How IoT Devices Can Help Gas Station Operators Weather COVID-19
Apr 22, 2020
Gas station operators today are facing a perfect storm of economic disruption. The essential shut-down of the national economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically lowered demand for gasoline. Reduced demand, combined with disputes between global producers, has resulted in a cratering of oil prices.
In this environment, optimizing operations through proactive action is essential. One key is to improve cash flow by managing supplies based on actual demand; this allows operators to avoid carrying excess inventory or running out. In addition, operators must find ways to minimize human intervention, primarily to observe social distancing guidelines, but also to adjust to shortages of qualified staff.
Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled fuel monitoring solutions can address the operational challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 then 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.
These tools enable automated, “just-in-time” re-supply of gasoline based on accurate, real-time visibility into inventory. Within a given station, operators can configure specific tanks to issue alerts when levels reach a pre-defined threshold. This station-specific insight, moreover, can be scaled across multiple stations to support a centralized model of inventory management characterized by optimized ordering, streamlined documentation, accurate reconciliation of deliveries against actual tank inventories and minimized human interaction.
From the distributor’s perspective, IoT-enabled smart sensors in delivery trucks can provide similarly dramatic results. A Cloud-based centralized inventory management system, combined with fleet management capabilities, can optimize routing by sending trucks only to stations that require supplies. Automated delivery reconciliation, meanwhile, compares amounts delivered to gas station inventories to prevent inaccuracies and disputes.
On a broader level, IoT applications can support advanced fleet management capabilities, including real-time GPS tracking, document capture and route optimization to enhance logistics. Additionally, vehicle performance metrics such as engine hours and mileage, as well as driver behavior data around acceleration and braking, provide analytics to reduce breakdowns and support predictive maintenance.
While specific strategies to weather the storm of the pandemic will vary by industry, a focus on operational efficiency is paramount. For the energy industry, IoT solutions that enhance inventory management, logistics and maintenance can make a critical difference when profit margins face unprecedented pressure.