3. Why the Double Standard in Fuel Management?

A couple of weeks ago I decided to ask the trucking industry for its attitude towards the biggest influence on their fleet profit margin – their fuel. So I started a discussion in a LinkedIn forum group. The question I put to them was:

“I would like to get your opinions on why fuel in commercial trucking should be so vital to profitability and yet so little seems to be done to measure and control it effectively”.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the result until it seemed sufficient to give a reasonably representative opinion from a small variety of operators in the industry in various parts of the world including Denmark, Philippines, Canada, Zambia, South Africa, Estonia, USA and UK. The response has been quite illuminating although it of course probably has come from those who are perhaps more than typically serious about fuel.

Storage tank operation seems to be reasonably well organised in some places with centralised data management, acknowledgement that fuel temperature and composition are relevant and strategies and equipment being available to largely overcome the potential for thermal expansion losses and uncertainties as the fuel is received from the manufacturer. However, this is by no means ubiquitous with the issues frequently being largely ignored in most places.

However, when it comes to on-vehicle fuel management what they revealed was a mixture of approaches ranging from ‘head in the sand’ failure to address the problem to crude fuel management estimates being performed for the whole fleet on spreadsheets with no attempt from management to pursue efficiency. There is an accusation of “mental inertia” with the fleet operators being accused of not wanting to make the effort to change current practice for something better, despite the potential for increased profit.

We know from the current market that driver training and performance monitoring as a means of reducing fuel cost is popular and commonplace these days. Gadgets with built in displays to guide the driver in minimal fuel consumption driving technique are selling in large numbers. So fleet operators are interested in saving fuel. So why the double standard when it comes to fuel management?

Well, I think maybe I know. Driver performance monitoring works reasonably well  and does not require much effort from the fuel management team. In fact it is easy for them as the gadget does their job for them. The effort comes from the driver as he strives to optimise his technique and the performance of his truck in the knowledge that his employer can in turn monitor him.

However, the fuel manager still only has a general idea of how much fuel is in the tank at any time. How much has actually arrived in the tank during fuelling and how much stays there and for how long is more open to question. And it is a vitally important question as was acknowledged in my forum discussion.

The problem is that monitoring fuel on a truck is difficult if you want accuracy – and accuracy is required because the profit margin is so small. This is why many are spending little effort to monitor fuel on the vehicle despite its importance to profit. Its an almost hopeless task at present. Even small errors in fuel measurement add up to large errors when compared to the vehicle profit margin. This is because not only the volume but also the temperature needs to be recorded and the vehicle’s own fuel gauge is hopeless in both respects. Fleet operator’s management teams are understandably reluctant to roll their sleeves up and make serious attempts to record fuel purchased, corrected for temperature, as the vehicle is basically not equipped for the job.

The answer again is to get the ‘gadget’ (ie our new system – named ‘FMT’) to do it for you; to record the fuel delivery and correct it for temperature, thus giving it the authority of a mass measurement. FMT will repeatedly re-measure it and the volume consumed by the engine, all the while storing the values in memory ready to download to base along with vehicle position and other useful data gained from the vehicle data bus.

The data are then displayed graphically, revealing exactly how much fuel was actually received with each purchase along with time, date and place. You will be able to assess the amount and the supply source with thermal expansion errors and uncertainties removed. You can see at a glance whether the pump over-delivers to your advantage or under-delivers by even a small amount and should be avoided.

There will be no uncertainty over thermal expansion so with repeated use you will be aware of all weather, climate and delivery pump caused variations and be in a position to make rationally based choices of fuel source throughout the year.

You stand to recover the cost in just a few months and of course you will enjoy a level of fuel security not available to you before with freedom from unnoticed spillage, leakage, inefficient usage and theft.

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.

Lastly, I invited you in my previous posting to indicate if you control a haulage company and were willing to partner with me in road test of the system in exchange for a free system on your vehicle. I can report now that we have agreed a partnership for the purpose with an international haulage company whose identity will remain secret for the time being. We are still looking to partner with one or two more companies for the sake of testing operation in a variety of contexts. So, please contact me, Ed Jelonek, at the above address if you think you would like to acquire one of our systems in exchange for us monitoring it for a few weeks.

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