Edge Intelligence and Fuel Monitoring: Four Keys to an Effective Solution
Dec 20, 2019
By deploying networks of smart sensors to collect, analyze and share data, Internet of Things (IoT) and Edge Intelligence solutions are redefining a wide range of business operations. We typically associate the IoT with cutting-edge innovations such as self-driving cars, self-repairing turbines and medical implants. However, these capabilities are having an equally dramatic impact on more mundane business operations.
Take gas stations, for example.
Today, owners and operators struggle to maintain oversight of their inventories and sales of fuel. An operator overseeing, say, 25 gas stations in the Tri-State Area can only estimate how much fuel is in each tank in a particular station, and how the fuel levels of the tanks in different stations throughout his territory compare against each other. Measuring, recording and sharing data on fuel levels of multiple tanks in disparate locations involves labor-intensive manual intervention that yields limited, out-of-date and often inaccurate information.
As a result, the majority of fuel deliveries are calendar-based, rather than ordered in response to demand. This negatively impacts cash flow and revenue, as operators either carry unused inventory when demand is low or experience shortages when demand peaks.
Limited data prevents real-time reconciliation between sales and inventory, which means that operators can’t assess the factors that impact sales and plan accordingly. For example, they know that demand will spike during the Fourth of July weekend and wane in late February. But they lack the detailed insight needed to optimize supply management and forecast needs based on historical data.
Gauging the volume of water in fuel tanks also poses a problem. Fraudulent operators or transporters often skim fuel from tanks or trucks and add water to mask the difference. A distributor carrying 4K gallons of gasoline might siphon off 500 gallons, then top off the tank with 500 gallons of water before making his delivery. Or, a station manager might sell gas off the books and then either dilute the remaining inventory or change the settings on his console to make up the difference.
Here’s where Edge Intelligence can help. Data-collecting sensors and analytics tools can give operators online, real-time and remote visibility into fuel facilities and access to inventory data – including insight into fuel arbitrage, as well as timing, location, distribution, product availability and quality of supplies.
Smart sensors deployed within a gas station’s underground fuel tanks can gauge volume and water level of existing inventory and new shipments. The sensor within the tank collects and transmits data to a controller located outside the tank. The controller, in turn, connects to a Cloud-based analytical platform that processes data and allows operators to monitor fuel volumes and water levels in multiple tanks in multiple locations. Based on this insight, operators can improve supply management and place orders for new deliveries in response to demand – that helps to address the problems of inventory excesses (higher costs) and shortages (missed sales). Analytics can also support consolidated reporting and help optimize inventory management in anticipation of market fluctuations.
Edge Intelligence solutions can also combat fraud by gauging and flagging excessive water volumes. By automating and documenting the reconciliation of deliveries and dispensed fuel against inventories, the tools can prevent the practice of recalibrating measurements to mask skimming. Additional benefits include enhanced trust between owners and station managers, as well as reduced employee exposure to hazardous materials.
For operators evaluating Edge Intelligence solutions, four key criteria are outlined below:
- Analytics: An effective solution should provide actionable data on trends and usage patterns. Insights should include average daily, weekly and monthly sales, sales across different geographies, consolidated reports and forecasts of future demand. Accessibility is also key – look for browser-based dashboards that are accessible from any computer, laptop or mobile device.
- Flexibility: Solutions should be adaptable to all types of tanks – vertical, horizontal, silos, field tanks or above or below ground tanks – and all types of fluids. The ability to tailor performance indicators is also critical – users should be able to define specific measures ranging from individual tank views and transaction records to consolidated reports by geography, timeframe or other criteria. The ability to integrate with customer Point-of-Sale (POS) and other back-end systems are additional pluses.
- Ease of deployment: Installing an Edge Intelligence solution in a station should be easy, and involve no disruption to normal business operations. Maintenance should be conducted as required.
- Compatibility: Relatedly, interoperability and easy integration with existing consoles and hardware is essential.
For more information on fuel monitoring technology, visit our website.