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TotalGaz adoption of TouchStar fuel delivery IT solution

Background

Total - A global multi-energy provider

With operations in more than 130 countries, Total engages in all aspects of the petroleum industry, including Upstream operations (oil and gas exploration, development and production, LNG) and Downstream operations (refining, marketing and the trading and shipping of crude oil and petroleum products). Total also produces base chemicals (petrochemicals and fertilizers) and specialty chemicals for the industrial and consumer markets (rubber processing, adhesives, resins and electroplating). In addition, Total has interests in the coal mining and power generation sectors. Total is helping to secure the future of energy through its commitment to developing renewable energies, such as photovoltaic power and marine energy, and second-generation biofuels.

Key indicators include;

  • Fourth largest publicly-traded integrated international oil and gas company in the world(1)
  • 96,400 employees
  • Operations in more than 130 countries
  • Exploration and production operations in more than 40 countries
  • Producer of oil or gas in 30 countries
  • Downstream

One of the leading traders of crude oil and refined products worldwide

  • Refining capacity: approximately 2.6 million barrels per day
  • Retail network: nearly 16,500 service stations
  • Sales of petroleum products: approximately 3.9 million barrels per day
  • Brands: TOTAL, Elf, Elan, AS 24

TotalGaz is an important downstream marketing subsidiary of the TotalFinaElf LPG organisation. TotalGaz has grown to become one the leading companies in France specialising in the refining and the distribution of LPG gas, Butane and Propane to business and domestic customers. The final distribution of the product may be done by means of bottles or directly to the customer's tank as bulk product. TotalGaz trades approximately 3000,000 metric tons of LPG-derived product a year.

TotalGaz Fleet Operations

The bulk distribution of TotalGaz LPG is achieved via the use of a combination of small and 330 large ‘bulk’ carrier trucks. These trucks are not owned by the TotalGaz, they are rented to circa 30 contractor organisations throughout France.

Four years ago, TotalGaz identified the need for a greater level of automation of key business processes associated with the LPG distribution vehicles. The main decision to implement a mobile computing solution was to improve efficiency in operations, specifically to eliminate paperwork, reduce billing cycles and to automate stock reconciliation. Secondary benefits were to be sought via the use of GPS technology, which it was thought would aid job planning, vehicle scheduling and routing.

Touchstar Technologies is a leading supplier of mobile data capture systems to the fuel sector and TotalGaz were already well aware of the organisation’s reputation for delivering pragmatic and effective solutions. TotalGaz were particularly interested in obtaining data directly from the on-board meters and were impressed by the range of different meter types with which TouchStar could offer full compatibility. TouchStar’s equipment is also ATEX certified, an important consideration for any company operating in explosive environments. TouchStar also has in-house bespoke software development capability and were able to offer TotalGaz a highly intuitive front-end fuel delivery application, designed to meet their specific operational criteria.

After an initial phase of testing on 30 trucks, the system was rolled out across the entire fleet of bulk delivery vehicles. LPG distribution is a seasonal activity with a peak between November and March. During the peak period TotalGaz utilise ‘seasonal’ trucks and drivers. It was therefore critical that all the on-vehicle IT systems had been installed prior to the start of the season. The subcontractors were instructed to fit the systems in the trucks before the start of the season. To assist in the smooth implementation, each driver received practical training on the application. Where possible, the users were asked to start with the onboard system the day after the training sessions.

The TouchStar On-Board System

The central elements of the initial system purchased by TotalGaz were the ‘TouchPC Voyager’ on-board computer and its intermediate cradle. The cradle was linked to a cell phone that enabled the on-board system to communicate with the back office application used by the dispatcher at TotalGaz.

The TouchPC cradle was also linked to an Applicom "black box". This box was used as a GPS receiver and a router for the information exchanged between the cradle, the printer, the tachometer and the gas meter. All of these elements were integrated into a metal box, together with the power supply converter.

In a second phase of enhancement, a TomTom GPS device was added to all of the systems in the field. The TomTom directly linked to the Voyager, the connection between the two devices ensuring that the user did not have to input any physical address details to kick-start the navigation process. The Voyager automatically pushed the GPS coordinates to the TomTom device.

