Next to labour, fuel is the highest operating cost for transport businesses and a main source of toxic greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as well.
Accurately monitoring fuel consumption is vital to cutting cost and reducing toxic emissions but many businesses still rely on manual methods of gathering data, according to industry experts.
Customers of 4Refuel Ltd., a refueling company based in Langley, B.C., however, are using an automated data management application hooked to a radio frequency identification (RFID) system to monitor fuel use on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis.
Apart from delivering diesel and biodiesel fuels, the company also provides clients with Fuel Management Online (FMO) a detailed fuelling history of their fleet which can be accessed from a secure, hosted Web-based network.
Customers can use this information to adjust equipment use to reduce consumption.
4Refuel Ltd. said it saved its clients more than $20 million in refueling costs and prevented the emission of an estimated 18 million kilos of GHG (the equivalent of taking nearly 3,000 cars off the road) last year.
Using RFID tags attached to the engine of each vehicle, 4Refuel records such as: vehicle ID, fuel type and fuelling schedule, distance traveled, vehicle speed, revving and even idling time.
The information is picked up and passed on by WiFi devices to 4Refuel’s databases when the vehicle loads up on fuel.
The data is then fed to a SAP Business One business operations software product running on IBM BladeCentre servers. The application analyzes the information to pinpoint areas of fuel wastage and opportunities for savings.
For the system to work, vehicles have refuel at 4Refuel stations with WiFi readers installed.
While the system does not directly reduce consumption, businesses can employ the data to determine if their machines are operating outside the thresholds they have set and enable users to make the necessary changes in vehicle operation, according to Jack Lee, president and CEO of 4Refuel.
For example, he said, managers can determine if drivers are wasting gas by over revving or idling engine for long periods and instruct them to adopt better driving habits.
Fleet operators can also make route changes or alter delivery schedules to cut on consumption.
“We have been able to save customers anywhere from five to 10 per cent of their normal consumption. Multiplied to about a hundred vehicles per company that amounts to significant savings,” said Lee.
Capturing the same amount of data which the system does would be very cumbersome to do manually, he said.
The 4Refuel chief also said the automated system reduces the chances of data duplication, human error, and incidence of theft. “When fuel is monitored by the system there is less chance of the fuel being re-allocated.”
A Canadian IT analyst says 4Refuel and other management systems are examples of how technology is increasingly being used not only to cut business costs but also reduce an organization’s environmental footprint.
Despite the advantages provided by energy management systems, many businesses – particularly those in the IT sector – have been slow to adopt the technology, said Aaron Hay, research consultant for Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.
“Adoption is probably higher in the transportation sector or with businesses that rely on fleet vehicles because that is where pressure on fuel costs is most evident now,” he sad.
On the other hand, IT-based companies and the vendors serving them are more focused on computing power and capacity. “It’s only very recently that energy efficiency and consequently sustainability have become an issue.”
“Having access to pertinent data is the only way you can gauge energy consumption and environmental impact in order to effectively reduce both,” said Hay.
A company, for example can decide to adopt better vehicle tune-up and maintenance schedules, change delivery routes, or even replace equipment or introduce employee training programs designed to reduce energy consumption.
“When companies cut on consumption, they usually reduce GHG emissions as well.”
By comparing company revenues achieved when operation changes were employed to revenues before a management system was deployed, businesses can determine the most energy efficient practices.
The TDL Group Corp. of Oakville, Ont. – more popularly known as Tim Horton’s – was able to cut more than 69,000 kilos in GHG emissions last year by using 4Refuel’s fuel management system.
The donut maker’s 70 trucks and 120 trailers consume 2.5 million litres of fuel each year, but improved delivery process and vehicle operations.
Without energy saving practices gleaned from data gathered by 4Refuel’s system, TDL would have emitted an estimated 139,000 kilos of GHG.
The company also saves more than $300,000 per year in fuel, said Mark Mostacci, national safety, compliance and training officer for TDL.
When it comes to saving energy, Lee said, the old cliché applies: “You can’t manage what you can’t count.”