Fuel is the cornerstone of the majority of industries worldwide. Having the required amounts of fuel is what allows companies to power machinery, vehicles and more. Being able to forecast and plan your fuel allocation properly is a crucial element of business.
However, according to a recent assessment by FuelOilNews.com, only 3 to 10% of fuel tanks are monitored. This is an extremely alarming statistic that shows there is an important misunderstanding or lack of care from many business owners in regard to their fuel management.
This article will explain the different elements of fuel tank monitors, how they work, the two different monitoring technologies, the roles of fuel tank monitors in various industries as well as go over the pros and cons of this type of device.
Understanding Fuel Tank Monitors
A fuel tank monitor is a device used to measure the fuel level in a tank in order to provide accurate readings used for logistics and operations across a variety of industries. They can be used to monitor any type of fuel, including propane.
Basic components and functions of fuel tank monitors
A fuel tank monitor includes the following elements:
Leads and sensors: The cable or "lead" connects the monitor to the tank's "Read-Ready" dial (commonly referred to as R3D). A sensor attached to the end of the cable detects the fuel level and sends the information back to the monitor.
Antenna: The antenna is used to relay the fuel level to an app or software for remote monitoring.
Dials/gauges: Some fuel tanks have physical dials or gauges installed for in-person monitoring.
Power supply: Fuel tank monitors rely on electricity to run and relay data back. Most tank monitors do this via high-end batteries with very long usage.
How Fuel Tank Monitors Work
Fuel tank monitors are divided between two major monitoring technologies. In most cases, which one a company ends up using is based on fuel type and tank size. Here is an overview of the two options:
Measuring refined fuels with an arm float is a simple mechanical process. A long metal arm with a joint in the middle and a buoy at the end is inserted in the tank, allowing the buoy to float at the fill line.
This level data is then transmitted to the monitor installed on top of the tank. The monitor then communicates this info to the cloud.
However, arm floats are finicky and can be "jammed" in the tank for a variety of reasons, including being incorrectly installed too close to the walls of the tank, preventing it from fully rotating. An additional limitation of float-based fuel monitors is that they cannot be installed in tanks over 8ft tall.
The Hydrostatic sensor is a very sensitive device that relies on various parameters to calculate extremely accurate product levels.
Hydrostatic technology gets its readings by calculating the product density, the pressure within the tank, and the pressure outside the tank.
The sensor within the tank gathers the data, then communicates to the monitor installed atop the tank, then the monitor communicates to the cloud. These monitors can work on tanks as tall as 52 ft.
Steps involved in the monitoring process
Installation: This process can vary depending on the technology you selected, but make sure to select a vendor with detailed step-by-step guidelines to make this process as smooth as possible.
Calibration: A crucial step following installation, it is important to calibrate your tank monitor based on fuel type, tank size and refuelling schedule.
Data processing and transmission: The main benefit of a tank monitor is to be able to monitor fuel levels remotely. A modern monitor must include the ability to transmit data, usually via an antenna and cell towers.
Alerts and actions: A fuel tank monitor is useless if it isn’t linked to a system of alerts and actions based on fuel level and other factors. Ensure you put in place a defined list of people receiving these alerts as well as an organized step-by-step reaction plan to various alerts.
The Role of Fuel Tank Monitors in Various Industries
As mentioned earlier, fuel is the cornerstone of many industries, to the point where many simply cannot operate without it. Here is an overview of how industries use fuel tank monitors:
Importance in the oil and gas industry
It’s very rare for this industry not to have fuel tank monitors installed, and in fact, many request their clients install them as well for a variety of reasons. This allows fuel resellers to offer better customer service and reduce costly emergency calls that often derail their operations.
Use in the agriculture industry
For large agricultural operations, a standalone fuel tank to refuel machinery is a critical piece of equipment. A fuel tank monitor is an essential device for this industry since most agricultural machinery requires fuel, and their use must be optimized around critical timelines like harvest windows.
