A Necessary Tool
As a fleet manager in the 21st century, you are sure to have an abundance of fuel management systems available to you. In a densely packed market, it is essential that you make informed decisions or any potential cost savings can evaporate quickly due to teething problems, inadequate training, misinformation or other system downtimes. Problems can quickly lead to systems becoming undermined and any possible benefits quickly turning into issues.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the key elements that are required for a system to function well, from security and reliability to relevant data capture and analysis.
Security in Fuel Management
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 efficiently.
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 a wide variety of applications, but have become particularly well suited for use at the fuel pump as they can be packaged to resist hydrocarbons, have no problems with electro-mechanical readers thanks to having no moving parts, 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, as 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 that 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 needs differing information, and systems should be flexible enough to allow access devices to be programmed in various ways to allow diverse data to be captured. It is also important that access protocol remains simple and unnecessary entries are avoided. The vehicle is usually identified from the tag, but 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 and job code among other things.
Keypad entries are usually additional and for information purposes only, rather than restrictions that can actually be programmed on the data tags, 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 as drivers can be issued with their own tag device programmed with their unique identity.
An Accurate and Dependable Tool
A system put in place to monitor fuel levels is only as accurate and dependable as the fuel pump it is connected to. Always ensure the pump you have installed is in good order, calibrated and capable of producing a pulsed output. Too many times, expensive systems are connected to antiquated fuel pumps that are not correctly calibrated and are not able to produce a pulsed output. In some cases, the installer usually fixes a cheap flow meter with a pulsed output not capable of resolving accuracy to the degree that purchasing a system would warrant; inevitably the end result means that the new system can never reach its potential in terms of accurately reporting fuel usage.
Integrated Fuel Pumps
Most system manufacturers now offer a variant with an integrated pump, so if your existing fuel pumps have seen better days, this type of unit offers good value for money. If you use more than one pump, you can opt for multiple units with an integrated pump, which provides vastly improved data integrity and overall security, so if the system lets you down, it only affects that single pump, and 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 for your fleet.
Fuel Tank Gauging Systems
New complimentary products, particularly tank gauging systems, are now forming an integral part of modern fuel management systems. 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.
When it comes to purchasing the complete fuel management package, be sure to pay close attention to claims from fuel management companies regarding the accuracy of their fuel gauges. If you are offered a fuel gauge that does not compensate for temperature and specific gravity, you may be best served looking for an alternative provider as readings from your fuel tank can fluctuate by hundreds of litres.
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 pumps throughput versus gauge throughput. This is often best reported as a percentage reading for ease of understanding.
In recent years, there has been a big swing toward cloud-based software in fuel management, the systems offering this bring a flexibility only dreamt of in the days of PC based software. There are many advantages to having cloud-based software integrated into your fuel management system; the two most significant positives are that it makes your system significantly more reliable and accessible.
With software/reports being available to be accessed from anywhere at any time, stock information can be provided real-time and can be sent to mobile phones as text or email and there are even features that can be accessed through your mobile, such as to lock users out, introduce new users, check stock levels among many other things.
Updates are also easy to perform, as they are performed by knowledgeable members of staff 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 also 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, where 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 rectified by others.
Obviously, cloud-based systems are only made possible by advances in the internet infrastructure, so things can only improve as the infrastructure gets better and that can only be a good thing for transport operators as systems become more useful and offer a wider array of benefits as time goes on.
Fuel management systems are constantly evolving, which inevitably means they play a key role in the day to day activities of almost all fleet managers. If you would like to find more out about our fuel management systems, why not get in touch with our knowledgeable team today by calling on 01254 291391 or use our simple online enquiry form and we will be in touch with you as soon as possible.