Meters and registers are like the bricks and mortar of a fuel oil business—use the right ones in the right way and they make a sound foundation. Just ask Donna Arsenault.
Arsenault is the general manager of H.R. Clough, a family-owned company that operates five trucks in a radius of about 35 miles from its base in Contoocook, N.H. The trucks once were equipped with mechanical registers, and on occasion the paper tickets got stuck in the workings, necessitating a detour back to base for a fix. That meant lost time and lost money.
A switch to electronic registers paired with in-cab computers enabled efficiencies and saved time and labor enough that the new technology paid for itself within one year.
“The time savings are tremendous” for a variety of reasons, said Arsenault, including that “the driver doesn’t have to pick up a pen. All the calculations are done by the [computer] in the cab.”
Depending on whether drivers worked routes in town or in outlying areas, the technology enabled them to increase their stops by at least two per hour and in some cases by as many as five per hour, Arsenault reported. She called the digital meters, which H.R. Clough has used for several years, “nearly flawless.”
Drivers adapted quickly to the technology. Clyde Sauls, honored as 2009 driver of the year by the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association for driving more than one million miles without an accident, became a “prize student” of how to use the system for preset deliveries, Arsenualt said.
But the benefits have extended beyond efficiencies gained on the road to include record-keeping and bookkeeping in the back office. For example, each driver's deliveries for the day, stored on a flash drive plugged into the in-cab computer, are downloaded at shift's end into back office software – a task that is accomplished in, well, a flash. Arsenault rated the time and labor savings at the office equal to or better than those achieved in the field.
“We had one person posting deliveries all day long,” when the trucks were fitted with mechanical registers, Arsenault recalled. “Now it takes two, three hours per day.”
Companies that make meters and registers include Liquid Controls, MID: COM and Total Control Systems. In addition Davis Airtech remanufactures mechanical registers, which continue to exert strong appeal for many fuel oil dealers, said J.T. Celani, Davis Airtech's president. Rebuilt mechanical registers are popular for a simple reason, Celani said: a low price, which he said was “sixty to seventy percent less than” the cost of a new device. That savings, and the fact that the best mechanical registers are known for accuracy and durability, have ensured that his business has grown in recent years, Celani said, despite an overall trend toward electronic registration. The latter steadily wins converts, Celani said, because of its reputation for increased accuracy, record-keeping capabilities and ease of use, among other benefits.
New registers, and devices that work in conjunction with them, have been introduced recently or will roll out this year or early next.
“First quarter next year we will have a new electronic register,” said Dan Murray, Total Control Systems’ vice president. The electronic counter preset and control system will be provide endless communication possibilities, and will also have GPS available, Murray said.
A new electronic air eliminator also is on deck from Total Control Systems, and that, too, is scheduled to be available at the beginning of the new year. It features a centrifuge for pulling entrained air from fluid, and is designed for fast, efficient split-compartment performance.
Total Control Systems also is offering truck-mounted flow meters for diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), required on trucks with diesel engines that use selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to meet the latest emissions requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The company offers two versions of the DEF flow meters, one for 50-gallon-per-minute delivery, and another for 100-gallon-per-minute delivery. Made in a low-cost stainless steel construction, these meter assemblies meet the high purity ISO 2224-1 requirements for safe handling of Diesel Exhaust Fluid.
Liquid Controls this year introduced an electronic register, the LTR 600, which can be paired with the manufacturer's standard mechanical meter, product managers Jeff Rizner and Ken Fleming said.
Fleming compared the make up of a mechanical register to that of a clock, in that both have “a lot of resistance and a lot of moving parts. A mechanical register on a fuel oil truck is subjected to jarring and vibration,” he said, exacerbated by its position at the back end of the vehicle.
“With electronic registration, there’s only one moving part and that’s the internal pulsar that takes the output shaft from the meter and turns it into an electronic signal,” Fleming said. “After that everything is solid state electronics.”
Among the benefits are improved reliability and accuracy, Fleming said. For example, managing a preset is simpler and easier with electronic registration, Fleming said. He described the way it's done with a mechanical register first: to preset 100 gallons, the driver uses push knobs to enter the amount; a spring-loaded valve opens and when the register hits 100 gallons, it triggers the valve to shut. “An electronic register handles this same process in stages,” Fleming said, allowing for a more exact cutoff. It allows a high flow until the preset amount is approached; then it slows the flow for a more accurate shut off, Fleming said.
The accuracy of electronic registration is increasingly significant to fuel oil dealers in states that allow temperature compensation, Fleming said.
States in the Northeast that allow temperature compensation include Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. “Fuel oil dealers in those states should take advantage of that,” Fleming said.
When fuel oil drivers pick up product from a bulk plant or a terminal, “it's probably hot liquid,” Fleming observed. “It cools off as they're driving down the street to their customers because there is more exposed surface area,” he noted, and consequently it shrinks in volume.
Veeder-Root Co. has been offering its Electronic Meter Register, or EMR3, for some years, It was developed with the small fuel oil marketer in mind, said Kevin Jensen, Veeder-Root's sales manager in the Americas.
“It's a wireless system that automatically polls the Veeder-Root registers for data every 10 seconds,” Jensen noted. “The software installs on any PC, there are no wireless fees, no monthly fees, and no support contracts required.” The wireless office kit is approximately $1,200 and will interface with tank inventory systems at bulk racks, Jensen added. Users are running the software in tandem with Veeder-Root electronic registers at airports, bulk loading racks, marinas and other locations.
Jensen, underscored affordability as a key attraction, and the system's ability to perform temperature compensation as another. He recalled visits to dealers while working years ago for a different company. “I remember being amazed that they parked these trucks indoors and jacked up the heat to 90 degrees.”
Another supplier, MID: COM markets in-cab systems consisting of a cab-mounted computer and printer with data transfer capability. They guide the driver through the delivery process. A data card gives the driver access to customer records, and a number of software vendors offer an interface that enables automatic posting from the data card to accounts receivables.
Return on investment from the system is built on features such as electronic temperature compensation; increased driver efficiency, reduced meter maintenance; elimination of handwritten tickets and driver pricing errors; reduced ticket posting time and elimination of posting errors and postage costs.
H.R. Clough, the fuel oil dealer in New Hampshire, uses an electronic register and in-cab mobile computer supplied by Liquid Controls. In New Hampshire, noted Arsenault, the general manager of H.R. Clough, suppliers deliver fuel on a temperature-compensated basis.
“We’re a small family-owned company,” she said. “We probably do 1.9 million to 2.2 million gallons in a year.” Arsenault estimated that in one year the disparity “between gross and net” - the difference between temperature-compensated and not - is almost 9,000 gallons in a year.
“It evens the playing field all around,” she said of temperature compensation.