Fuel usage has traditionally been one of the mining industry’s largest operating expenses, second only to labour.
Minesites have also become increasingly aware of the wastage that occurs through fuel misuse.
Adapt Fuel Management Systems’ (FMS) eponymous hydrocarbon monitoring system is designed to track the dispensing and usage of a site’s entire fuel stock.
According to Adapt FMS business director Sean Birrell, some sites have recognised they have not handled their diesel supplies well in the past, because they can be difficult to keep track of.
"There are a lot of people coming on and off minesites, so diesel can be pretty easy to misappropriate or misuse," he told Australian Mining.
"So it is important to provide tools that can minimise this.
"In most situations, whenever a system such as this is put in place, it will reduce the opportunities for people to misuse diesel."
According to Birrell, it is hard to pin an exact figure to the amount of diesel theft that occurs, because miners have tended to be reluctant to discuss the issue.
"We have conducted some informal surveys and interviews with our clients about fuel theft and misappropriation," he said.
"It is a difficult issue, because people do not really want to openly talk about it.
"Most sites will probably deem it a small problem, but if you look at the amount of fuel being used, even a small percentage of misuse can equate to a lot of wastage."
However, Birrell said the industry have increasingly taken the stance that the fuel supplies are worth monitoring.
"We have anecdotal evidence from our clients that theft has dropped after an FMS has been introduced," he said.
The Adapt FMS is also designed to handle a whole suite of monitoring tasks.
"The system can be used to help with accounting and cost allocation, examining trends and monitoring inventories," Birrell said.
"It can also be used by operations to provide the necessary data for claiming the diesel fuel rebate, as well as to comply with the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) Act.
"Additionally, the FMS can capture data from engine oils for use in equipment maintenance histories, particularly the top-up times and engine hours."
According to Birrell, the FMS was originally developed to cater to the industry’s desire to claim the diesel rebate.
"Inventory control is now becoming a much bigger part of the package," he said.
"For that reason the system offers features such as live tank level monitoring."
At the heart of the FMS is a web application designed to interface with an operation’s other management systems, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software.
"The web application captures data from out in the field and allows it to be exported to whatever ERP the client is using at the time," Birrell said.
"It is normally installed on a central server behind the client’s firewall and connected to multiple units out in the field."
These field units, or MCUs, work in a similar way to bowsers at service stations.
"The MCUs control the flow and also record the dispensing of the fuel and oils," Birrell said.
"They provide a human-machine interface for the system, and include a keypad, display and some kind of identification technology, commonly Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags."
According to Birrell, the MCU is designed to identify the both driver and the vehicle, via RFID tagging, to check if refuelling is authorised.
"The MCU will query its database and make sure that both the person and ehicle are allowed," he said.
"The unit will also only dispense the particular hydrocarbons each vehicle is authorised to accept.
"For instance, a certain vehicle may be only allowed to take diesel fuel and engine oil, so that is all it will get."
Each MCU will record these transactions with details like the time and date as well as the fuel volume and equipment number.
This data is then transmitted to the FMS web application.
"We also recently begun using this technique to monitor the fuel deliveries," Birrell said.
"As the deliveries are made, the drivers have to similarly authenticate who they are and what they are delivering.
"The data is once again captured and sent back to the web application."
The FMS web application can generate a variety of reports to track all of the inputs, from engine hours, fuel consumption, maintenance schedules and tank levels.
The user also can also access and manage the database, adding new equipment and users as well as setting targets and alarms.
According to Birrell, the future versions of the FMS technology will be capable of capturing more data through automated processes.
"The application will be able to aggregate data from multiple sites and therefore create reports from a much larger perspective," he said.
"However, this data must also be accurate, because there is little point having the system if the information is incorrect.
"Manual data entry opens up the possibility of human error, so we are looking to automate the process with more RFID usage to counter this."
Birrell said the increasing use of high-speed wireless networks on mining sites will require the FMS to become more capable of handling real-time data.
"The operators are more comfortable running reports because they know they have received all of the transactions up to that point," he said.
"Similarly, the improvements to embedded computing power have allowed the system to monitor more products simultaneously with less hardware in the field."