TANK TRUCK CARRIERS are continuously looking at their core business functions to find ways to save money in terms of reducing fuel consumption, adding payload, and trimming costs everywhere it makes logical sense.

Document automation should be added to that list so carriers can focus on moving product from point A to point B safely and profitably, according to Acuoserra's Kevin Perkins in “Cargo Tank Document Automation: Moving Towards the ‘Paperless System.’ ”

“Business is constantly transforming and evolving,” he said during the presentation, which was made as part of the National Tank Truck Carriers 2010 Cargo Tank Maintenance Seminar held November 8-10 in Louisville, Kentucky.

The days of multiple file cabinets are long gone. Paper requires what Perkins refers to as a “fingerprinting process” in which someone decodes information on each document, checks for accuracy, understands what action to take, then takes action, and properly files the document for later retrieval.

“This can be very static, as the information takes no other dimension and the effort is time-consuming,” he said. “The original design of a purchase order was to help monitor the paper buying/payment systems but is really a paper process monitoring another paper process. Of course, over the past 25 or so years, technology and software have continuously and dramatically changed business. They have provided efficiencies, increased productivity, eliminated redundant costs.”

He said the modern office relies more on electronic data, software, mobile computing using laptops and iPads, and the Smartphone. Evolution of the office system has included, invoicing and most accounts payable/accounts receivable functions, banking, payroll, lighting, HVAC, training, HR, and this has moved into the truck with e-logs, satellite, GPS, E-ZPass, PrePass, XATA, Cadec, PeopleNet, wireless internet, and the cell phone.

Those who carry a BlackBerry, iPhone, or Android-type smartphone device have the power of the Internet and mobile computing through either apps or SaaS from their cell phone. Many businesses utilize VoIP, ASP applications to websites, and other unique portals to manage daily operations from their cell phones.

An important part of document automation is utilizing key websites. Perkins said those who operate cargo tanks and annually test them will want to go to the following website listing the “Top 20 Cargo Tank Facility Violations” (http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety-security/hazmat/Top-Twenty-Cargo-Tank-Facility-Violations.aspx).

He said the listing is not meant to point the finger at registered inspectors or CT locations but to inform carriers of the common violations. “Carriers rely on these facilities to perform annual inspections so you need to be informed of potential liabilities,” he said. “As a carrier, you sign off as the last to confirm that tests and inspections are complete and compliant. Each time your driver signs a Bill of Lading for your company, the small print often discusses the confirmation of a viable and compliant cargo tank. You constantly confirm this information, so why not make sure it is correct and get what you are paying for?”

At the top of the list of violations for 2009 is 180.417(b): “Failing to include all required information on test/inspection report.”

“If there is a possibility that one of your CT facilities is part of this statistic, how are you guarding against it?” he said. “What is your motivation level to participate in annual testing? To be compliant? Are you? Are you a participant in a program like Responsible Care? (Plan-Do-Check-Act) Do you haul from Clean-Air Act MACT facilities? Refineries? Is this used as an opportunity to improve PM maintenance? Chassis and undercarriage is looked at multiple times a year while the cargo tank is often forgotten until the annual test and inspection occurs. How long do you keep your tanks and do you expect high resell/trade values? Is everything in excellent working order in case there is a roll-over or under-ride accident?”

He posed a few rhetorical questions pertaining to HM-180 and EPA Method 27: What is your process? Do you have one? Do you assume all is well because you hired a professional? How do you confirm the test data is correct and compliant? Are you? How do you distribute the information and maintain the files?

With the concept of document automation, there is the opportunity to bring uniformity across all vendors by providing a single point of entry for all documents. This becomes:

  • A data-driven and not paper-driven process with tie-into regulation and analysis.

  • Automated filing and distribution. As an example, AcuoSerra.com has over 1,300 loading rack locations with specific requirements for each location available for carriers to supply their test results. AcuoSerra is also working with a couple shippers that want information delivered as a data file. Fax and e-mail will no longer be accepted means of delivery. The Intranet system will be a viable link for this information from the registered inspector to the carrier and ultimately to the shipper.

  • Interaction with vendors and shippers through internet access.

  • “Paperless systems” to a point.

  • Interaction with information through smart devices.

“Are you using uniform documents from all vendors that meet the regulatory requirements?” he said. “Some say, ‘Well, that may be the registered inspectors' responsibility to provide the document, and that could relieve some liability from the carrier.’ Since the carrier is the last signature confirming the information, aren't you the ultimate responsible party anyway?

“The document in a ‘paperless system’ can start as an electronic file with fill-in-the-blank fields and can remain electronic completely through the process, including digital signature until regional requirements demand a copy on the tank. But if this all happens behind the scenes with regulatory confirmation, is that not better than an all-paper system?”

He said the industry Intranet links carriers, registered inspectors, and shippers through a portal and can improve these relationships by providing a measurable result. The Intranet can also handle relationships between leasing firms and carriers.

“It can be used to distribute vital documents required for leases lasting longer than 30 days, or as short as a day,” he said. “Contracts, pre/post-lease inspection forms, calibration charts, test and inspection documents, annual vehicle inspections, and ACCORD certificates could all be handled by the salesman at the time of the sale.”  ♦