Fuel Management

Fuel Management on Any Budget

June 2013, Government Fleet - Cover Story

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

At A Glance
Some ways to implement a fuel management system on a budget are:
  • Go up one level or automation, or implement one additional control feature
  • Purchase automated fuel systems at the most trafficked fueling locations
  • Purchase a system that can be added to — and plan to budget for expansion in future years
  • Budget in-vehicle devices into the total vehicle cost

Palm Beach County has been using the E.J. Ward system since 1984. Fleet management division director Doug Weichman, CAFM, said the County uses 6 million gallons of fuel annually. Photo courtesy of Palm Beach County
Palm Beach County has been using the E.J. Ward system since 1984. Fleet management division director Doug Weichman, CAFM, said the County uses 6 million gallons of fuel annually. Photo courtesy of Palm Beach County

There are numerous news stories about “missing” fuel at public agency fueling sites. Whether this fuel is not adequately tracked or there is actually theft involved, the fleet manager will most likely be asked about it. And with unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel costing approximately $3-$4 per gallon, coupled with the large quantity each agency uses, the cost of this unaccounted-for fuel can be significant.

Some say they don’t have the funding to upgrade to an automated fuel management system, but fleet managers and fuel management providers say with the benefits of automating fuel management and the risks of unaccounted-for fuel, you can’t afford to not have an automated system. This is especially true for fleets that rely on odometer entry for preventive maintenance (PM) cycles. Fleet managers stress that automated fueling systems have greatly benefitted their PM programs, and wrong entries can confuse an entire cycle, cause over- or under-­maintenance, or just waste time.

There are various levels of automation. Of course, the more automated a system — and the more you can control — the more it will cost. The solution lies in finding the balance between budget and automation. Fleets can go up one level of automation from their current system for more control. If they have multiple fueling sites, they can purchase fuel control systems for their most trafficked locations. They can also can take the route some fleets have taken and recommend — a slow high-tech upgrade. Via this method, fleets can begin with a combination of manual odometer entry and automated odometer tracking systems, with plans to go fully automated as they can budget funding across future years.

From Limited to Full Automation

The very manual method of clipboard-and-honor-system still exists — the risks of which are numerous. And while upgrading to a completely automated fuel management system may not be feasible for some fleets, there are numerous variations of automation a fleet manager can look to in order to increase fuel accounting and management.

A base fuel management system could be a stand-alone system designed for one or two hoses where stored data can be retrieved manually with a USB stick and viewed via Excel. This type of system, according to Orlando Hernandez, product manager, Fuel Control, OPW Fuel Management Systems, would serve a very niche market, such as a marina, where there is an above-ground fuel system and up to 250 or so users.

It’s for “people just looking to get rid of the pad and pen or the manual entry and do the bare minimum, just put it on an electronic file and open it up in Excel,” he said. “Everything’s menu-driven from the terminal ­— there’s no software.”

Russ Whelan, southwest regional sales manager for Syn-Tech Systems, parent company of the FuelMaster product, said the most common fuel management system he sees is a card lock system, where a driver inserts a key or card, or swipes a fob, and inputs odometer information. The information is sent to accompanying software for tracking fuel use and odometer inputs.

A higher-end system might provide more access capability or read credit cards. It can also be used to program specific controls, such as how much fuel can be dispensed to a certain vehicle type, or an odometer range for fueling to ensure more accurate odometer inputs by drivers.

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