Gallons of useful data

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When fuel management systems were introduced to the trucking market about 15 years ago, most people focused on their ability to provide security at carriers’ on-site fuel islands and to offer accurate, extensive data on fueling transactions.

Minimizing fuel thefts by employees at on-site fuel islands continues to be important to system vendors and users. With today’s stratospheric fuel prices and increased opportunities offered by improved technologies with open architecture, however, carrier-users also use systems as critical management tools in their never-ending struggle to control fuel costs. As a result, many carriers no longer limit their use of an FMS to tracking how many gallons are pumped at their on-site fuel islands.

Better yet, system users are maximizing value of the transaction information by automatically exporting the data to their mainframes. Subsequently, the information is seamlessly folded into, for instance, the user’s maintenance program to measure a vehicle’s operating efficiency and fuel consumption, and to alert supervisors if unscheduled maintenance is needed.

Durability is key
Comcar Industries Inc., Auburndale, Fla., started installing the FuelMaster system at its five trucking companies’ terminals in 10 states in 1996. More than 3,000 of the system’s rugged, plastic keys are being used by Comcar employees and owner-operators to gain access to the carrier’s dispensers and fuel more than 6,000 vehicles.

There is one key for each tractor and service vehicle. Information is embedded in each key’s read/write memory chip, which is encoded with confidential information, such as the trucking company’s ID, the vehicle’s domiciled location and a vehicle’s identification, needed to fuel a particular truck.

And as an alternative information/access medium, FuelMaster also offers its SmartCard.
Comcar’s facilities are located in a wide variety of environments, ranging from Miami to Boise, Idaho, says Milt Jacobs, Comcar’s executive vice president.

In fact, Syn-Tech Systems Inc. of Tallahassee, Fla., originally developed the FuelMaster system in the late 1970s for deployment at U.S. Air Force bases around the world, and it is now the fuel management program for all of the Department of Defense’s service branches. It didn’t begin selling the system commercially until 1989.

The FuelMaster system replaced a manual fuel ticket entry procedure at Comcar, which took “well over a week to collect and record the fuel data,” adds Jacobs. The old system’s data accuracy also “was a concern.”

In addition to the system’s ability to provide automated transaction tracking, Comcar officials say they like the system because it has eliminated problems with lost and illegible fuel tickets, and clerks’ keypunch errors. Also, drivers no longer have to wait for fuel authorization.

The fuel management unit (FMU) installed at each fuel site is linked to the system’s DOS-based software, which is installed on a dedicated PC at Comcar’s headquarters. The software holds a database of Comcar vehicles and authorized users on the FuelMaster system.

The PC is connected to a modem, which dials a fax line, except for a 15-minute period each night, Monday through Friday, when it’s used to upload batched fuel transaction data to Comcar’s mainframe. The PC also is used to transmit fueling authorization data to the FMUs.

After the uploading is complete, the transaction data is edited and exported to Comcar’s information services department, where fuel files are created, so the data can be interfaced into programs such as the general ledger, fuel tax reporting and vehicle maintenance summaries. The files are used for reconciliation purposes, so each transaction is accurately accounted for, to the appropriate operating company or owner-operator, and so all vehicle history reports in the computerized maintenance program are kept up-to-date.

The FuelMaster system “was not the most expensive or technologically advanced unit on the market,” says Jacobs. “But it continues to meet Comcar’s requirements, with efficiency, responsive service support and ease of use. This would be the system of choice today,” he concludes.

Enhances customer relations
System Transport started using the Petro Vend System2 model at its Spokane, Wash., headquarters about 10 years ago, according to Don Piontek, the carrier’s fuel and license manager. In the ensuing years, the System2 was also installed at the company’s California facilities in French Creek Camp and Bloomington.

Besides using the data collected by the system for fuel tax reporting purposes, it also enables the carrier to bill a major client for the amount of fuel used by its 18 local delivery trucks when they refuel at System Transport’s terminal.

The arrangement creates a win-win situation because it allows that customer to take advantage of the volume discount price paid by System Transport for bulk fuel purchases. It also eliminates potential environmental problems if that client continues to have an on-site fueling operation. And the arrangement enhances System Transport’s relationship with that customer.

The System2 model, which can handle up to four fuel island terminals (FTIs), includes a fuel site controller that stores transaction data and driver and vehicle records, including restrictions established by fleet managers. The FITs have a stainless steel keypad and a backlit display, illuminated keypad, and a reader area for nighttime fueling.
Petro Vend, based in Hodgkins, Ill., has been designing and manufacturing FMS equipment since 1961.

Environmental protection
Steelcase Inc., a private fleet, has been using the Petro Vend system at its two sites in Grand Rapids, Mich., for about three years, according to Dave Freas, fleet administrator. Its 140 trucks deliver office systems and furniture across the country.

Fuel transaction data are uploaded from the system to the company’s ShopFax maintenance program and to the corporate accounting department for fuel tax preparation and reporting purposes.

Freas says the system’s “biggest positive issue” is the protective control it offers if a hose falls to the ground during the fueling process. If that happens, the system automatically stops pumping fuel and minimizes environmental liability of spillage because the system’s “communication” between electronic rings shuts off.

Mistake-free fueling
Drivers for Arnold Industries’ two trucking operations – New Penn Express, a regional less-than-truckload carrier based in Lebanon, Pa., and Arnold Transportation Services, a truckload company headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla. – often entered wrong identification or odometer numbers when they fueled their trucks.

But Ray Trone, Arnold Industries’ fuel manager, says he no longer has that problem since the two carriers started using Gasboy International’s CFN II model fuel management system about seven years ago.

The CFN II can control up to 32 hoses and store an almost unlimited number of transactions, claim Gasboy officials, and the system’s software can be customized so it can be used at any size site.

Gasboy International, headquartered in Lansdale, Pa., and a subsidiary of the Tokheim Corp., has been in the fueling equipment business since the 1920s.
Today, more than 750 company trucks and some 1,500 owner-operators’ power units are fueled by the system, which is installed at 12 New Penn sites and at six Arnold Transportation locations, according to Trone.

Transaction data are uploaded, via a dedicated PC, to the corporate mainframe and, subsequently, to the maintenance program. And fueling and mileage information, incorporated in the vehicle history section of the maintenance program, is a combination of integrated data from over-the-road purchases, which are provided by Comdata, as well as records of on-site fueling transactions.

200 times better
Another Gasboy customer is Mike Coleman, fleet manager for Great Bay Distributing, an independent wholesaler for Anheuser-Busch. Coleman says the system is “200 times better” than the manual-entry system it used until early 1999.

Now, the fuel pumped on the 170 trucks – domiciled at the distributor’s headquarters in Largo, Fla., or its Holiday, Fla., operation – is tracked and recorded by Gasboy’s Fuel Point model.

The Fuel Point model doesn’t require keys, cards or manual entries because when its nozzle is inserted in the vehicle’s fill pipe, the truck’s odometer and vehicle ID information are automatically transferred to the fuel management system, after it authorizes the refill and records the transaction data.

In addition to using management tools generated by the Fuel Point system – such as the miles driven per vehicle and fuel efficiency reports – Coleman also uses the data provided by the system to create several unique measurements. One measurement determines how much the beer wholesaler spends on fuel for each case of beer it sells.
Many carrier managers would drink to that kind of opportunity.