Heavy highway construction is equipment intensive, and along with that comes the use of a lot of fuel. Considering fuel’s variable and high cost, it’s logical to track it closely, yet many heavy highway companies fail to do so. Is a specific loader using more fuel than it should? Is an employee filling up his personal car as he leaves the yard at the end of the day? Proper fuel tracking can answer these questions and many more.

There are many different approaches to fuel tracking: paper, electronic meter, RFID, fuel card and third-party fueling service. When looking at different options, keep several criteria to keep in mind:
  • timeliness of information;
  • manhours required to track;
  • effectiveness of information tracked; and
  • cost of tracking process.
Paper
With this method, a fuel log sheet exists at every fuel tank. Every so often, someone comes by and picks up the fuel log and brings it into the office to be entered into the accounting system (ERP). After the information is in the ERP, a report is run to show fuel usage.

On the pro side, this is a simple way to capture information. On the con side, the turnaround is slow, with data potentially lagging several days, and there’s no way to make sure all fuel is tracked. Plus, there’s the possibility for user error.

Electric Meter
Users must enter a pin ID that links to either the person or a piece of equipment. Usage is captured every time fuel is added or removed from a tank. This electronic system is linked back to the ERP manually or via a network connection.

In this case, usage is captured automatically and information is close to real time if the system is linked back to the ERP. Additionally, this method reduces the potential for fuel theft. However, there’s the risk of user error when entering the pin ID, and this method requires user interaction to capture information.

RFID System
RFID is like a wireless barcode that can be embedded on the fuel pump and each piece of equipment. This system is an extension of the electronic meter system, where technology can detect what piece of equipment is fueled and create automations around equipment tank capacity, fuel quantity loadout maximums and auto system login.

The same pros of the electronic pump system apply to RFID systems, while removing user error by driving everything off automation. But cost can be prohibitive, as can the technical skills needed to support the system.

Fuel Cards
Fuel cards allow an employee to fill up a vehicle at participating gas stations. The card will pass information back to the company in periodic reports about fuel usage. The system also can limit how much can be fueled at one time.

This is a good option for on-road fuel tracking and removes the need to submit an expense report. But, not all gas stations take fuel cards, and it requires someone to watch the system and set up new fuel cards.

Outsource Equipment Fueling 
Using a third party removes the burden of fueling from the company. Third-party providers also can track usage and offer periodic reporting to the company—reducing employee labor needs for fueling vehicles. Finding a reliable vendor can be tricky, and cost is a factor.

When it comes to fuel tracking, every company must consider the balance between data accuracy, risk tolerance, cost of tracking and time employees spend tracking fuel. Each option can be a viable solution for heavy highway companies. However, the automated systems bring strong controls and the cost is not as large as it may first appear when considering how much time employees otherwise spend tracking fuel.

Jason Keen is president of VSpark. For more information, call (901) 300-6458 or email contact@vsparkco.com.