Atek Access Technologies of Eden Prairie has introduced a wireless tank monitor that will let farmers, oil-change shops and fuel suppliers remotely monitor the liquid levels for fleets of fuel tanks.
The digital technology is estimated to save users 30 percent of tank servicing and refueling costs. Atek, which has a factory in Brainerd, bought the maker of the device in 2007 and revamped the product last year. It was unveiled at the National Oil Recyclers Association meeting in November and is now being rolled out nationwide.
Right now, most storage and fuel tanks are monitored manually — or not at all. As a result, thousands of refueling trucks unnecessarily hit the road thinking they need to fill tanks that don’t need topping off. Conversely, fuel trucks also sometimes arrive too late, leaving tanks empty and disrupting operations, Atek Access Technologies President Sherri McDaniel said.
With the new TankScan TSM8000, McDaniel expects waste oil collectors, fuel distributors and farmers with multiple operations to “avoid costly runouts and improve customer service” and save lots of money. TankScan uses a sensor that sits atop each tank and a digital plumb line and sensor reaching to the bottom of the tank. The equipment collects data about the fullness of each tank and sends it to the Internet, where any manager can efficiently schedule deliveries.
TankScan sensors, which are $500 each, can be programmed to check and record liquid levels several times a day, a week or a month. The digital data is stored on “cloud” servers for easy retrieval at any time of the day or night.
Company officials expect the new product to be a home run. Sales should grow 400 percent this year, said McDaniel, noting that one customer just ordered 350 units. “We sold more [of the relaunched models] this month than we did all of last year.”
TankScan sold 35,000 of its older monitors, which use old analog technology that desperately needed to be updated, the company said.
Keith Backer, who works for CHS Inc. in Inver Grove Heights, said he sometimes installs the monitors on fuel tanks that stand 30 feet tall. His territory stretches from Washington to Ohio and from Minnesota to Texas.
“I know we are interested in TankScan’s new [digital] equipment,” Backer said. “The old analog system is becoming a dinosaur. Everybody is getting rid of their analog land line and going to a digital land line or cellphone.”
The tank monitors save money “most definitely,” Backer said. “A lot of times what will happen in these rural communities is the farmers or company will see the fuel truck go by and suddenly say, ‘Oh, I better call them and tell them that I am out of fuel, too.’ Then the fuel distributors have to head right back to the area it just serviced a few days ago. With the tank monitors, the fuel truckers know themselves when their customers’ tanks need filling.”
Atek is aggressively marketing the new TankScan to fuel distributors who serve large farms and industrial businesses. Those who will benefit most from the new technology have multiple fuel or storage tanks across multiple locations, McDaniel said. The wireless monitoring system comes with an app and a “computer dashboard” letting any manager easily track liquid levels in tanks, no matter how many there are. The system can also be programmed to send low-fuel alerts to cellphones.
Managers of small co-ops and farms said they are not so sure the new monitor will be a hit with everyone. Dusty Phillips, fuel manager for the Producers Cooperative Association in Texas, said small farmers will be put off by the price tag even if they are intrigued by the technology.
“A lot of our ranchers and farmers are pretty frugal-minded and have just 300- and 500-gallon tanks,” Phillips said. “So the biggest problem for them is going to be cost. They won’t want to foot the bill for something they can check themselves” by walking up to the tank and looking at the manual fuel reader.
While the new units cost $500 each to buy, they can also be rented for about $20 a month, McDaniel said.
The device is manufactured at Atek’s factory in Brainerd and contains circuit boards made by Wayzata-based Nortech Systems.