If there were a mantra for truckers in the fuel delivery business, it would be, “Don’t wreck it, don't roll it, don’t cross it.” Any of those three things can cost a fuel company a whole lot of money--and a driver, his job. But of them all, the possibility of cross-contamination when delivering fuel is the one accident that must be avoided at all costs.
One company has found just the product to be better safe than sorry.
Spinx Transportation, a sister company of Spinx Convenience Stores, runs an 81-unit gas station chain operating in South Carolina.
Owner Stewart Spinks, an early risk-taker, began the company in 1972, by quitting his safe job at Shell Oil and starting a home heating oil delivery service on a wing and prayer. The gamble paid off and now he and son Steve employ 1,400 people and have a fleet of 27 trucks delivering supplies and fuel to their stores. With so much activity and so many truckers delivering to so many tanks, the possibility of cross-contamination was a worry on the minds of the management team, who oversees such things at Spinx. They handed off this important project to Business Development Manager Russell Moon.
Moon and his team checked out various companies and their solutions to the problem of cross-drop contamination. Prices and services varied greatly. Some had features that were redundant (and therefore economically wasteful) and others would have required expensive retooling of Spinx’s fleet (with a price tag of up to $50K per truck.)
Then a member of Spinx’s management team saw an ad for a product from Berrys Technologies US LLC. It was the Midas Elbow, a game-changing anti-cross drop device that replaces regular fuel delivery fittings, creating an anti-cross-contamination system which is portable, easy-to-use, and affordable.
A Bluetooth-enabled RFID tag in the spill bucket communicates wirelessly with the spill bucket and reads the fuel type being delivered into a gas station’s bulk storage tank, thus avoiding contamination from diesel, gasoline, and water.
If the wrong fuel is dispensed, the Midas Elbow shuts the valve leading to the fuel tank, disallowing the wrong fuel from being dropped. The device also sounds an audible alarm and sends a readable message to the driver alerting him or her that there was a problem with the fuel choice, allowing the driver to rectify the error. No incorrect fuel every reaches the UST tank. The cross-contamination accident is avoided.
Tanker drivers carry these portable elbows, which once hooked to the hose leading to the fuel tank, sense which fuel is the correct one for dropping into which UST. The RFID Tag installed in the spill bucket also communicates with the Midas Elbow, passing on any information the tag has written onto it, such as the tank number and retailer or the site address. The Midas Elbow already has the time, date and year information stored in its non-volatile memory. The customer can determine what other information, however basic or dense, they choose to record and store. All data is downloadable via a Bluetooth device. Berrys is currently working on a smartphone app to makes things even easier.
The devices are being used successfully in Canada, Greece, Spain, Turkey, and the UK, where one of Europe’s largest fuel suppliers, Greenergy, has outfitted all 150 trucks in its fleet.
The Midas Elbow had finally been approved for use in the United States by the UL in 2019. Interest in the product was growing when the pandemic hit, slowing everything to a crawl.
This actually proved a blessing in disguise.
It gave Martin Berry, CEO of Berrys Technologies, time to dip his toe in the United States market, rather than dive in headfirst. It had, after all, only been 18 months since the Midas Elbow gained necessary approvals for the domestic market. So Berry began looking for the perfect company to trial the product.
“Russell and the team at Spinx were keen on new technology and were willing to work with us to sort out the inevitable bugs in any new product,” Berry said. “Russell is very knowledgeable and easy to deal with and we couldn’t have asked for a better company to become an early adopter of our product.”
To begin their work together, Berry traveled to South Carolina from his Florida headquarters. He brought the equipment and he and the Spinx team went out to a site and field-tested the unit with some drivers.
A minor miracle occurred.
“In this industry, drivers are usually averse to change,” Moon said. “They want to know ‘How long will this new product take to work? How many extra steps will be added to the job? How much time, and therefore money, will I lose?’ In the case of the Midas Elbow, the experiment went fantastically. The drivers had no complaints.”
