Digital tank monitoring increases transparency and promotes proactive decision-making.
By Anton Albrand
To quote British economist and author Ronald Coase, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything.”
Analyzing data to turn information into decisions should be the goal behind every tank monitoring solution. Starting with one piece of data, it soon grows to gigabytes, terabytes of information and so on, and that ultimately translates into intelligence. Data collection through telemetry is at the core of the process, with the final desired outcome being a measurable return on investment that resonates throughout your entire operation.
With the end goal of communicating the status of a tank or containers’ inventory level, the solution has two components—hardware and SaaS software, which collects and converts data into useable information. A sensor lies at the bottom of the tank that collects information, which measures the pressure, or the weight, of the liquid inside that tank. This data transmits via a cable up to the telemetry device, which is the communication layer that transmits the data from the sensor to a cloud-based software solution to your intended audience, usually the dispatcher.
When tank monitoring is used to its maximum capacity, the process of monitoring assets brings tremendous benefit to an industry whose primary purpose is to store and then distribute products repeatedly. Tank monitoring offers greater visibility to the organizations responsible for serving customers in this industry. It offers intelligence and eliminates the hassle of manually measuring tank levels or guessing when a client will run out of a product.
Experts estimate that there are currently over 1.5 million IoT subscribers that collect information from powered or unpowered assets and report various data points. These end-to-end cloud-based solutions consist of purpose-built hardware collecting and delivering data through modern software technology, geared toward customers that require the expert support and training necessary to use this data to make better decisions across the entire company.
One of the most apparent reasons organizations choose to begin digitally monitoring tanks is to save money. The average delivery cost per tank can be as much as $75 per delivery. To deliver as much product as possible to maximize the cost per trip, it is important to know how much is already in the tank.
For example, take a 250-gallon tank that is 40% empty and needs 100 gallons to top it off—it would incur a delivery cost of 75 cents per gallon. However, when delivering 188 gallons to that same tank that is 75% empty, the delivery cost would be 40 cents per gallon. The business just saved 35 cents per gallon. This cost savings is enormous, especially when delivering hundreds of thousands of gallons over a few months. By contrast, a lack of tank visibility means higher fuel consumption, increased driver labor, excessive truck repairs, the need for more trucks, additional customer invoices and truck depreciation.
Tank monitoring promotes dynamic decision-making, allowing companies to start proactively looking at servicing their customers in a much more efficient way. For dispatchers, this is extremely valuable. They can target which tank customers need to refill that day, assign a driver with the appropriate product in the tank, and address any critical lows in real time while the driver is already out in that area. Plus, it allows drivers to come back to the yard empty, eliminating costly retains.
For manual call-in customers, installing tank monitoring systems can eliminate any delays associated with waiting on purchase orders. Auto alerts let dispatchers know when tank levels reach the minimum threshold, which can automatically trigger an alert to the customer to create a purchase order. For tank farm customers, a host and client installation can be set up that communicates data from up to 32 constituent tanks next to it, which means the local area network can help reduce costs associated with equipment and data feeds powering all connectivity through one host.
When first implementing a solution, most data customers think they need to see all data, all the time, which can be costly. It helps to work with experts who can set thresholds based on specific business KPIs. In reality, customers need to see the right data points set across the operation, so they can take action only when certain events happen.
The application’s analytics feature allows customers to run reports and measure countless data points, such as efficiency per customer or locations, if there are several divisions. Customers can also measure and compare how a product is doing over a given time, adjusting inventory orders and cash flow.
So, what is the value proposition for tank monitoring?
It starts with visibility. Tank monitoring allows the team to track tank levels and consumption rates across the entire customer base, allowing dealers to be more transparent with customers by sharing information. By setting proper notifications, the dispatcher can proactively adjust routes, reduce inefficient routes and optimize driver activity, leading to lower overall operational costs. There is also a positive environmental impact, since fewer miles driven equates to lower fuel usage and improving the carbon footprint, which is high priority for the industry.
At the end of the day, tank monitoring is a low-cost solution that delivers a significant impact across the entire operation over time. Data collected can be used to improve billing, compliance and fleet maintenance, as well as dispatch services. When implemented with the right partner, everyone can prosper from a more efficient operation.
Anton Albrand is division vice president of SkyBitz Sales. SkyBitz provides real-time tank monitoring solutions that improve operational workflow and increase route efficiency. With applications designed to aggregate data from tanks of all shapes and sizes, its robust software was designed for customers across multiple industries including gas, water, chemical and petroleum.