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Unlock operational efficiencies with an automated fuel management system

Fuel is a significant cost driver in many industrial sectors in the South African economy. Within the logistics sector, fuel contributes more than 50% of the share of daily road transport costs.

A survey of mining companies in 2023 showed fuel and power costs as the areas of greatest increases in operating costs. These rising energy expenses have a cascading effect on mining economics. More capital is allocated to cover the increasing fuel costs, leaving less capital available for exploration, equipment upgrades and new mining developments.

An automated fuel management system is a powerful tool to combat these challenges, contributing to increased efficiency and cost savings in fleet management.

What is an automated fuel management system?

An automated fuel management system, comprising both hardware and software components, tracks, monitors, and controls fuel usage within an operational framework.

These data-driven systems serve as indispensable tools for businesses tasked with overseeing fleets of vehicles or maintaining extensive fuel storage facilities.

They seamlessly integrate features such as consumption analysis, fuel reconciliation from fuel purchased to fuel consumed, and the comparison of expected versus actual usage – enabling precise management and optimisation of fuel resources.

An automated fuel management system usually has these elements:

Hardware Integration

Bulk to end-use monitoring: Sensors measure tank levels and dispensed volumes to track fuel inventory and usage.

Fuel dispensing control: Based on facial recognition of the operator and wireless recognition of the vehicle.

Telemetry-enabled tank level gauging: Tank level gauges give accurate readings of tank levels to help manage fuel reserves.

Vehicle dispensing: Based on the wireless recognition of the vehicle by the system. This is enabled by vehicle telemetry units or beacons.

Software Integration

Software integration for comprehensive analysis: Software gathers data from sensors and dispensers and provides insights into fuel usage, burn rates, and equipment run hours or distance travelled. This helps to monitor and optimise fuel consumption across the production cycle and reduce costs.

Using these elements in an automated fuel management system helps businesses to better monitor, control, and optimise fuel usage in their operations, thereby increasing productivity, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness.

fuel management system dashboard
An automated fuel management system monitors and optimises fuel consumption across the production cycle and reduces costs.

Benefits of automated fuel management systems

Cost savings

  • Identify unauthorised usage and provide the access control and reporting mechanisms to alert instances of fuel usage outside of acceptable limits
  • Streamline fuel purchasing and optimise inventory management
  • Substantiate transactions and standard reporting for fuel rebate claims that meet South African legislative requirements

Improved efficiency

  • Automate manual tasks like fuel level checks and reporting
  • Gain real-time insights into fuel usage and identify areas for improvement
  • Reduce administrative burden and free up valuable resources
  • Map fuel consumption to activity

Enhanced control and visibility

  • Track fuel levels
  • Receive alerts for unexpected fuel usage outside of acceptable limits
  • Gain valuable data for informed decision-making, including inventory control, mitigating human error

Insights into

  • Fuel Management
    • Detailed overview of fuelling operations
    • Tracks fuel consumption across equipment
    • Maps refuelling process from bay to equipment tanks
    • Identifies primary fuel consumers and tracks engine hours
  • Inventory Management
    • Comprehensive tracking of fuel bulk tank levels and trends
    • Fuel reconciliation using the bulk tank movement, fuel deliveries and fuel dispensed
  • Fuel System Monitoring
    • Highlights flagged transactions and fuel discrepancies
    • Monitors burn rates, tank capacities, and refuelling frequency
  • SARS Reporting
    • Provides eligibility information for SARS refunds
  • Compare the fuel consumption with the burn rates
  • Gain insights from the Solution Health Report for alerts on data capture or equipment anomalies, ensuring maintenance excellence
SARS reporting for diesel fuel levy
A system like SmartFEMS™ rmakes it more efficient and convenient for customers to submit their SARS diesel claims and receive the refunds they are entitled to.

What are the concerns about implementing a fuel management system?

Implementing a fuel management system can be costly, and addressing concerns about these expenses is essential when considering such a capital outlay. Here are some potential concerns:

User adoption: Before making the initial investment in an automated fuel management system, it is crucial to assess user adoption and system use considerations. Ensuring that the system will be effectively utilised is essential for maximising the return on investment.