Spinx initially used the units on 27 of their trucks, with 70 drivers. (Each driver delivers at least one line of product, sometimes as many as five.)
Moon and Berry worked closely together.
“We listened to each other, remained flexible, and fine-tuned the product to meet Spinx’s needs,” Berry said.
“This process took a month of my focused attention in the third quarter of 2020,” Moon recalled.
Eventually, Spinx equipped all their inventory control stores with the RFID tags needed to communicate with the drivers.
They outfitted stores for monitoring the drops at their inventory-controlled stores in the Charleston market first. They chose that particular group of stores because of the controlled environment it represents.
“By monitoring product coming and going from those locations, we make up our orders based on data, as opposed to a store manager just deciding when we are out of gas,” Moon explained. “We monitor the level in the ground, tracing, in real-time, sales of Diesel, Premium and Unleaded and use algorithms and history to decide when a load will fit, refilling the tank before it is out.”
Spinx plans to add the Midas Elbows to its upstate and Columbia locations next.
This initial rollout period wasn’t without its hiccups, Moon points out, but Berry came to iron out the wrinkles.
First, the gas-hauling rate of flow was different from that of the rate in the UK (where the Midas Elbow was born.) Drivers are paid a percent of revenue of the fuel they deliver. The old-style elbows Spinx had been using dropped 400 gallons per minute, 100 more gallons than the Midas Elbow originally did, which meant the Midas Elbow added 15 minutes to each delivery stop. With the average of four drops a day, an hour was added to each driver’s run. Berry removed the restricting plate and rehomed the impeller to increase the gallon rate and decrease delivery times.
Next, the color-coding already present on Spinx’s trucks didn’t match the Midas Elbow’s, so that was changed to conform to Spinx’s requirements, allowing Spinx to identify when drivers used their personal card keys to deliver fuel at tanks without RFID tags. Spinx had been using a tag of their own development, but asked Berry if cards could be created for drivers instead? In the event of a cross-drop, the driver who overode a certain delivery was therefore easily identified.
Berry again accommodated Spinx’s request.
“He was very hands-on and helpful,” Moon said. “He made himself available nights and weekends and did whatever was necessary.”
Berry even supplied all the R&D date on the Midas Elbow to Spinx’s insurance company, which Moon called important “flag-waving.”
A cross-drop causes lost revenues, entangling litigation, bad press, and a precipitous rise in insurance premiums—and all from a simple accident.
“These drivers are on the road 12 hours a day, five days a week, in all traffic and weather conditions, but with years of experience, they load and unload the same way, day after day. A, B. C, D to D, C, B, A until it is done, by muscle memory,” Moon said. “When something happens out of the norm, say the wife calls with upsetting news or the driver gets cut off in traffic—that’s when the norm is disrupted, and mistakes can happen. The Midas Elbow will prevent that accident.
“I now have confidence knowing that my drivers have one less thing to worry about. He can get in his truck, load 8,500 gallons of gas, and is able to make sure he pulled and delivered the right product. The Midas Elbow is another tool in the toolbox to help drivers do their jobs.”
Moon saw many products that provide an additional layer of safety to the fuel-hauling industry, from baffles in the tank or a speed reduction device, but none that dealt with the problem of cross-drop protection like the Midas Elbow. “This had to happen. We needed to move in the right direction. I anticipate we may save thousands of dollars a year; surely enough to pay for the system itself,” Moon said. “I would recommend the Midas Elbow in a heartbeat.”
With the economy revving back up, Spinx may be called upon for those recommendations soon. Midas Elbow units have now been sent to companies in Alaska, New Mexico, and Idaho.
“We are certainly seeing much interest, though I feel we are just at the starting gate,” Berry said.
The level of interest delights, but doesn’t surprise Martin Berry, who says definitively, “This technology is the future.”
Berrys Technologies is distributed in the US by Hart Industries and Littlejohn. For more information on the Midas Elbow, contact Berrys Technologies US at 407-413-1020, email [email protected] or visit www.berrysus.com.