Fuel Operators are under more pressure today than ever before to better-manage their bottom-line.
With increasing fuel, labor, and credit card costs as well as consumer sentiment against high fuel retails, fuel sellers must be innovative to take operating costs out of their business. Today’s high fuel retails also lower the average fuel transaction, further exasperating the issue to obtain fuel throughput goals and profits. Today’s savvy fuel seller must invest in technology to build a strong foundation for growth, data security, and increased store and corporate staff efficiency. Manual processes, such as reporting alarms and repair needs at store level, can take away from time devoted to customer service and other store operations.
However, a tech-savvy operator can take advantage of technology and properly curated analytics to remove costs from their business to add efficiency. Often, this can be done with existing equipment and little or no change to tanks, lines, sensors, probes, or other underground equipment.
ATG or Automatic Tank Gauge Monitoring
The ATG, or automatic tank gauge, provides a plethora of information. From inventory level reporting, to alarms, to automated tank and line testing, the ATG is an amazing piece of equipment. The information from the ATG can be harvested easily with the right electronic connections and applications in place, to add efficiency and automation to your operation. By remotely monitoring your ATGs through various available solution providers, you can obtain the following:
Tank Inventory levels can be easily captured in real-time with remote monitoring in place. Today, many operators are dependent on manual inventory reporting processes, taking time away from store personnel to properly report the inventory levels to the dispatch department or 3rd party haulers. Often, the volumes can be erroneously reported or delayed due to various other demands for time. This process also leads to increased fuel runouts and overfills since delivery times cannot be optimized based on need and available ullage in the tanks. Electronically capturing fuel tank levels allows you to see tank levels in real-time, especially when tanks may be getting low. Solution providers can monitor the tank levels and provide runout alerts via email and text when a tank is exceptionally low, initiating a faster delivery to the store location. Inventory level API’s are also available giving the fuel operator the ability to request real-time inventory levels upon demand. Tank levels can then be feed directly into other applications, including dispatch, driver scheduling, and best terminal selection software. The elimination of manual processes and spreadsheets, especially for high-throughput fuel sellers, can decrease fuel runouts, associated equipment damage when this occurs, split loads, and other cost drivers.
ATG alarms can also be electronically captured, filtered, directed to the correct party, and archived for future reference. With multiple locations, the quantity of ATG alarms can be overwhelming to staff. This excess alarm “noise” can lead staff to overlook or ignore critical alarms. Obtaining alarms directly from store personnel, fax, via phone calls, or other means, only exasperates and delays the reporting of the issues at hand. Technology solutions can capture the alarms in real-time, filter to the critical alarms that you really need to know about, and redirect those to the correct parties in your organization. Provider dashboards can then display your active alarms and give you access to alarm history when needed. Store ATGs may also only archive the last 40-50 alarms from the location. Often, a state inspector may request a longer timeframe for a problem sensor or alarm. Electronic capture and archiving of alarms can give you the history and paperwork needed to overcome a regulatory violation and address recurring issues.
Compliance testing results can also be electronically captured from the ATG, where such tests are programmed. Today, the capture of the 30-day or monthly reporting may be the responsibility of the store manager, regional manager, or corporate staff. Testing examples include CSLD, SCALD, line, tank, and electronic sensor monitoring. Older technology may require staff to electronically “dial” into every location to obtain and archive this information every 30 days. With electronic connection and the proper applications in place, this test information can be captured and archived automatically, freeing up store and corporate staff to work on other tasks. Solution providers may also give insight into stores with testing that has failed or has not received a “pass” during the current time period. These pending failure warnings can give the maintenance department time to address the issues at hand and avoid the reporting of a test failure to the state.
Water in tank reporting is essential for any well-run organization looking to increase customer satisfaction and lower the liability of contaminated fuel claims. You would not want serious water warnings mixed in with your ATG alarms and perhaps overlooked. Water-based alarms can be captured and elevated to the correct personnel via email or text based on your desired parameters. With electronic monitoring, you would be able to see water levels and receive alerts well before a tank encounters a High-Water Warning alarm, giving you the opportunity to address before it becomes a serious issue for your customers and expense for you.
Leak and loss detection optimization can also be achieved with electronic monitoring of your ATGs. Many alarms can indicate a serious issue has occurred and in need of prompt investigation. Solution providers can track your inventory levels, looking for large and small unexplained drops in fuel levels. Many companies are dependent on their accounting departments and period reconciliation to indicate when losses have occurred. More real-time auditing can help you to address theft or losses in a timelier fashion with electronic monitoring in place.
