Opinion: 3 Ways You May Be Giving Away Fuel

gas pump

PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. -- In the early days of motor-fuel dispenser testing and calibration, using traditional open-neck provers was a perfectly reasonable way for retailers to assess dispenser meter accuracy and ensure regulatory compliance. Fueling facilities weren’t nearly as complex as they are today, and they had much lower average per-store volumes and substantially less expensive petroleum products.

Fast-forward a few decades, and the retail petroleum industry looks very different. Because average per-store volumes have multiplied and product costs are substantially higher, retailers are looking for ways to more accurately measure, trace and analyze fuel inventory. To reduce costly fuel shrink, some retailers have sought out a more precise method of testing and recalibrating fuel-dispenser meters to control and eliminate profit loss at the pump.

In the past seven years, Crompco LLC has calibrated well more than a million fuel meters. As a result, we’ve found that the average retail fuel marketer is giving away approximately $5,700 in fuel profit per site per year.

Here are three problems with today’s common approach to testing and calibrating fuel dispensers, and one possible solution ...

1. Meter wear

gas meter

First, the retailer is almost always the loser in meter wear.

As dispenser technology improves, most meters are not tested and calibrated accurately enough to eliminate unnecessary fuel loss. By design, most dispenser meters are engineered to wear so that consumers benefit. The more fuel that passes through the meter, the greater the chance a retailer is losing profit to fuel shrink.

The typical weights and measures standard for retail gasoline meters is plus or minus 3 cubic inches for every five gallons dispensed. A retail gasoline facility that has an average variance of 2.5 cubic inches for every 5 gallons dispensed is giving away 0.5 cubic inches per gallon. In other words, if the facility pumps 1.5 million gallons per year, typical meter wear would result in a loss of 3,247 gallons of fuel each year.

2. Break-in period

fuel pump

Second, new equipment doesn’t necessarily mean more accurate equipment, at least not upon initial startup.

One advertised benefit of some of the newer dispenser meters is that they do not wear as quickly as conventional positive displacement meters. These new models use axial flow technology to register fuel as it travels through the meters. However, our findings show that even the most modern and up-to-date fueling systems (including those that feature the new meters) often require a complete calibration after a “break-in” period. Through the data we’ve collected, we’ve found that 90% of these new meters must still be recalibrated to achieve complete accuracy.

3. External factors

vapor

Finally, accuracy often is negatively affected by external factors.

Traditional methods of testing and recalibration have many inherent limitations and failings that inhibit them from accurately testing and calibrating meters at today’s high-volume fuel sites. Vapor loss during proving, effects of temperature, inexact meniscus readings, flow rates, leveling problems and a lack of experience are all important variables to consider.

Think of it as similar to the difference between an X-ray and an MRI: While both techniques produce images, MRI images provide a much clearer, more detailed representation of what’s going on than X-ray images. Using open-neck provers for testing and calibration can give you a basic idea of the state of a fuel-dispenser meter but simply cannot match or provide the precise, repeatable measurements that you need to eliminate costly fuel shrink.

The combination method

money at the gas pump

Fortunately, there is an alternative. I recommend a measurement strategy that combines modern equipment, repeatable processes and recalibration that approaches true zero.

With this combination, retailers can gain the visibility and accuracy they need to eliminate fuel shrink and lost profits.


Bill Callaway is the manager of measurement and technical service for Crompco LLC, a Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based provider of meter calibration and underground tank, line and vapor recovery testing. He has worked in the retail petroleum service industry for nearly 30 years and was responsible for the development of Crompco’s AccuMeasure meter testing and calibration service.