Initial investment: While the upfront costs of purchasing and installing a fuel management system may be high, consider the long-term savings and benefits, such as those outlined above. Improved efficiency, reduced fuel theft, and accurate tracking can outweigh the initial expenses.

Integration costs: Integrating a fuel management system with existing infrastructure might require additional expenses. However, while integration costs can vary, many systems are designed for compatibility with common fleet management tools and can be customised to minimise integration challenges.

Training expenses: Training employees to use the new system may result in additional costs. However, training costs are part of any system implementation. Moreover, many fuel management systems are designed to be user-friendly, and training requirements can often be minimised through intuitive interfaces and clear documentation.

Maintenance costs: While there are ongoing maintenance costs, these are typically outweighed by the benefits of reduced fuel losses, improved maintenance scheduling, and overall operational efficiency. Regular maintenance can also prevent costly issues in the long run.

Compatibility issues: Before implementation, thorough compatibility assessments should be conducted. Choosing a system that aligns with existing infrastructure and technology can help mitigate compatibility concerns and reduce additional costs.

Return on Investment (ROI): While the timeline for ROI can vary, the long-term benefits such as fuel savings, enhanced operational efficiency, and reduced unauthorised fuel usage often result in a positive ROI over time.

Upgrading technology: Rapid advancements in technology may lead to the need for frequent upgrades. That is why choosing a system from a reputable provider that offers scalable solutions and regular updates is so important. Assessing the system’s flexibility and upgrade options before implementation is crucial.

The system enables real-time monitoring of fuel consumption and identifies inefficiencies. By optimising routes, reducing idle time, and curbing unauthorised fuel usage, companies can achieve substantial fuel savings, contributing directly to ROI.
By optimising routes, reducing idle time, and curbing unauthorised fuel usage, companies can achieve substantial fuel savings, contributing directly to ROI.

Why an automated fuel management system has a high ROI potential

The ROI potential of implementing a fuel management system is significant, and can positively impact various aspects of an organisation’s operations. Here are key areas where ROI can be realised:

Fuel Savings: The system enables real-time monitoring of fuel consumption and identifies inefficiencies. By optimising routes, reducing idle time, and curbing unauthorised fuel usage, companies can achieve substantial fuel savings, contributing directly to ROI.

Prevention of unauthorised fuel usage: Fuel management systems help combat unauthorised use by limiting unauthorised access to the systems and by providing accurate data on fuel transactions and consumption. The ability to detect and prevent unauthorised fuelling activities translates into direct cost savings, enhancing the overall ROI.

Enhanced operational efficiency: The system’s ability to provide actionable insights and data-driven decision-making contributes to increased efficiency and, consequently, a faster ROI.

Preventive maintenance: Timely alerts and equipment health insights prevent expensive breakdowns. Proactive maintenance cuts repair costs and downtime, enhancing fleet efficiency and speeding up ROI realisation.

Accurate billing and cost control: Automated tracking and reporting features enable precise billing for fuel usage, reducing the risk of errors and disputes. Additionally, cost controls can be implemented based on data-driven insights, preventing overspending and optimising resource allocation.

Compliance and accountability: Fuel management systems often include features that enhance compliance with regulations and industry standards. The system’s ability to enforce accountability and ensure adherence to best practices contributes to risk mitigation and long-term financial gains.

Data-driven decision-making: Access to comprehensive data on fuel consumption, vehicle performance, and driver behaviour empowers companies to make informed decisions. Data-driven strategies lead to more effective resource allocation, cost reduction, and improved overall financial performance.

Long-term cost reduction: While there are initial implementation costs, the long-term benefits contribute to sustained cost reduction. The cumulative effect over time enhances the overall ROI of the fuel management system.

Environmental Impact: Companies may benefit from positive public relations and potential incentives associated with environmentally friendly practices. Reduced fuel consumption and emissions contribute to a greener image, aligning with corporate social responsibility goals and potentially attracting environmentally conscious customers.

Careful consideration, proper planning, and selecting the right system can help address concerns and optimise the Return on Investment.


Effective Haul Road Management is Central to Safe and Productive Mining

The design, construction, and maintenance of roads heavily impact safety, productivity, energy, and costs. That’s why the management of road functionality plays a pivotal role in the total cost and safe operation of roads, as well as ensuring legal compliance.