Fuel or Dispenser Controller Monitoring
Another wonderful piece of available equipment at every fuel location is the fuel or dispenser controller. The controller is the device that communicates with the store POS and the dispensers, allowing fuel to flow to your customers. Some various controller brands include Passport, Commander, Radiant and others. With electronic connection to the controller at each location, more valuable data can be obtained, including fuel transactions, dispenser totalizer readings, and other metrics. Some efficiencies that could be realized from electronically accessing your fuel controller can include:
Fuel flow rates can be electronically calculated with a connection to the fuel controller and software solution in place. Electronically detecting dispensers or fueling positions in need of repair could help the operator “target” these dispensers for filter change or additional repair. Often, the first reaction to a customer complaint of “slow flow” is to dispatch maintenance personnel to change all filters for the grade. Depending on customer-based complaints is also not the best way to be optimize customer satisfaction and may delay essential repairs. With flow monitoring, operators can attack issues well before they become noticeable to customers. Finally, 50-75% of filter changes may be unnecessary. Often, it is only your higher-usage dispensers in need of filter change. However, if your software shows that all lanes have slowed for a particular grade, then tank cleaning or submersible motor repair may be needed. Monitoring flow rates can improve throughput, overall customer satisfaction, and lower repair costs, increasing the bottom line.
Gallons sold per day can also be obtained with an electronic connection to the fuel controller and software solution in place. Often, POS transactions can be lost due, so capturing dispenser transactions through the fuel controller can be a good “checks and balance” to ensure that every dispensed transaction has been paid for.
Dormant dispenser detection is one of the largest benefits of electronic monitoring. Often, a dispenser may be taken out of service at store level and improperly reported to the maintenance department for repair, or not reported at all. With dispenser monitoring in place, when a dispensing position has not transacted on a certain period of time, the dispenser can be flagged for investigation. Excessive down dispensers can dramatically lower throughput during peak times and send your customers to competitors. Maintaining strong dispenser uptimes ensures that you are capturing every sale available at your locations.
Dispenser Blend ratios can often be programmed erroneously in your dispensers. Some solution providers can monitor your dispensers and tank levels to ensure that your ratios are correct and not dispensing the improper octane or grades. Operators can lose a large amount of profit when improper dispenser is occurring. These ratio blend errors can also result in expensive fines and “red tags” placed on the dispensers, taking them out of service until repaired and re-inspected.
Meters in need of calibration can also be detected by some solution providers. Software and electronic monitoring can compare the amount of product leaving the tank versus dispenser totalizers on groups of transactions to determine where excessive variances may be occurring. Today, some fuel operators may only “calibrate” their meters once a year through an annual preventative maintenance program. But, what happens when the meter goes off strike during the following year? This often results in under or over dispensing to customers. Detecting problem meters and addressing quickly can lower profit losses and avoid state regulatory fines.
In summary, these are just a few of the ways to use technology to increase staff efficiency, throughput, customer satisfaction, and overall fuel profits. The investment in technology can result in immediate benefit to many parts of your business.
About Warren Rogers Associates
Founded in 1979 by Dr. Warren Rogers, Warren Rogers Associates pioneered the development of Statistical Inventory Reconciliation Analysis (SIRA) as a means of monitoring underground fuel tanks and associated lines. SIRA was certified in accordance with EPA requirements and has been used by petroleum marketers for more than thirty years to provide UST leak detection compliance. Warren Rogers also invented Continual Inventory Reconciliation Analysis (CIRA) for fuel management, which has become the industry standard.
Today, Warren Rogers specializes in statistical analysis and precision fuel system diagnostics for the retail petroleum industry. The Warren Rogers system is fully deployed in the cloud to provide customers with real-time access to fueling data anytime and anyplace. Recent initiatives include the deployment of a secure procurement application for delivery forecasting and product dispatch, the development of KPI Measures of the financial impact of tank system maintenance activities, and advanced delivery audit. In addition, all Warren Rogers solutions are PCI compliant and eliminate any reliance upon the use of a customer’s VPN for access to store devices. Warren Rogers holds numerous U.S., European and Canadian patents for these applications. For more information, please visit www.warrenrogers.com.