The Future of Industrial Fuel Tank Gauges and Systems
Industrial fuel tank gauges are critical components for many businesses that rely on fuel, including those within supply chain and logistics, power plants, and manufacturing facilities. Fuel tank gauges help businesses monitor their fuel levels. This may appear a simple task as an isolated incident, though as we will see there are additional considerations in terms of accuracy and data sharing that can have a considerable impact on operations and costs.
The current state of industrial fuel tank gauges
There are a number of options available in relation to the oil and fuel tank market in relation to fuel tank gauges. These range from highly manual (and inaccurate) to more advanced and technology driven applications, including those that are more suited to the B2C markets in comparison to others that are specific to the B2B market.
Perhaps the most rudimentary of instruments, though still utilised within both the B2C and B2B markets. A sight glass is essentially a plastic or metal tube that allows visual access to a tank to observe liquid levels, they do also allow for visual inspection of the fluid. There are specific variations of sight glasses such as sight glass tubes which allow the observer to determine flow direction, flow rate and also the product itself.
As you might expect, these utilise a float and a gauge to provide information on the fluid level within a tank, much like you might see on a car fuel gauge. These do come in variations from those that would display whether a tank is a quarter, half, three quarters or completely full, though a percentage gauge is also available and clearly more accurate.
Moving on to electronic gauges that are not purely mechanical in nature compared with float gauges. These incorporate an ultrasonic sensor to detect the level within a tank and a transmitter that allows remote access of this information, usually be sending data to a base unit within a property (often within 200m). There are options where the information is sent to a web server on a daily basis and allows the user to access the data from an app or even integrated into Alexa.
Depending on the sensor used, these can be limited in terms of the height of the tank though they are an advancement on previous gauges due to the ability to transmit data to a receiver. They also tend to have an accuracy rating of +/- 5% and provide information in terms of percentage of the container so the level of data is relatively limited.
Pressure Transducers & Hydrostatic Gauges
It should be noted that sight glasses, float gauges and ultrasonic gauges often span the B2C market (such as home heating oil) whereas the following options are more specific to industrial level B2B applications.
Pressure transducers are installed in tanks and measure the contents through pressure and weight. In comparison to previous options, these gauges are far more sensitive and therefore accurate, with 2% down to 0.5% variability.
Hydrostatic gauges work in a similar fashion, where they are lowered to a specific depth within a tank and utilise pressure to determine the outputs, often compensating for other factors such as atmospheric pressure.
These usually incorporate a gauge on the outside of the tank enabling users access to the tank levels though they can also be connected to GPRS modems and other fuel management equipment to deliver stock information to a server.
Emerging technologies in industrial fuel tank gauge systems
The accuracy of the data provided by these various gauges is of critical importance, especially at scale. However, whilst there are continuous advancements in the accuracy of the gauges themselves, there are also advancements in terms of how this data is collected, relayed, displayed and utilised.
A single system for multiple tanks
Traditionally, businesses would utilise one gauge for each tank, especially if they require manual review such as in the case of sight glasses. As a result, this creates additional operational requirements, i.e scheduling a person to take readings and input the data into whichever system they are utilising, not only creating operational inefficiency but also increased risk of human error.
Systems such as Metron4 have been developed so that they can be connected to multiple (up to 4 at a time) pressure gauges. The information is then displayed at each tank or connected via GPRS to upload data for each tank to the Metronview server, enabling remote access to key information on multiple tanks.
A key element of electronic tank gauges (and their systems) is the power that enables them to function. Businesses have traditionally been required to connect mains power to their gauges in order to collect, display and transmit data.
Whilst in some scenarios this adds a small amount of complexity, in others such as remote regions or tanks where connecting mains power is difficult, this creates additional logistical issues.
Systems such as Metron4 are now offering capabilities to be powered through traditional mains, as well as battery and solar. This flexibility in terms of powering the system results in a reduction in logistical issues for certain businesses and also increases the range of applications.
The ability of gauges to transmit data to a central platform remotely and from circumstances that were previously more difficult has an impact on operational efficiency and associated costs. However, it also means that businesses are able to collect larger amounts of data and collate this within a single technology platform.
The processing, utilisation and outputs of this data has been continually advancing and not just in relation to tank data. It is a trend seen in almost all sectors, with technology providing insights that inform actions and enable data driven decisions. In the case of tank data, these platforms enable alerts to be set up for low-levels, overfills or other elements such as unexpected level changes that could indicate theft. In addition, data can be used within planning and logistics to prevent unnecessary wastage in other areas of the supply chain.
We live in a data driven world, data that can be harnessed by businesses to decrease costs, increase efficiency and prevent waste. As such, considering the advancements in technology and the flexibility that some of these advancements provide, there is a clear move towards:
Ease of use and self-sufficiency of tank gauges through reduced manual readings, single system usage and power options.
Increases not only in the accuracy of the data provided but also the type of data provided. In addition, there is already a strong move towards remote access of this data. We believe that more manual collection of data will become obsolete given the increased operational costs.
Data utilisation will continue to advance, with this information flowing throughout the supply chain, creating further efficiencies.
The advancements made within artificial intelligence will inevitably filter through to the specific use cases of tank level information and the outputs/actions of this information.
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