In the current business operating environment where there is a sustained focus on improving safety, productivity, and energy efficiency, ensuring that equipment and people operate in good road conditions has become more important than ever before.

Mining operations can manage their haul roads effectively only if they are equipped with relevant and actionable information. That is why they need to use digital systems to support effective management of road functionality.

However, ‘traditional’ road inspection and reporting methods fall short of enabling mining operations to meet this objective. Thus, this calls for modern digital methods that have been tried and tested in challenging conditions to be explored.

This is the sage advice of Dr Mark Rawlins Pr Eng, Executive Chairperson and Chief Engineer at Energy & Combustion Services Group (ECS), to mining companies through an interview with Mining Business Africa.

The ECS Group has built a reputation for providing smart road condition monitoring solutions to companies in mining and other sectors.

Rawlins recommends adopting digital systems such as SmartRoad™, enhanced by Machine Learning and advanced analytics, to manage road functionality. This is based on it being successfully used at different operational sites.

‘Traditional’ road inspection and reporting

The strong business case for adopting SmartRoad™ in the effective management of roads becomes clear when the challenges of ‘traditional’ inspection and reporting methods are examined.

‘Traditional’ inspection and reporting methods may include:

  • A competent person driving on the roads making mental or written notes of road conditions and then giving written or verbal feedback to others;
  • Taking photographs of road conditions or taking notes and then sending a report via WhatsApp or email;
  • Dispatch controllers getting feedback from vehicle operators as they identify issues, mainly dusty or wet conditions; and
  • Truck vibration monitoring systems reporting excessive vibration but without any situational context on road conditions, which still require an inspection.

Challenges of ‘traditional’ methods

‘Traditional’ inspection methods are too time and labour-intensive, making it difficult to report, review and schedule maintenance and repair.

The key challenges with inspecting mining haul roads for functional condition assessment are related to frequency, completeness, and repeatability.

  • Frequency: how often inspections can be done for the same section of road
  • Completeness: the percentage of the total road network inspected in a period
  • Repeatability: how an inspector scores the road condition from one period to the next.

Moreover, once a defect has been identified, there’s no effective way of reporting, reviewing, and scheduling maintenance and repair.

Unfortunately, manual systems can’t provide geospatial images or visual location-based information for reporting and improved insight and transfer of information for maintenance scheduling. In addition, keeping track of maintenance or compliance-related workflows or job cards is cumbersome and error-prone.

So, mining operations find that applying the standard practice of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance on mining roads, as they do on their plant and machines, is difficult and mostly ineffective. This is because they need a readily accessible and complete history of road functional condition and repair.

Rawlins underlines the importance of accurate information to allow reliable conditions and predictive maintenance of roads.

“Road conditions can change rapidly due to weather changes, resulting in rain-damaged or slippery roads or dusty conditions,” he says.

“So, being able to readily assess the condition of the roads before resuming production is important, and ensuring historical evidence of legal compliance is essential.”

In the long run, ‘traditional’ inspection and monitoring greatly undermines mining operations.

Improvement in safety and productivity, as well as reduced costs (fuel and tyres), can only be achieved with effective management of road quality. This is attainable through the integration of monitoring and reporting of road conditions with the production, engineering, road construction and maintenance teams.

How SmartRoad™ addresses shortcomings of ‘traditional’ methods

A modern digital road management platform, ECS’s SmartRoad™ has proved effective in integrating key aspects of road management.

It facilitates both a readily accessible and complete history of road functional and safety conditions and repair.

When deployed in challenging conditions that require road inspections and functional quality management, SmartRoad™ excels. This is thanks to features that directly address the shortcomings of traditional methods. These include:

  • SmartRoad ARID™ (Autonomous Road Inspection Device) mobile units for autonomous visual and dynamic inspection of the roads
  • Cloud databases for managing the data
  • User portal for managing the system, reviewing, and reporting on road conditions

SmartRoad ARID™ performs autonomous road inspections, eliminating the specialist labour needed for inspection. It also inspects many kilometres of road in a short time.

Road inspections are supported by AI and Machine Learning algorithms with autonomous defect and condition assessment with visual and vibration data. This enables repeatability in condition assessment for the entire road network.

