In Focus: Terminal fueling systems

Until three years ago, drivers for Republic Services controlled their own fueling. At a company facility, a driver pulled up to a pump, lifted the lever, dispensed fuel and on paper recorded the number of gallons dispensed, along with his vehicle’s engine hours.

This fueling and data collection method had obvious problems.

“There was always a big variation between what was recorded going into the vehicles and what was recorded between deliveries and inventories,” says Russell Moorman, the fleet’s southern region maintenance manager, who oversees 1,600 Class 8 waste collection vehicles. Moorman says he is unaware of any fuel theft, but that’s not to say it didn’t happen.

After Republic Services installed a fuel management system called RF Fuel from SCI Distribution, the uncertainty vanished. To dispense fuel, drivers now must enter a code into a keypad or swipe a magnetic key at the fuel island. They also must enter their vehicle mileage. All data is transmitted between the fuel island and office through highly encrypted radio frequency (RF) signals.

At “more aggressive” locations, Republic Services is using SCI’s SmartMile – a small, easy-to-install hardware device – to automatically capture and report vehicle engine hours and mileage through radio frequency during each fueling.

With RF Fuel, the company now has automated reports to benchmark and compare fuel costs by each individual truck and on a fleetwide basis. Tracking the gallons per hour burned by each vehicle “tells us a lot of things,” Moorman says.

“We are a cost-per-hour company,” he says. For example, fleet managers can tighten or loosen drivers’ fueling parameters based on the exact number of gallons each vehicle burns for a given route. And through integration with the company’s fleet maintenance system, critical fuel information “rolls up” to the regional level on a weekly basis. The maintenance software helps to identify trends early, such as an increase in the gallons per hour for an individual vehicle or location.

Tight security controls and streamlined data processing and reporting are the core benefits of using advanced yard fuel management systems. As these systems become more advanced, fleets are finding new benefits in adding a fueling system to their overall information infrastructure, says Tal Ezra, president and chief executive officer of SCI.

Like a computer in an office network, the controller for RF Fuel – located on a fuel island – has a physical IP address. A manager with full security access can change fueling parameters, download reports and perform any function through an Internet browser, Ezra says.

As part of a computer network, RF Fuel is easily integrated with other software systems, such as maintenance. Through RF Fuel, a fleet can send a message to the driver to tell him that his oil needs to be changed or other repair work needs to be done before he is allowed to fuel. Similarly, companies could automatically activate a wireless camera each time a pump is activated to catch drivers in the act of unintentionally driving off with a hose in the tank, Ezra says.

Should drivers need to purchase fuel on the road, companies using the latest fueling technologies can maintain a common data and security platform. Wright Express – a provider of payment processing and information management services – has many fleet customers that buy fuel in bulk for yards, as well as over the road at truck stops and retail stations, says Gary Fragodt, vice president of heavy-duty sales.

For a nominal fee, fleets can capture and report all yard fueling transactions and retail fuel purchases on one card platform. “A lot of customers like the fact of getting consolidated reporting,” Fragodt says. When used with private site fueling systems, Wright Express captures complete “level 3” transaction details, such as times, gallons, mileage, and driver and vehicle identification. All transactions are available online within a nominal period of time.

Wright Express also assists customers in buying bulk fuel for private sites, and in capturing and reporting the invoice data into a common database with all other fuel transactions, giving fleets total visibility of fuel inventory. “It gives them a way to make sure that every gallon is accounted for,” Fragodt says.

However, for some companies – particularly those that pay drivers by the hour – the cost of paying drivers to fuel negates the cost savings from buying yard fuel. But with the price of fuel, companies still want to account for every drop.

Onsite Fueling, a Brandon, Miss.-based company, sends tank trucks to customer locations and fuels their vehicles for them, which saves fleets from paying drivers to do unproductive work – and also erases the chance of stealing fuel from a pump. Onsite Fueling uses mobile computers, precision fuel meters and barcode labels on each customer’s truck to capture fuel transactions daily for an entire fleet as part of its invoicing process, says Mary Nethery, the company’s director of marketing.

Onsite Fueling offers the service in 12 states in the southern half of the United States, normally providing customers with 300 and 400 gallons each night. Customers get the same transaction data they get with a yard fueling system, Nethery says.

With the right technology, accounting for every drop of fuel has become a simple, but necessary, process for fleets – with or without their drivers’ involvement.