What’s to be Gained from Fuel Management?

Well, after my last post you now know that a new type of fuel management system is being developed here, which means that it will need to be road tested before commercialisation in a few months time. If you are a haulier located in or not too far from Kent and would like a free system for your use with full warranty, in exchange for fitting it to your heavy artic tractor in your workshop, then drop me a line at – FMT@bucksnet.co.uk with your phone number. I will then give you a call to discuss arrangements.

Okay, so you currently run your trucks with GPS and GPRS for track and trace and you have a gizmo to tap into the CAN bus for vehicle data such as distance covered and speed etc. You also get fuel tank contents and total fuel consumed by the engine. And you have driver behaviour monitoring to ensure the fuel is used economically. So you’re covered for fuel monitoring, right?

Well, maybe, but probably not. What you may not be taking into account, rather strangely considering what fuel costs these days, is the accuracy of the data you are getting from the vehicle CAN bus and what its shortcomings are quite possibly costing you. We live in an age when fuel is the single largest cost in running your vehicles but you have not been given an adequate means of controlling it. This is because the kind of device used to measure how much is in your tank was developed to be as low-cost as possible in an age when fuel was cheap and wastage didn’t really matter. It is an approximate indicator of fuel level only and it is typically wrong by up to 15 litres either way. The accumulated uncertainty you are liable to get from your tank gauge over the course of the year, if translated into money, has a value of more than half of your profit margin in running the vehicle. So this fuel could disappear for some otherwise good or bad reason without you knowing for sure that it has happened in the short term. So you can’t keep adequate track of your fuel supply; you have to take the word of your supplier when he says his delivery system is accurate and you have to assume that no-one is helping themselves to any of it. Likewise you have to assume that none is being accidentally spilled due to over-filling and none is leaking away or being burned inefficiently. This despite the fact that we now know that some fuel delivery pumps differ in their outputs by up to about 4.5% without short changing you, ie some over-deliver and you probably don’t know which ones. Some pumps under-deliver, some say, by much more and most certainly do short-change you.

If you run your vehicle throughout the year locally or from west to east and back again in the EU then it encounters a significant variation in seasonal ambient temperature and so does the fuel you are buying. Especially if you include more extreme hot and cold spells in winter and summer. Owing to the thermal expansion rate of fuel the amount you think that you buy and put in your tank throughout the year varies. If you don’t measure the temperature in the tank at the time (and do some arithmetic as well) then you have a grey area of uncertainty over how much you have actually bought throughout the year. Especially if some of it came from above ground storage tanks and some from underground tanks. Taken over the whole year the size of the uncertainty corresponds to a variation of something like 3 percent around the amount of fuel purchased. Not a big deal, you might think, but if you are running a 38 or 44 tonne artic then you have total annual running costs of around £130,000 to cover of which something like £55K is fuel. Fuel costs vary, (mostly upward) but your profit margin is typically only around 5% of running cost in this part of the world. But hang about, this means that this rather small figure of 3% uncertainty in the amount of fuel purchased translates to a whopping uncertainty of around 20-25% in the size of your profit margin (it really is that sensitive). This means that if something untoward was happening when your vehicle was being fuelled at your usual filling station – like the delivery pump was a bit out of spec or maybe you were filling up after a spell of hot summer weather – then your fuel receipt might look OK. And you would never know there was a discrepancy. Do that often enough and it becomes a regular undetected variation in your profit. In fact, all sorts of things could go wrong for your fuel and, providing they did not become as large as the uncertainty then you could never be sure what the problem was or even if there was a problem. Putting it another way, if a number has a degree of uncertainty about its precise value then its real value can be anywhere within the limits of the uncertainty and you would never know what it is.

This is a classic case of the information you need being submerged in the background noise of normal vehicle operation. The temperature of fuel is only one variable of many affecting profitability. So consider how much control you actually have over your profit.

Now consider something even more awful. If your vehicle does not go west to east in the EU but instead goes from far north to south though-out the year, then the ambient temperature range is doubled, and so is the uncertainty with around half of the profit you make lying in a fog of operational uncertainty. Where no real measurements exist of your fuel purchases beyond the receipts or reports you have been given and where temperature, short delivery, spillage, leakage or an inefficient engine may be making off with up to half of your profit margin. Notice I haven’t mentioned theft – how could you accuse anyone in the circumstances with so many other possibilities?

Well, the answer is to measure it, of course. When you fuel up measure the amount you get and its temperature. Then you will know if it is correct and you will see if it is advantageously or adversely affected by its temperature or by the set up of the delivery pump. While away from the filling station continually measure the amount in the tank and compare it with the correct figure for the fuel consumed by the engine so there can be no undetected discrepancies, no matter what other operational variables there are.

Unfortunately, you have nothing reliable enough to measure it with. The fuel consumed figure you get from the vehicle CAN bus is only accurate to within a few percent and the tank fuel level sensor is only a rough indication at best. The tank fuel level measurement typically has an uncertainty of around 30 litres. As the vehicle probably fills up between one hundred and one hundred and twenty times per year (assuming a 44 tonne artic with a single 400 litre tank and 80,000 miles) the accuracy of the total fuel purchased figure is woefully inadequate. So fuel management remains horribly imprecise and security a nightmare with irresistible opportunities for those willing to take the risk of pilfering or fraud.

It has become vitally important to know how much is in the tanks of your vehicles. You have more to gain from identifying and using those precious over-delivering pumps in just a few months than the necessary equipment costs to buy. And that is without considering what you could be losing from under-delivering pumps that you fail to identify. Plus all the losses associated with undiagnosed fuel expansion variation, spillage, leakage, inefficient usage and theft.

Well, as I indicated last time, a system to solve this problem is currently being developed here. It is called FMT and is being produced with some government R&D grant assistance, some future regional growth funding and some private finance. It will be commercialised in a few months time and will save you, the fleet operator, a lot of worry and possibly a lot of money. It has all the benefits of its competitors ie GPS and GPRS for track and trace and CAN bus derived vehicle data plus the accurate fuel measurements you need to manage your business.

All this on top of now being in the know regarding the amount of fuel you buy and where it is going to. What you most certainly will have is the most effective tool available anywhere for managing your fuel and your profits.

It is no longer plausible to say that measuring fuel properly is not cost effective, especially considering that even the vehicle manufacturers are going to the enormous expense of redesigning their engines and control systems to give better fuel consumption. Some are advertising their products using fuel consumption figures to two decimal places and are doing this because they know that their customers are increasingly buying the truck with the best fuel consumption as their first priority, over and above vehicle brand.

As before, if you are interested in FMT I would love to keep you informed and if you think, as I do, that this will be a commercially very successful product or would like a shareholding in it, then drop me a line at – FMT@bucksnet.co.uk.

Alternatively, if you are from the haulage or other automotive industry, have a marketing background and would like to work with me to make this product a worldwide success, then send me, Ed Jelonek, a message and your CV to the above email address.

Lastly, if you are located in or not too far from Kent and would like a free system to install in your heavy artic tractor in exchange for us monitoring its behaviour for a time, then please drop me a line at FMT@bucksnet.co.uk.

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