Another huge benefit of fuel tank monitors for the agricultural industry is leak detection. When soil quality is the main income vector, fuel leaks simply cannot be allowed to happen and must be swiftly taken care of when they do occur.
Role on construction sites
Fuel tanks on construction sites are a rarer occurrence, but for large projects, they are essential and must be properly monitored. Almost all machinery on a construction site and even certain high-powered tools run on fuel.
A fuel tank monitor is vital for large construction projects to forecast their operations and deliver within their timelines properly.
Challenges and Limitations of Fuel Tank Monitors
While fuel tank monitors are generally net-positive devices in any situation, they do have certain limitations that must be taken into account when selecting one for your business.
Depending on the type of technology you select and the type of fuel you use, the accuracy of your readings can vary. Make sure to ask for detailed accuracy numbers and measurements from your fuel tank monitor purveyor before you buy.
Robust hardware is essential for the longevity of the device and ensures that it cannot be easily tampered with and will keep sending data even in complicated/stressed situations.
Fuel tank monitors are often used in harsh conditions, sometimes even underground. Quality devices are waterproof and can withstand wide temperature ranges.
You should also take into account the antenna size of the devices. If it is too short, it can lead to the device constantly cycling through cellular networks, leading to premature battery life drainage.
Most tank monitors run off battery power, and sadly not all are made equal. Make sure the option you end up selecting uses high-quality batteries that will give you several years, if not decades of power.
Fuel tank monitors with data transmission capabilities do so via cellular network or via WiFi technology. In most cases, WiFi transmission is a downright dangerous proposition due to the remote location of fuel tanks, and the fickle nature of WiFi signals.
In the case of cellular network transmission, it is important to do research on the type of SIM card being used. To be on the safe side, look for a fuel tank monitor with a dual SIM that can switch between networks on the fly independently in case of network disruption.
Benefits of Using Fuel Tank Monitors
Adding a monitor to your fuel tanks is a small and easy way to improve your business in a variety of ways. Here are the top reasons why it’s a business expense that just makes sense:
Increased efficiency in fuel management
Using a fuel tank monitor isn’t just about preventing emergency situations, it provides you with key data to be able to forecast your fuel needs. That means you can order exactly the amounts you need on a schedule that makes the most sense for your business.
Detection of fuel leaks
Fuel is a dangerous and volatile substance that must be treated with caution. A leak can be potentially disastrous, whether the consequence is an explosion, ground contamination or worse. Additionally, fuel is often an expensive resource that companies must protect accordingly.
Minimization of environmental impact
In almost all cases, last-mile delivery of fuel is done by truck. By monitoring your fuel, you are able to reduce the number of trips these vehicles make by ordering only what you truly need and minimizing your company’s environmental impact.
Cost-effectiveness and savings
Fuel resellers should all have fuel tank monitoring devices both on their tanks, and their customers’ tanks. This allows them to reduce or completely eliminate emergency calls by having a consistent delivery schedule that always fits a client’s needs.
Monitoring and real-time alerts in remote areas
Fuel tanks can be in remote areas that are difficult to access or simply far from civilization. Make sure to select a fuel tank monitor with IoT capabilities robust enough to transmit your data to an app or web interface to benefit from the true power of a fuel monitor.
Another factor in monitoring in remote areas is antenna length. Antenna length goes a long way in allowing a monitor to connect to the cellular network. Make sure you pick a monitor with an antenna that will connect properly in your area.
The Importance of an Accurate Tank Monitor
Fuel tank monitors have seen an incredible evolution over the years. Gone are the days of walking up to a tank in your backyard to check your fuel level. Cellular networks and the internet allow you to have an eye on your fuel tanks at all times, from the palm of your hand.
Fuel tank monitors are an affordable and powerful solution that every company should use. It’s more than being able to order fuel before you run out. It’s about setting up your business with crucial data that will allow you to make better decisions.