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Published August 29, 2011, 05:45 AM

Southern Valley sees big impacts from new system

FAIRMOUNT, N.D. — A system that can keep track of vital statistics on trucks is helping managers at Farmers Union Oil of Southern Valley in Fairmount, N.D., see things in new ways.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FAIRMOUNT, N.D. — A system that can keep track of vital statistics on trucks is helping managers at Farmers Union Oil of Southern Valley in Fairmount, N.D., see things in new ways.

Lynn Nelson, the cooperative’s general manager, is so busy studying the statistics and turning them into management decisions — about such things as when and how to order petroleum products — that he barely has time to say hello.

“I really like it; we’re using the heck out of it,” Nelson says, giving a fast tour of some of the loading facilities. He is quick to turn technical questions over to John Freeman, the information technologies administrator for the company.

Freeman, a Kansas native, had spent years in computer network engineering before 1997 when he went to work for Agris Corp. (John Deere Agri Services) in Hutchinson, Kan. “Southern Valley” was one of his customers with Agris. Freeman left Agris in 2005 and took a job with Southern Valley.

Integrating data

The idea of using software technology to keep tabs on fleets of vehicles and other equipment has been around for about 10 years. Numerous people have vehicle tracking software but don’t have an ability to integrate data from other kinds of sensors, a special feature of Pedigree Technologies.

Freeman says Pedigree’s OneView system offers a way to bring all of the different software systems into a common view, just like the name says.

Southern Valley’s first priority was its rolling stock vehicles. There are about 80 vehicles in the company, including pickups semi-trailers, trailers, chemical and fertilizer applicators and the like.

Southern Valley is something of a poster child for the benefits of on-board reporting systems for rolling stock.

The company is obliged to pay use fee taxes separately for vehicles as they travel into each state in the company’s market area. Similarly, the company must generate reports that show what percentage of an employee’s work — and taxes — had been generated from time spent in each state.

On the tax reporting, it takes a company auditor up to three weeks to do something they can now do in 15 minutes. It also saves drivers time and attention for the actual deliveries.

“Being able to integrate all of that data to track things, integrating remote sensors, no one that I saw had done that until we first started talking to the group at Pedigree Technologies,” he says.

It was a year of negotiations before the company started using the Pedigree system in early 2010.

An eye everywhere

Then there are the above- and below-ground storage tanks, which now can be monitored for refilling simply by checking a screen, rather than sending an employee out to do it in person, which can be a problem in foul weather.

Freeman says the ability to see everything that is going on can be unsettling at first. One of the benefits of the system is that it manages to see when employees are speeding in company vehicles. That was surprising to a few of the company’s employees at first, but the employee got a warning and has since complied with company policies.

“Our network insurer also gives us a break on costs,” he says.

He’d also like to see the sensors put on things like refrigerators and freezers in the company’s convenience retail stores in Fairmount, Breckenridge, Wahpeton and Mooreton, N.D. You can avoid expensive meltdowns if someone can get a warning call on a smart phone, he says.