Fuel Management Systems – A Necessary Tool

There are a vast array of ‘fuel management systems’ about, it is important that when choosing a  system that informed decisions are made or any potential cost savings can evaporate quickly due to teething problems, poor training, mis-information or other system downtimes. Problems can quickly lead to systems becoming undermined and any possible benefits becoming eroded. Security, reliability and relevant data capture and analysis are the key elements required for any system to function well.

Security should be a pre-requisite; systems should be made so it is as difficult as possible to take fuel without authorisation, systems also need to be flexible enough to allow vehicles to fuel quickly and unhindered. Authorisation is usually granted by some sort of access device, most commonly in modern systems by some type of proximity tag. Proximity tags have proved reliable in all types of industry for all types of applications, but have become particularly well suited for use at the fuel pump as they can be packaged to resist hydrocarbons, they do not have moving parts which means no problems with electro-mechanical readers, and if packaged well enough should be virtually indestructible. A lifetime guarantee should be offered, in which case reliability is not in question. Proximity tags can usually be programmed with access parameters and control parameters ensuring only personnel with an access device can fuel a vehicle. Most times hand held tags , reminiscent of old style keys are secure enough, sometimes if vehicles do not have ignition keys or are driven by many different people, vehicle mounted tags are required, they offer additional security and provide an answer to the age old problem of drivers losing tags or swapping tags with other users. Vehicle mounted tags are read using an umbilical with a reader (like a barcode scanner) and ensure the vehicle is at the dispensing pump before fuel can be dispensed. It is worthwhile noting, not all systems allow remote programming of proximity tags, in some cases the proximity tag needs to be presented to a programming unit based at a PC location, this is not always convenient or easy to achieve if you have many vehicles operating over multiple sites.

Data is captured at the point of fuelling, each organisation has its own requirements and need differing information, and systems should be flexible enough to allow access devices to be programed in various ways to allow diverse data to be captured. It is also important that access protocol remains simple and un-necessary entries avoided. The vehicle is usually identified from the tag, there are then various ways of capturing other information. The simplest is to program the tag to ask the driver to make entries via a keypad; entries may include driver identification, mileage reading, Job code etc. Keypad entries are usually additional and for information purposes only, rather than restrictions that can actually be programmed on the datatags, such as limits on the number of times a vehicle can be fuelled in a day or the amount the vehicle can take at any one fuelling. If there are reasons drivers cannot make keypad entries the information can usually be captured automatically, drivers can be issued with their own tag device programmed with their unique identity, vehicle tags can be used in conjunction with on-board GPS to automatically capture mileage readings and other information can be simply stored on look up tables at the pump to ensure security and data integrity.When the access device activates the fuel pump it is important that the fuel pump is properly specified and maintained.

A fuel management system is only as accurate and dependable as the fuel pump it is connected to. Always ensure the pump is in good order, calibrated and capable of producing a pulsed output. Too many times expensive ‘fuel management systems’ are connected to antiquated fuel pumps that are not calibrated, and are not able to produce a pulsed output, in most cases the installer usually fixes a cheap flow meter with a pulsed output not capable of resolving accuracy to the degree that purchasing a fuel management system would warrant, the result is the new fuel management system can never reach its potential in terms of accurately reporting fuel usage.

Most fuel management system manufacturers now offer a variant with an integrated pump, if your existing fuel pump/s have seen better days this type of unit offers good value for money, if you use more than one pump, multiples of this type of unit also provide improved data integrity and overall security, if the fuel management system lets you down it only effects that single pump there is no requirement to switch all pumps into the dreaded override (free vend) position. Whatever the scenario, pumps with displacement meters should be selected whenever possible; displacement meters are the same type of meter used in forecourt pumps and offer the best mix of speed and accuracy.

New complimentary products particularly tank gauging systems are now forming part of a modern fuel management system. Any monitoring system worth its salt now has the capability of integrating or interfacing with external sources including tank monitoring or tank gauging devices. Most manufacturers will offer an upgrade path to enhance existing systems. Caution is recommended when specifying this type of enhancement some gauges are little better than the pump-up gauge you probably already possess , claims to accuracy can be misleading if they do not compensate for temperature and specific gravity, or are not installed correctly, some of the cheaper electronic gauges have a tendency to drift, and readings can fluctuate by many hundreds of litres, if you are relying on the fuel management system to take a reading from the gauge it is hit and miss if the reading will be correct at the point of communication. The more established fuel monitoring manufacturers have invested in the development of gauges that are specific to their existing products; these types of gauges are usually more accurate and reliable than off the shelf gauges that simply provide an output.  A good manufacturer will offer a truly integrated gauge which allows comparisons between tank gauge stocks versus book stock and pump throughput versus gauge throughput this is often best reported as a percentage reading for ease of understanding.

There is a big swing toward cloud based software, the systems offering this are a great advancement and offer flexibility only dreamt of in the days of PC based software. There are many advantages, ultimately they are more reliable and more accessible, software/reports can be accessed from anywhere anytime, stock information can be provided real time and can be sent to mobile phones as text or email, there are even features that can be accessed through your mobile, such as lock users out, introduce new users, check stock levels etc. Updates are easy to perform, systems are kept up to date, and updates are performed by knowledgeable people manning the host servers so the problems that put most of us off updating systems do not apply. The host can usually offer a better level of service as they can access your system directly.

At an operational level the new cloud based software offers multi-user and multi-site capability with password protection, there is also scalability so the systems can grow as you do. Most suppliers offer systems that use administrator principles, an administrator can allow access level privileges to users, meaning some functions can be devolved to other people without the danger of them making errors of judgement or mistakes that need to be sorted out by others. Obviously cloud based system are made a possibility by advances in the internet infrastructure, there is no turning back, things can only improve as the infrastructure gets better that can only be a good think for transport operators as Fuel management systems become more useful and relevant than ever before.