Technology: Supporting the supply chain

There is much being written about the way in which automation technologies can increase efficiency, in terms of both time and cost, in many areas of the industry. In our May issue, we spoke with fuel oil suppliers, wholesalers and distributors, as well as suppliers of technologies to find out what has been most recently adopted throughout the supply chain as well as what could be coming next.

On-site AR and remote working for efficiency and improved safety
As part of a digital transformation strategy, Shell has entered into a contract with Intoware who will provide WorkfloPlus at Shell’s upstream and downstream manufacturing operations, following a 12-month trial.
Telling us about the service provided to Shell, Vince Galvin, chief revenue officer, Intoware, said:
“WorkfloPlus will help Shell’s workers to undertake activities such as daily inspection audits and maintenance tasks by creating live in-work views, progress updates and immediate results analysis, encouraging collaborative working and improved problem solving.”
The recently released enhanced reporting capabilities, with the option to integrate WorkfloPlus into customers’ existing identity infrastructure, allows for improved job scheduling and the ability to connect to the remote experts of their choice. With social distancing, the ability to consult with experts remotely, even when carrying out inspections or repairs is an extremely valuable service.
Vince Galvin explains further:
“Companies are looking for new innovative technologies that will accelerate their digital transformation programmes, ones that can be easily adopted and make a real difference, especially when it comes to the connected worker. The ability to use mobile and wearable technology, combined with workflow software that drives productivity gains and connectivity without compromising on risk or health and safety, is increasingly in demand for many industries, including downstream oil refiners and distributors.
“For instance, when these technologies were combined with WorkfloPlus to digitise inspections, they yielded a substantial 200% increase in offshore productivity for one of our clients recently. In the pandemic environment that we now find ourselves in, with restrictions on movement and requirements for remote working, companies are increasingly adopting new digital solutions such as WorkfloPlus to help optimise operations, even with fewer frontline workers.”
Michael Kaldenbach, digital realities lead, Shell said:
“WorkfloPlus adds, to our existing eXtended Realities portfolio, the ability to support our front-line workers with process guidance and reporting when connectivity is challenging. Digitising standard operating procedures allows front-line workers to focus on their tasks and access additional relevant information when required.
“Once their task is completed, the WorkfloPlus platform automatically compiles the captured data in a report that is shared with relevant stakeholders and systems, thereby simplifying and reducing the overhead of the front-line worker. If connectivity is not available at the work location, this data transfer automatically occurs when the front-line worker is back within communication range, allowing them to focus on their next activity instead of having to manually write down the results or transfer them into their existing systems.”
Michael Kaldenbach continues:
“We see benefits from the detail and simplicity of Intoware’s digital workflows for onboarding, inspections or repairs and the ease of integrations will help us access key, often unique, data insights. This, together with a fast and easy deployment, live job updates and alerts, integrated remote expert providers and great support from their technical development team are going to enable further efficiencies and safer working practices.”
A single, paperless system
With the value of a single, simple and paperless workflow process emphasised by the Shell / Intoware partnership, Paul Foley, CEO of DreamTec tells us more about the full-system technologies that are being most widely adopted by fuel oil distributors and the positive impact this is having for management, staff and drivers:
“For many of our customers, they start with installing meter tracking, keeping a close eye on stock. Many then move to the full tablet solution, removing paper and going electronic.”
“Covid has increased demand and actually presents a good reason to adopt technologies that reduce the time for drivers to be near or in the office, cut out paper handling and give management transparency on field activity. With so many staff members working from home, our systems give management complete control.”
Explaining the advantages further, Paul continued:
“There are huge benefits to digitising the distribution business, mostly around speed, with drivers being focused on making deliveries and office staff being able to focus on sales and customers rather than admin or paperwork. Some of our customers made the move to these systems years ago, whereas some are only starting now. Without doubt, if you want to grow the business, systems like our latest android command can give you the tools to deliver a fantastic return in a very short time.”
Darren Priddey, national sales manager at Fuelsoft also emphasised customers’ desires to have a single, paperless solution to save both time and money:
“Integration is at the heart of everything we do, and we continually look to enhance the level of integration with industry leading ‘in cab’ solution providers,  DreamTec and Touchstar.
“We’ve recently completed Phase 1 of a development project with Lightyear, an accounts payable (AP) automation tool which automates the data-entry from all supplier invoices and puts the invoices into a digital approvals workflow, saving AP teams up to 80% of their time, eliminating the need to manually enter the invoices.  Integrating Fuelsoft with Lightyear provides real-time, accurate accounting data within the Fuelsoft platform, and means that users can collaborate with team members, accountants, bookkeepers and suppliers with the digital approvals process that Lightyear provides. It makes accounts and bookkeeping easy and, most favourably, paperless.”
Seamless integration
When speaking with suppliers, distributors and wholesalers on this topic it was clear to see that, at the top of the priorities list, alongside going paperless and being able to remotely control deliveries, is seamless integration.
Darren Priddey tells us more about the last 12-18 months for Fuelsoft:
“The uptake of fully integrated web ordering systems has seen major growth over the past year and a half, and this is down to a number of factors. With our integrated solution, customers can place an order on a distributor’s website, and this order will feed into the back-office software, be scheduled and be transferred to the ‘in cab’ computer for the driver to see. No tickets need to change hands and drivers don’t need to go back to the office to pick up orders. As well as saving both time and money, this has also helped to keep valuable social distancing measures in place.”
