Cover Story: Pump Talk

Look who’s talking now... the gas pump?


“We wanted to make a system that was hands-free and could deliver as much information to fleet management as possible,” he says. “To do that, we needed a system that ties in directly to the vehicle’s onboard computers and provides the same fueling services the fleet is accustomed to.”

As a precursor to the upgrade, the City of Madison system began with an in-house hardware installation for each of the vehicles in the city fleet. City maintenance personnel installed electronic rings inside the fueling port of the vehicle. Attachments to the ring tie directly into the vehicle’s Onboard Diagnostic Computer.

Following completion of the vehicle installation, E.J. Ward’s technical department arrived in Madison in early May 2007 to complete installation of the hardware suite to each the city’s four fueling stations.

NO DIGGING

According to Michael Price, field representative for E.J. Ward, the new hardware in wired directly into the existing fuel pumps, and draws power from the existing power supply. In the case of Madison’s Badger Road fleet fueling station, the result is a shiny new metering unit grafted onto a somewhat battered old gas pump. Despite the strange appearance of old mixed with new, there’s a purpose to this type of installation.

“They stopped making these pumps over twenty years ago,” Price says, “but we can put our units on just about anything. If you’ve got a solenoid and a pulser on it, we can control it.

“This saves the customer from having to run conduit and dig up the ground and trench everything out,” he explains. “It’s wired into the pump’s power, and then we use radio to relay the information to the server.”

“The fueling nozzle has a ‘black box’ that interfaces with the ring installed in the vehicle,” explains VandenBrook. “Information stored in the vehicle’s diagnostic computer is transmitted to the computer in the nozzle and then is uploaded to the maintenance computers via an Internet connection.”

Price adds that the system can work even without a radio connection to fleet’s central server. He recalls an installation for Caltrans, a northern California transit service, that involved a single isolated fuel pump that was miles from the nearest fleet facility. The reader that E.J. Ward installed on this pump stored all the vehicle information on a flash card, and technician from the nearest maintenance facility drives out to the pump and swaps out the card every week. Once the card is back at the shop, the vehicle information is downloaded and put to use.

FILLING UP

A typical fueling process begins as the operator pulls the vehicle into the service station. While the vehicle is running throughout the day, data is constantly being uploaded to the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic computer. When the vehicle is shut down and the nozzle is inserted for fueling, the ring in the fuel port downloads information from the vehicle’s computer and transmits it into the ‘black box’ on the fuel pump.

“The ring in the fuel port authorizes the correct fuel to flow from the pump and will stop flow once the desired quantity is reached,” says VandenBrook. “For us, the biggest benefit is that the operator doesn’t have to fumble with magnetic cards or try to remember mileage. The operator just has to pull up to the pump and gas up the vehicle.”

“Information transmitted to the pumps includes engine time, idle time, oil levels, diagnostic codes, fuel consumption, engine faults and engine mileage,” notes Featherston. “The data is then directly fed into the maintenance system and if problems exist with the engine or if the vehicle comes due for any periodic maintenance; the system will alert the fleet management real-time to the condition.”

According to VandenBrook, this instant access to information, transmitted to fleet headquarters via an automatic e-mail, could prove to be invaluable if a serious maintenance issue exists.

GROWING PAINS

The City of Madison is convinced technology of this sort will greatly ease their operations in the future. But the overlap of technology still has the potential to have its glitches, however small.

For instance, not all vehicles in the fleet have Onboard Diagnostic Computers compatible with the new system.

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