Technological Future

18 Sep 2017 By Russell Dupuy

Future of retail petroleum automation

Historically, from the 1900s to 1980’s, the typical retail petrol station required only the most basic components to fill consumers vehicles, consisting primarily of tanks, piping, dispensers, a cash register and maybe a prime sign.

The oil company and the mechanic came together to encourage traffic to the station for fuel and vehicle servicing. Leaded, unleaded and diesel coupled with cold drinks and a few other dry goods was the offering.

Currently, the typical retail petrol station commands more sophisticated dispensers offering up to five grades at any one position, many featuring vapour recovery. Also on offer are Automatic Tank Gauges which feature intelligent leak and delivery detection, supporting an endless range of sensors and connection to submersible turbine pumps. Also on offer are electronic price signs, secure payment systems, POS/BOS, refrigerated cool stores, coffee machines – the list continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Each device or thing is increasingly intelligent, and it is almost always supporting some form of connectivity to another device via traditional input/output, right through to TCP/IP and various wireless connection options. Individually they offer limited data that alone is not very useful. However, collectively they offer a tremendous opportunity to lift volumes of event-driven data into the Cloud – but it’s not really happening that way!

Market consolidation over the past fifteen years has seen a strong list of hundreds of independent manufacturers whittled down to about a dozen, who cover major fuel system components, and adjacent equipment. Each is looking to offer proprietary connectivity – good for them.

Is it good for the longevity of Retail Petroleum networks to be locked in, and unable to take advantage of leaner, more agile and flexible technology solutions? These solutions do not carry the manufacturing burden or need to support the cost burden of a global Goliath. This alone is potentially thwarting a fast-to-market opportunity.

With the introduction of secure, scalable and immutable Cloud platforms coupled with IoT (Internet of Things) platforms that support smart edge technology, the future promises to bring valuable big data into Retail Petroleum entering through simple machine automation.

What will the future of big data do for your business? Most argue they already have big data, but most only have volumes of transaction data that in itself, whilst very helpful for traditional business use, does not unlock other powerful data-driven insights.

Imagine when all of the “things” through a Retail Petroleum network are streaming live data – when artificial intelligence is coupled with machine learning provides the business with new insights not imagined before. It would support and feed into a broader digital ecosystem to measure customer buying patterns and improve customer experience.

If this seems like a big stretch, then think about what the humble barcode scanner did for supermarkets, or the introduction and rapid take-up of mobile, the internet and email. Then consider what the automotive industry is doing with vision systems coupled with GPS for driverless vehicles. Will fossil or renewable fuels, hydrogen or other forms of energy remain? Or will they become features of the typical forecourt? Most agree the forecourt will change.

To learn more about developing strategies to connect “things” within your Retail Petroleum network, or simply to achieve greater automation or control, contact the EMS team.