Job review, scheduling, assignment, and close-out are standard features of SmartRoad™. There is also a feature that can navigate the maintenance team to a specified defect needing repair.

Moreover, SmartRoad ARID™ enhances safety in three areas:

  • Autonomous and rapid inspections ensure inspection safety
  • The inspection units can be used in low-light and night-time operations
  • They can also be used in applications for dust monitoring in specific mining locations (load and dump areas)

autonomous road monitoring system

Road performance dashboards and portals

SmartRoad ™ has Road Performance Dashboards and portals that enable easy identification of the problem areas via geospatially pinned information on maps of the roads.

These Dashboards have powerful analytics and ways of showing the road condition – from detailed defect information to overall condition and road quality via heat maps.

This enables retrieval of the inspection records, analytics, and reports, with photographs, and services for digitally managing the corrective action workflows or escalations needed.

The Dashboards provide a complete history of the road inspections for all states, including acceptable and compliant conditions, together with unacceptable and non-compliant conditions.

This enables trending of road performance and comparisons between periods. An important aspect of this history is the ability to review the road life performance and make design and construction changes over time.

The convenience of SmartRoad™ is that it is set up to accommodate the specifics of each mine road network, with the setup of bespoke road maps and operational zones.

SmartRoad™ reporting is layered in detail, whereby the analysis is designed such that not only are the important information and trends reported, but it also allows for deep diving into the details when needed.


For mining companies, there are massive benefits to switching from their conventional approach to road condition monitoring to SmartRoad™.

Modernising road condition monitoring and management by exploiting advances in 4IR, IIoT, Machine Learning, and AI enables significant savings in energy usage and related carbon emissions, tyre consumption, and water usage.

SmartRoad™ ensures that complete and actionable information is provided to the right person at the right time.

“Ultimately, miners want safe and compliant roads with the least cost of ownership, and SmartRoad™ is a key enabler for this,” says Rawlins.



SmartOSR Service


OBJECTIVE: Prioritisation Value & Opportunity Potential/Scoping


  • Initiative & Project Technical Review for Energy and Carbon
  • Key Value Driver Review
  • Initiative & Project Prioritisation and Ranking by Type and Impact
  • Abatement Cost Profiling

S-ARID Solution

TIME SCALES: Continuous/Internal

OBJECTIVE: Energy Management


  • IIoT & Sensors
  • Fuel Energy (Traditional)
  • Fuel Energy (Green & Renewable)
  • Electrical Energy (Grid Traditional)
  • Electrical Energy (Local & Grid Renewable)

SmartEPS Solution

Time Scales: Long

Objective: Strategic


  • Global Simulations and Assessments
  • Target Achievement Simulation
  • Scope 1,2 & 3 Emissions
  • Carbon Abatement Assessments
  • Project and Technology Option Assessments
  • Prescription Analytics
  • Performance Tracking (Long-Term)
  • Life of Operations Greenhouse Gas Assessments

SmartRoad Solution

Time Scales: Continuous/Internal

Objective: Energy Measurement


  • IIoT & Sensors
  • Fuel energy (traditional)
  • Fuel energy (green & renewable)
  • Electrical energy (grid traditional)
  • Electrical energy (local & grid renewable)

SmartFEMS Solution

Time Scales: Continuous/Internal 

Objective: Energy measurement


  • IIoT & sensors
  • Fuel energy (traditional)
  • Fuel energy (green & renewable)
  • Electrical energy (grid traditional)
  • Electrical energy (local & grid renewable)

SmartDSM Solution

Time Scales: Continuous/Internal 

Objective: Energy Management


  • IIoT & Sensors
  • Fuel Energy (Traditional)
  • Fuel Energy (Green & Renewable)
  • Electrical Energy (Grid Traditional)
  • Electrical Energy (Local & Grid Renewable)

PEMS Solution

TIME SCALES: Short /Medium 

OBJECTIVE: Early assessment of actual performance


  • Short Interval Control
  • Automated Reporting
  • Performance Verification
  • Predictive Analysis
  • Diagnostic Analysis
  • General Prescriptive Analysis
  • Unit Operations Simulation
  • Demand Profiling
  • Statutory Emissions Reporting Support
  • Feeds into other Reporting Systems