Automatic tank gauges (ATGs) are a major technological evolution for fuel retailers, allowing them to accurately measure stock levels and monitor environmental compliance without having to do manual tank readings. However, unless the data provided by ATGs can be interpreted intelligently, important alarms can be lost in the ‘noise’, wasting valuable opportunities to save resources, time and money.

ATGs provide fuel retailers with the means to automate regulatory compliance and monitor fuel volumes. This was a major step forward for an industry for which the primary product is stored underground (and consequently, out of sight), and any failure in the storage of this product can have major environmental and financial consequences.

ATGs not only alert retailers to changes in stock levels, but also to a wide range of wetstock and equipment-related events – everything from a fuel leak to a high water warning to the fact that the paper roll in an ATG needs replacing. Advances in recent years have increased in sophistication as to what these alarms can detect.

ATGs are the nervous system for wetstock stores, but they are designed to provide information quickly rather than intelligently. A proliferation of false alarms and faulty tank charts has turned this nervous system into a nervous wreck.

Not all alarms created are equal

When it comes to managing ATG alarms, one of the problems fuel retailers face – particularly those with a large network of sites – is the fact that not all alarms are equal, and yet they are often treated as such. False alarms or alarms for minor issues (e.g. printer error) can create ‘noise’ that distracts attention from more important and urgent alerts.

Industry data suggests only 30 per cent of ATG alarms actually require action at the site. The other 70 per cent can be resolved remotely – for example, monitoring a false alarm until it stops, or closing a low-level alarm with an email to instruct staff at a store to replace the ATG paper roll.

One of the biggest challenges for fuel retail managers is ‘triaging’ the thousands of alarms they might receive each month across a retail fuel network. A network of 500 sites typically has around 5,000 alarms per month, depending on the set-up and location. Responding to thousands of false alarms every month across a retail network wastes time and money. Conversely, should busy onsite staff ignore an important alarm, this could threaten site compliance and pose a major environmental risk.

Intelligent alarm management

The ATGs in a fuel network provide a treasure trove of data, but there is little value in gathering all of this information unless it is processed intelligently.

Smart alarm management solutions connected to ATGs use workflows to receive, verify, prioritise and remotely manage up to 80 per cent of alarms to closure. Our research suggests that remote alarm management can reduce alarm-related maintenance costs of fuel retail networks by up to 50 per cent.

Here are examples of the top smart alarms that can minimise ATG-related maintenance costs while maintaining compliance and fuel quality:

  1. Tank water alarms: 80 per cent of water alerts and alarms are triggered by a non-water-related event. By using algorithms to detect real water patterns, it is possible to isolate real water alarm events and obtain valuable information on potential water sources (e.g. ingress, from a delivery or from some other event). Water alerts unrelated to water alarms can be flagged separately as lower priority, such as a faulty water float requiring maintenance.
  2. PLLD/WPLLD: 40–60 per cent of PLLD/WPLLD-related alarms are triggered by onsite events unrelated to a leak or fuel loss. Prioritising compliance-related events or line shutdowns over temporary events requiring a less urgent response (e.g. Gross test alarm triggered by an empty tank, power to STP switched off, air in the line and other non-leak events) ensures the site remains compliant while avoiding unnecessary ATG maintenance.
  3. Repeat alarms: the danger of repeat alarms is that they can inundate response teams with email notifications that detract from other alarms that require more urgent attention. By using alarm management software to group repeat alarms, response teams can easily diagnose and resolve equipment errors generating repeat notifications while maintaining visibility of more critical, one-off alarms.
  4. Probe and sensor alarms: unfortunately, probes tend to fail in a similar fashion to old incandescent light bulbs – flickering faulty information and creating numerous false alarms. Smart alarming allows for the prioritisation, routing and separate grouping of sensor alarms for tracking and resolution onsite, while ensuring that genuine high-priority alarms are given appropriate focus.

Maximising your ATG investment

ATGs are a valuable investment for every retail network. But without an intelligent logic overlay to filter, categorise and prioritise the information they provide, critical alarms can be lost in the noise. Maximising this investment requires integrating the ATGs with smart alarm software, enabling retailers to save millions of dollars annually and move further into forecourt automation.

By Greg Salverson
Global President of Wetstock, Leighton O’Brien