Tanzanian Logistics Company Tracks Fuel Trucks

By Claire Swedberg

After testing an RFID-based solution on one of its tanker trucks, Usangu Logistic is preparing to install it on 30 of its vehicles, enabling the company to know, in real time, where and when fuel is stolen.

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Tanzanian logistics firm Usangu Logistic Ltd. is employing an RFID-based system to help assure the distribution of oil products to the proper channels as its drivers transport fuel to gas stations throughout East and Central Africa. The system uses GPS and RFID technology provided and installed by Mukri & Co. (M&C), a transit cargo and supply chain management solutions company. The solution has been in use since January to determine how well RFID could control pilferage of product by tracking whether a tank is sealed with an RFID tag which transmits its status to a reader and then sends reader data along with GPS coordinates to the back-end software.

Located in Dar es Salam, Tanzania, Usangu Logistic not only provides transportation of fuel and other bulk cargo, it also manages some of the fuel stations that sell the oil products it transports. Once a driver leaves the site at which his tanker truck was loaded with product, it is often very difficult for logistics companies to ensure that none of the fuel is pilfered from the truck and sold on the black market. This is a concern for both fuel stations and logistics companies, since both parties need to be certain that the correct amount of product was delivered to the proper locations.


M&C’s Ashraf Mukri

Usangu Logistic began testing the RFID/GPS system in January, to determine how well the technology can provide visibility into a truck’s cargo—even when that vehicle is on the road. The company sought a reliable control mechanism that could verify that the hatch for accessing the vehicle’s tank was locked, and that the firm would be alerted at every point at which the hatch was unlocked.

“Being a transportation logistics company, loss of any delivery payload—be it oil or any other cargo—can cost us our credibility,” says Saad Ismail, Usangu Logistic’s director. Beyond the loss of credibility is the potential for direct financial losses if product is pilfered during transportation. “The solution provided by M&C allows us to extend the trust relationship we share with our customers.”

Usangu Logistic tested the solution on a single truck for a month, Ismail says, and determined that the technology works. The company now plans to install the system on 30 of its approximately 100 trucks, later this year.

The trucks transport oil and gas throughout Tanzania, as well as into the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Zambia and Uganda. “The first requirement was to provide a foolproof system which also runs parallel to the current operations,” says Ashraf A. Mukri, M&C’s business development manager. “We had to provide a solution that is no different to the current sealing process.” Truck drivers should be able to close and open a tank’s hatch, as they had previously done. What’s more, he notes, Usangu Logistic wanted to be sure that the automated solution did not create any new opportunities to pilfer gas, such as adding new access points on the tank. “The system had to be as simple as 1, 2, 3, and at the same time stealthy enough to virtually avoid any hacks to it.”

Usangu Logistic’s trucks, as well as those of most other logistics providers for fuel transport, currently utilize a combination lock with a metal loop that fits around the closing mechanism of the tank’s hatch. Once the loop is in place, the cap can not be removed; thus, only a driver who knows the lock’s combination can open it. That system, however, does not guarantee that the driver himself will not open the combination lock at an unauthorized location and remove fuel.

a GPS- and RFID- enabled gateway device attached in the truck’s cabin area—as well as an RFID-enabled seal that fastens to the hatch and transmits a signal to the gateway device approximately once every eight seconds, and a software platform on the back-end system to receive, interpret and store location and seal status data from the gateway. M&C integrated and installed the system, and also acted as a consultant to the client.

The hatch through which gas is removed from the tank is locked by means of the RFID seal—which, as with the existing combination locks, comes with a similar loop that connects the cap to the tank opening, thereby locking the cap in place. To open the tank, a driver must follow a series of procedures on the RFID seal that he is trained to accomplish before the seal will release. The software is designed to detect when a truck has stopped at an undesignated location, based on GPS data. Once the seal has been released, the battery-powered RFID tag inside it employs a proprietary air-interface protocol to transmit that opened status to the gateway device, along with its unique ID number, via a 2.4 GHz signal. The gateway then sends its own GPS longitude and latitude details, as well as the RFID data, to the back-end software via a cellular GPRS or GSM connection.

The gateway’s built-in memory has the capacity to log data for as often as once a second for 365 days, though the RFID seal is not typically set to transmit that frequently. As such, if there is no cellular connection in an area through which the truck travels, the device maintains records of RFID activity and GPS location, and transmits that information accordingly once the vehicle enters a cellular coverage area. The system can also accommodate satellite transmission from thegateway, if that option is requested. In addition, the software can enable two-way voice and text communication between the driver and company management.

During the pilot, the RFID seal was attached to the hatch once the truck was loaded, and the its RFID tag began transmitting its unique ID number at preset intervals, along with the seal’s status, after which the driver proceeded to make his deliveries. Each time the truck stopped, the software recognized that action and compared that GPS location with the coordinates of the expected stops. If the seal was opened, its status changed and that event was transmitted to the truck reader, along with the unique ID. Although no such incident occurred during the pilot, if the software were to determine that the truck had stopped in an unauthorized area, and that the seal had been opened, an alert could be issued to authorized personnel via e-mail or text message.

Information is stored on a Web-based server, and Usangu Logistic can import that data to its own enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, or use it with spreadsheet applications.