Industry Insights

How IoT Can Transform Gas Tank Level Monitoring

With IoT, organizations can benefit from gas tank monitoring solutions that are accurate, easy to install, maintainable, and insightful.

Corey Chang

Keeping gas in the tank is important no matter the industry

Whether on the job or at home, access to fuel is critical for many people in their day-to-day lives. In most cases, fuel comes from one or more standalone gas tanks installed on-site at a business or residence. When gas levels in these tanks get low, Tanker trucks arrive on-site to fill them on a periodic delivery schedule.

Both fuel suppliers and customers closely monitor the levels of these fuel tanks in order to identify which need filling and to ensure they are filled to the correct level. 

The practice of monitoring gas tank fuel levels is important in a variety of use cases:

  • Facilities and equipment: Powering commercial facilities and running critical operational equipment
  • Fuel stations: Gas stations and other fuel depots designed for fueling vehicles
  • Residential: Heating homes and running appliances

Knowing when to fill is difficult and demands can change rapidly

Knowing the current fuel levels in these gas tanks is crucial to determining which tanks need to be filled and when. For many industries, the most widely used method is manual checking of the gas level. This can be done by inspecting the tank’s gauge, fill line, or other display. This presents a number of challenges:

  • Infrequent: Manual inspection means that someone will only know the fill level as often as it is checked; as a result, the latest fill level reading could be days or weeks old
  • Inaccurate: Manual readings are subject to human error and can be significantly off if not recorded correctly 
  • Unsafe: Displays and fill level gauges can be hard to reach or in dangerous places, like at the top of a large tank, making manual checks difficult or impossible

Relying on manual checks can result in tanks that are either not filled often enough or filled too often. The outcomes of both are the same: increased overall costs. On one hand, not being filled often enough or entirely missed fills (as a product of slow or inaccurate readings) can result in reduced production or at worse a complete stop in operations. On the other end, overly frequent filling means the supplier makes visits to tanks that don’t actually need filling, resulting in an inefficient use of transportation resources that ultimately drives up cost.

Use IoT to remotely measure gas tank levels and respond efficiently to fill needs

The Internet of Things (IoT) is uniquely positioned to address the biggest challenges of gas tank level monitoring. By offering solutions that are easy to install and maintain with readings that are taken automatically, frequently, and accurately every time, IoT provides organizations the ability to remotely monitor thousands of tanks in real-time. Additional advantages include:

  1. Configurable Alerts: Create alerts to receive notifications when a gas tank drops below a certain fill level; set alerts of varying priority based on user-defined fill level thresholds (e.g. Low Fill, Very Low, Critically Low). Customers and suppliers can both take action to schedule a fill when certain thresholds are crossed
  2. Optimize Fill Routes and Resources: Access to real-time fill level data means that suppliers can be as informed as possible when planning fill routes. Understanding which tanks need to be filled - and identifying those which don’t - allows suppliers to maximize the revenue per fill and reduce unnecessary trips
  3. Intelligent Estimation and Anomaly Detection: Many organizations use traditional degree-days calculations or manual estimations to determine when a tank needs filling next. These methods can work to an extent, but they are frequently wrong and do not account for one-off fuel usage and other subtle patterns. Robust IoT solutions can use analytics and machine learning to blend real-time tank data with other data sources like weather forecasts to more accurately predict when fuel consumption will spike or dip. This gives suppliers much more visibility of their fuel demands in upcoming days and weeks

All of the above contribute to cost savings and improved customer service. By optimizing fill routes and saving on labor that would otherwise be spent manually checking tanks, organizations can maximize efficiency and revenue per fill. With alerts and forecasting in place, they can ensure that customer’s gas tanks won’t ever go empty even in the face of rapidly changing conditions.

Technology:

An IoT gas tank level monitoring solution will employ several layers of technology: 

  1. The sensor to capture fill level data
  2. A network to communicate the data from the sensors to the cloud
  3. Software to ingest, analyze, and present the data to end users in an interface and/or to trigger and send alerts (text, email, push, etc.)

For sensors, important considerations include cost, installation ease, battery life, and measurement frequency. There are some inherent tradeoffs between these attributes; for example, a sensor that measures once every 30 minutes may have a longer battery life than one that measures once every two hours. Likewise, a device that has a hardened weatherproof rating and is more durable will be more expensive than one that is not weatherproof-rated. 

In addition, the mechanism by which the sensor measures fill level is important for a reliable reading. The best measurement method may depend on the exact fuel you’re measuring in the gas tank in addition to factors such as the cost of the device. Sensor options include:

  • Hall Effect Sensor/Float Gauge
  • Ultrasonic Sensor
  • Laser Sensor
  • Radar Sensor
  • Hydrostatic Sensor

A strong option for network is a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN). LPWANs are designed for IoT communication that is low bandwidth and long distance, and as a result, is optimized to be low cost and low battery drain. However, the best LPWAN type will depend on the number, location, and geographic spread of the gas tanks. Potential LPWAN options include:

  • NB-IoT
  • CAT-M or LTE-M
  • LoRa
  • Satellite

With so many options in hardware, network capabilities, and features, there’s almost certainly a gas tank level monitoring solution out there to suit your needs.

Corey Chang

Technical Project Manager

Corey is a technical project manager at Leverege who is passionate about using technology to improve the way people live. He studied electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University and previously worked as a technology consultant in large and complex system integration projects. When not helping customers bring their IoT visions to life, Corey enjoys cycling, triathlon, and following the consumer hardware beat

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