In phase three, TotalGaz is now fitting its entire articulated fleet with the ‘TouchPC Raven’, which is the successor to the ‘Voyager’ within the TouchStar range of products. This in-vehicle computer is backwards-compatible with the existing system, ensuring that roll-out can be handled in a staggered fashion. The ‘Raven’ device has a wider range of on-board functions than it’s predecessor and has allowed TotalGaz to further refine it’s delivery application. Having GPS, GPRS and Bluetooth on-board a device with a smaller footprint and having dedicated truck connectivity on the cradle has meant that the new system configuration is a far ‘neater’ solution.

The TouchStar devices have provided a critical fleet management data flow between the driver, vehicle and office, specifically;

The driver received details of his pending route and the additional associated logistical information related to it. ‘Quantity delivered’ data was sent back to the dispatcher virtually in ‘real time’. Location of the truck was available in real time by means of GPS, which brought safety and security advantages Accurate location of TotalGaz customers by means of GPS navigation. Assistance in navigation by means of GPS. This was particularly useful as the majority of the seasonal drivers were not overly familiar area with the geographical areas within which they were operating. Printing of unified documentation, whatever the make of the meter and the trucks. Improved fraud control.

System Benefits

The benefits derived from the availability of critical data included;

a reduction in the administrative resources needed to establish the delivery schedule and route information. Previously, the information flow between the driver and the dispatcher was handled by fax or telephone. Optimization of the time spent during the delivery Reduction of the mileage of the truck

Big benefits were also realised in the area of ‘proof of delivery’ and customer invoicing. Previously the process relied on manual delivery notes which were easily mislaid and effort was duplicated as information had to be manually re-entered into the back-office system. The whole process was open to human error. The TouchStar solution, allows the driver to print delivery notes on the spot, eliminating the need for a separate in-cab printer and the sometimes lengthy walks to and from the vehicle to produce a printout. A customer’s signature is simply captured on screen for proof of delivery purposes and the document is printed there and then. Benefits were seen immediately from the accuracy of data and time saved in the back office on data re-entry. Subsequently, if there are any discrepancies over what was delivered, an electronic version of the document can simply be raised on the system and automatically sent to the customer, whereby in the past, someone had to go and retrieve the document from the archive. This, in turn, took up valuable time and additional storage space.

System Evaluation : The TotalGaz Experience

Since the launch of the system, more than 450 different drivers have used the equipment successfully. TotalGaz have retained TouchStar as their supplier, through three phases of system development. Vincent Brouard, Logistics Manager for the LPG operation at Total-Gaz, explains some of the principle reasons behind this decision:

"The key factor in our choice of hardware was that the core devices had to be rugged and capable of operating in relatively extreme environments. The systems are mostly operated during the cold winter season, with temperatures below zero. However, the systems remain within the truck for the whole year, so the units are also exposed to harsh sunlight behind the windshield during the summer period. It can also become a very dusty environment. We’ve never received any reports of damage related to these operating conditions.

Aside from the hardware, we were seeking an overall system solution that fitted perfectly with our business model and which required minimal development time. We needed a system that would be intuitive and user-friendly for the drivers and this is one of the biggest areas of success. At first drivers were apprehensive about the new system, but within days they have found it has just automated the process and eliminated the paperwork coming out of the cab. Drivers also like the fact that they are guided sequentially through a series of menus when making deliveries. It serves as a great aid, particularly when there can be up to 15 deliveries in a shift. The software is intuitive and easy to operate.

So far every participant in the process approves the use of on-board computer systems…. drivers, dispatchers, truck owners and our valued customers. Maybe the best proof of the efficiency of the system lies in the driver's experience. We’ve found that when drivers are asked to use a replacement truck, in which no on-board computer is present, they complain!

Based upon its expertise and knowledge of the fuel and gas business and its reputation for delivering robust systems, TouchStar claim to be the best in the industry. On the basis of our experience of working with the company, we are happy to concur with that opinion."