By Tim Doling, Key Accounts Manager, Construction & Infrastructure Western Global
Some things change constantly. Take cars, for example: each year brings significant changes and advancements and someday, fully autonomous cars will likely rule the road.
Fuel storage tanks, on the other hand, aren’t traditionally thought of as a rapidly changing product.
However, more manufacturers are realizing the necessity of designing fuel storage solutions for the modern business, with features such as cloud-based remote fuel monitoring, storage for diesel exhaust fluid and global transportation approvals.
A universal expense
Diesel — the source of roughly 98 per cent of energy consumed at the average jobsite — is practically a universal expense for contractors. As the construction industry changes and companies become more competitive globally, profit margins will continue to shrink for businesses that don’t find new and efficient ways to manage assets, including fuel storage.
Today, on-site tanks can simplify fuel management like never before and serve as more of an asset than the large steel cylinders they once were.
To make the most of a fuel tank purchase, there are a number of factors to consider, such as the benefits of fuel monitoring, cleaning and maintenance costs, tank transportation, theft prevention and more.
The larger the tank, the more stationary it tends to be. With options ranging from tanks that hold less than 550 litres to ISO containers that hold upward of 95,000 litres, determining the ideal solution starts with knowing how much fuel is being used and the mobility requirements of the fuel supply. After all, having an on-site fuel supply only saves time and money if it provides an adequate supply where and when it is needed.
Transportation options may range from certified lifting lugs for handling with a crane to DOT-approved trailers. The most easily transported options are smaller, DOT-approved trailer-mounted tanks. These tanks typically hold between 750 and 3,800 litres and are ideal for delivering fuel to remote sites.
Some of the more important items to look for when buying a trailer-mounted tank include a sturdy trailer engineered to withstand the dynamic forces of the moving liquid while navigating rough, unpaved roads at jobsites.
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Tanks designed to comply with worldwide approvals, including UL, ULC, UN DOT and Transport Canada, are usually the most rugged and well-designed, as they are required to pass rigorous testing and certification dictated by the various approval bodies.
Keep in mind, however, that just because a tank is approved, does not necessarily mean it’s the safest option. A lower centre of gravity, for example, will make the tank less susceptible to tipping during transport.
For full-fuel transport, internal baffle plates prevent fuel surging to keep the vehicle stable. In most locations, tanks without baffles must be emptied, and often cleaned, prior to transport, which can require a third-party environmental company. If the tank is moved frequently, downtime and expenses add up quickly.
Need a larger fuel tank?
If the job requires a larger tank of 3,800 litres or more, consider how it will be moved around a jobsite. A crane or loader is often required to move round tanks. Most cube tanks can also be moved this way, but for added versatility, many also incorporate forklift pockets. Having more options may come in handy when equipment operators are busy or if certain equipment isn’t on the jobsite.
Environmental regulations must also be considered, and ground contamination is a major concern for on-site fuel tanks. While all tanks should meet basic environmental standards, round tanks — the traditional go-to storage option — come with the added expense of owning and cleaning secondary containment pans.
The average bill for cleaning a containment pan is about $150, which may add up quickly in areas that require pans be cleaned on a regular basis or after it rains. An increasingly common feature on new tanks, particularly cube tanks, is double-walled 110-per cent weatherproof containment. This eliminates the need for a secondary basin and can result in significant savings throughout the life of a tank.
Diesel exhaust restrictions are another growing environmental concern for today’s business owners. To ease the burden of Tier 4 compliance, many manufacturers offer tank options with onboard DEF storage. Incorporating both diesel and DEF storage into a single tank reduces downtime and simplifies Tier 4 compliance.
To meet the specific needs of different construction sites, it’s important to evaluate which features have the potential to increase value for a given operation. Tanks with multiple in- and out-ports, for example, allow the tank to serve as an auxiliary fuel supply while still being able to fuel trucks and other equipment. This may drastically extend runtimes for generators and light towers, as well as reduce the risk of running them dry.
Fuel on remote jobsites
For jobs at remote locations, the benefits of remote tracking technology can pay dividends. Remote fuel tracking helps contractors monitor and manage supplies from anywhere via the cloud. For contractors with multiple projects at different sites, this can make it easy to stay on top of fuel supplies and know when a delivery is necessary.
Track every drop
For improved tracking and added security, cardlock systems are an efficient way to monitor who is pumping fuel and how much is dispensed. Businesses without fuel security often expect 2 to 5 per cent of their fuel supply will go unaccounted for each year.
For example, a contractor using 75,000 litres of dyed diesel per week may lose as much as 3,800 litres per week if 5 per cent is unaccounted for.
At $1 per litre, that’s a $3,800 lost each week, or $197,600 each year, as a result of not closely monitoring fuel consumption. By tracking with a cardlock system, employers can easily monitor dispensing and greatly reduce losses by preventing employees and others from filling personal vehicles.
Having tanks with secure access to fittings and dispensing equipment can also prevent unauthorized access and deter fuel theft. While many rely on regular padlocks, these are easy to cut and do little to deter thieves.
Investing in more secure cabinets that position locks to be inaccessible to bolt cutters will better keep thieves at bay. While these security features will likely bump up the initial tank price, preventing a single theft of the capacity of a diesel pickup may be enough to offset the difference.
Another location-specific consideration is the tank’s power supply. For mobile tanks and tanks at remote sites, adding options such as battery power storage and solar panels can help ensure the tank will always have the necessary power to run the pumps. For locations with space limitations, tanks that can be stacked help to free up space.
No matter the tank or application, it’s important to buy from a trusted manufacturer. Reputable companies understand the importance of long-term customer satisfaction and are more likely to design tanks that are user friendly and will generate higher return on investment over the life of the product.
Built-in ladders, convenient manhole access doors and a solid warranty, for example, are strong indicators that a manufacturer is not cutting corners.
Additionally, double-walled units with removable primary tanks make cleaning much easier. Over time, tanks that are easier to clean and maintain will likely last longer and yield a much higher return.
To extend the life of pumps, meters and other components, look for tanks with enclosed, weatherproof cabinets. This is a common feature on modern cube tanks and will greatly increase the longevity of components compared to tanks with components mounted on the top, where they are exposed to the elements.
Finding the right manufacturer
Additionally, choose a manufacturer that works closely with its customers to help select the ideal tank or fleet for the size and scope of the operation.
Some manufacturers will even go as far as partnering with a customer to ensure all regulations are met.
By providing these services, manufacturers can save customers time and hassle. Similarly, consider the manufacturer’s lead-time.
Some tanks can be on site within days, while others take weeks. While planning ahead is ideal, it’s not always realistic, and with short turnaround times, projects can get started sooner.
As customers scramble to find new ways to decrease their operating expenses, fuel storage tanks — while not front of mind in terms of innovation and technology — should not be overlooked. And as regulations continue to change and the marketplace becomes more competitive, businesses should never ignore an opportunity to trim expenses and work more efficiently than the competition.
Tim Doling is the United States key accounts manager for construction and infrastructure for Western Global. He has 20 years of industry experience and has been working closely with Western Global customers for nearly five years.