Gibson Energy outfits truck fleet with cell-based management system

KEEPING track of the far-flung tank truck operations at Gibson Energy has become a lot easier. The company is in the final stages of installing a state-of-the-art customized fleet management, communication, and tracking system.

That's an important development because the company's fleet is spread across a large swath of western Canada. Tractor-trailer rigs involved in hauling crude oil may stay in the field for months before passing through a Gibson Energy terminal.

“With this new system, we're gaining a wide range of benefits,” says Larry T Bilton, manager of accounting and technology, truck transportation at Gibson Energy. “This includes enhanced customer service and relations, more timely information on shipments, and operating cost reductions.

“Paperwork is one of the biggest challenges with a fleet operation like ours. New on-board communication is replacing the manual handling of more than 30,000 paper tickets (bills of lading) each month. It also will enable automation of driver logs.”

On-board system

On-board components of the new fleet management system were installed in approximately 460 tractors over the past year. All of the tractors in the fleet belong to owner-operators. Gibson Energy also runs close to 1,000 company-owned trailers, most of which are operated in doubles trains.

“We're putting the tracking and communication system into most, but not all, of our fleet's 500 tractors,” Bilton says. “The tractors that don't need the system are those that go to a Gibson terminal at least once a day.”

Crude oil accounts for a big part of the 70 million barrels of energy products hauled by the fleet each year, and the rigs transporting that cargo often are nowhere near Gibson Energy terminals. Gibson Energy rigs also carry propane, anhydrous ammonia, asphalt, some diesel, glycol, and methanol. The glycol and methanol go into pipeline operations that crisscross western Canada.

Gibson Energy got its start more than 50 years ago as a crude oil marketing group in the Canadian oil patch. “We see ourselves as a midstream company, adding value to what others pull out of the ground,” Bilton says.

Transportation is a key component in the midstream services offered by the company. Managers at Gibson Energy have worked hard to ensure that the transportation operation runs as efficiently and effectively as possible. This was a key driver in the decision to adopt a state-of-the-art fleet management system.

Tiger project

Dubbed “Tiger,” the new fleet system replaced an outdated legacy product. Vendors and products involved in the “Tiger” project include TMW Systems fleet management software, Cadec on-board computers, Rogers AT&T Wireless, Research in Motion GPRS modems, Accu-Flo racks for mounting the on-board hardware, ICOM training materials, and DataMirror application integration.

TMW Systems supplied selected modules from TMW Suite, including dispatch, billing and settlements, maintenance, and Total Mail. The TMW components were customized to meet Gibson Energy requirements and were operational by November 2002.

“We turned to TMW because they had a generic fleet management system, and they were willing to try new things,” Bilton says. “Once the TMW applications were in place, we initiated an aggressive training program for everyone who will work with the system, including the 25 dispatchers in eight field offices.”

With the management system in place and operational, Gibson Energy began installing the on-board tracking and communication equipment in selected tractors. By December 2003, units had been installed in 15 to 20 tractors. The process should be complete by the end of 2004.

Cadec's Mobius TTS on-board computer is a key component in the system. “We chose Cadec because it has robust hardware and uses Microsoft's Windows CE operating system,” Bilton says. “Cadec also worked with us to develop a custom application for bills of lading.”

The heart of the Mobius TTS computer has extensive capabilities to track vehicle performance, driver productivity, safety and compliance information, and other business data. Cadec's Comm-Manager makes it possible for the computer to work with a variety of wireless communication and tracking systems.

Gibson Energy combined the Cadec computers with cellular-based communication. “We went with cellular-based communication for reasons of economy,” Bilton says. “Satellite-based systems just didn't meet our needs.”

The system operates on the Rogers AT&T Wireless GSM/GPRS network, which reaches more than 93% of the Canadian population. The Research in Motion (RIM) modem used with the system is always on and is configured to connect with the Gibson Energy network whenever a truck enters a cell area.

“We chose Rogers cellular service, because it is the only provider with nationwide service in Canada,” Bilton says. “We can go anywhere in the country with no roaming charges. The RIM modem is a dual-band unit, able to run at 800 and 1900 kbps.”

Also part of each on-board system is a printer. “Some customers want a printout when the crude oil or other cargo is loaded,” Bilton says. “In addition, we have to print out dangerous goods documentation.”

Compact package

The on-board components are packaged in a modular assembly from Accu-Flo that measures 21 inches high by 10 inches long by seven inches wide. Dust and other contaminants are kept out by clear plastic panels held in place with Velcro straps.

“Because we are putting this equipment into owner-operator tractors, we wanted something that was easy to replace or move,” Bilton says. “We also wanted a way to ensure a standardized installation in every vehicle.”

Handled at Gibson Energy maintenance shops, installation takes about 2½ hours. The modular unit bolts to the floor of the cab. In the case of a Kenworth or Peterbilt tractor, it mounts behind the passenger seat. The unit fits between the seats of Western Star and Freightliner tractors.

Drivers are given a couple of mounting choices for the Cadec computer with its integrated touch screen. Mechanics will mount it on the truck dash or they can install it on a floor-mounted pedestal. Mechanics also install a small cell phone antenna and a GPS antenna on the cab roof.

Owner-operators pay a monthly fee to cover messaging costs, but they get a lot of other benefits from the system at no additional cost. Owner-operator benefits include engine monitoring, fuel tax information capture and reporting, accurate and timely earnings information, and proof of hourly activity.

Gibson Energy managers get better order information, and the data arrives immediately. “We know how much business we've got almost minute by minute,” Bilton says.

Eight transactions are captured with each shipment: Order initiated, pickup started, pickup completed, amount of load, temperature, scale readings, delivery started, and delivery completed.

Gibson Energy now has detailed vehicle location information. “We didn't know the location of our trucks,” says Kathy Kraljic with Gibson Energy. “Now we get regular truck position updates, and we have a history of where our vehicles have been operating. We plan to add mapping capabilities that will give us a graphic display of fleet location.”

Customers are benefiting from more timely shipment status reports. In the future, Gibson Energy hopes to provide the capability for customers to check shipment status automatically online.

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