing point and alert savvy operators when sales are no longer transacting. Real-time dashboards can capture all non-transacting dispensers across your enterprise and summarize them on your desktop, tablet, or mobile devices. Reports can be generated and disseminated via email to field personnel and store and general managers to investigate when a dispenser is no longer transacting. Return on investment can be captured quickly with this approach as non-functioning dispensers can negatively impact your customer flow and total gallons sold by 5-15% or more if not repaired quickly.
There is no better time than the present to investigate better ways to manage the above areas. Take time to research tools from various remote monitoring suppliers that provide modern forecourt monitoring technology. Many suppliers offer no-cost service trials and access to operational dashboards to view how their tools interact with your toughest locations. Then, schedule a meeting with your manager to discuss how the use of new technology could make your department more effective and improve the customer experience in the forecourt.
And, what improves the forecourt performance benefits your customers with a more-satisfactory experience.