“Fuelsoft is also fully integrated with Optitool, an optimised route planning software solution,” Darren continued. “Optimising drivers’ routes saves further time, presents the opportunity to increase the number of deliveries in a day, and allows the fuel distributor to provide the customer with ETAs and consequently a higher level of service”
With a number of available systems, technologies and updates, being able to utilise several throughout the distribution process, to maximise cohesive operations, is key to a seamless supply chain.
When asked about the technological advancement that has most revolutionised the industry, Nick Hawkins commercial director, Kingspan comments on the seamless integration of the company’s latest radar telemetry device:
“Our latest Radar telemetry device uses 2G, NB-IoT or SIGFOX connectivity. It integrates seamlessly with Codas and Fuelsoft and gives the end-user the option of a mobile phone app. Plus, installation could not be easier on either plastic-bunded or single-skin tanks; you don’t even have to drill a hole!”
“We have several hardware and connectivity options, ensuring the correct solution whatever the tank, whatever the location, whatever the requirement. And if a fuel oil distributor purchases one of our Kingspan tanks, we can supply a hardware telemetry solution, free of charge.
As Nick emphasises;
“Distributors are becoming more aware of the value of telemetry and are using it to improve customer service, reduce customer churn, and drive operational efficiencies such as reducing left-on-boards and delivery frequency.”
Ahead of the curve
Alongside seamless integration, the ability to be one step ahead of demand is imperative, especially considering how quickly technology advances. Martin Cook, managing director, Mabanaft, explains that staying ahead of the curve is helping to transform processes for fuel oil distributors:
“Mabalive continues to transform deal administration with real-time pricing, online ordering, deal tracking and detailed reporting. We also plan to launch online bidding on Mabalive, which will offer a new and exciting dynamic to the process of purchasing fuel online, as well as additional tracking and monitoring to further enhance our services.
“Mabanaft is also now offering a vendor managed inventory (VMI) service which uses technology to remotely monitor a customer’s tanks to ensure a site remains ‘wet’ at all times. We will be looking to roll this out to customers who could benefit from VMI as part of our delivered-in service.”
A medley of solutions for distributors
Another company constantly seeking new ways to automate processes is Mechtronic who, as of the end of March 2021, has 300 of its OptiMate systems in operation across the UK and Ireland, with another 150 in build and considers that this move towards OptiMate is a clear demonstration that automation is seen as the way forward for the fuel industry.
Brad Wilkie, sales and marketing manager at MechTronic, said:
“OptiMate has been engineered to feature a range of automatic processes such as product loading via our bespoke SPGI (smart product grade indicator) system, automatic line change and the automatic process of emptying of the manifold – drivers and fuel oil operatives can be confident that the correct fuel is delivered every time and free from contamination.
“In addition, through the use of modern technologies and solid-state firmware, we have been able to reduce the number of components (such as logic valves and sensors) by some 30% which increases the performance and reliability of OptiMate.”
As a fuel distributor open to considering new solutions Mark Nolan, managing director of Oxon based Nolan Oils, shared some of the automation technologies that the company already has in place:
“Masternaut vehicle tracking allows the entire fleet to be viewed on a live map at any point in time. This means we can track fleet activity, provide arrival times and check a vehicle’s status with ease. I’d go as far as to say that real time delivery update has been the most revolutionary to date.
“We also utilise Alpeco’s TEX FLOW operating system on our COBO tanker. This allows us to monitor grades and volumes in each compartment and reduce the risk of making costly errors in the set-up and delivery process.
“We have also been trialling lorry cameras on the new truck and will eventually fit these to all of our lorries. To keep a close eye on storage, we use EA Project Stock which is fantastic for stock checks and reviews.”
Automation is not always seen as a positive especially where it cannot compete directly with acquired knowledge. Route optimisation software, for example, may be unaware of an shortcut known to someone who has been in the industry 30+ years, but, for a new driver who is not as familiar with the surrounding area, optimised route planning could be hugely advantageous.
What is coming next?
In addition to their remote structure, Intoware is also releasing a web client. Vince Galvin tells us more:
“The web client will help move us into job management as well as improving the digital workflow side. The aim of all this is to provide our customers with a digital solution that transforms their workforce, enabling connected working for better data-driven decisions in downstream oil.”
Asked about what’s in the pipeline for DreamTec, Paul replies:
“We are constantly evaluating new technologies and looking for application in our product – some of the newer wireless platforms include 5G, NFC, RFID. Using the collected data to drive improvements we always look for useful trends that can help customers make better decisions. Meter technology is also improving, and we have meters at the heart of all our solutions, so we like using the accurate data they collect.”
Commenting on Fuelsoft’s upcoming additions to its product portfolio, Darren said:
“Our software roadmap includes providing a higher level of integration into banking software to enhance bank reconciliation services for our customers. Alongside this, we will continue to improve and enhance our existing automation and integration technologies, taking on board all feedback from quarterly reviews with our customers.”
Brad Wilkie also speaks of changes in MechTronic’s pipeline as a direct result of customer feedback:
“Based on customer feedback, we are developing a remote control which will provide drivers with the full management of the delivery process from the point of delivery. This will not only save time during deliveries but ensure that the driver remains at the point of delivery throughout.”
In considering where digitalisation and automation may take the industry, Michael Kaldenbach, Shell offers a useful conclusion:
“Digital technologies are transforming our lives in ways that were unimaginable even a decade ago. Digitalisation is also transforming the energy industry, by improving efficiency and safety, and by facilitating the use of renewable energy. We believe what could be next is the end-to-end digital integration – where we recognise that digital is all about data: from collecting data and feeding that into AI. This creates end-to-end solutions that result in actional insights that support decision making, thereby creating value.”
It has been interesting to speak with various stages of the supply chain on different automation technologies for this feature – but what works, or doesn’t work, for you? Let us know