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26 April 2016

Petrol Stations Must Have Sufficient Fuel

And It's A Law!

Did you know that petrol stations must have sufficient fuel? If they run out of fuel supply, they must order more. This may not be a big thing in Kuala Lumpur, but imagine what happens in the more remote areas of the country! The scenario goes like this: Petrol prices are falling (they have been falling for a few months), and it's the last day of the month, maybe half a day to the next month. The petrol station owner is sorely tempted not to refill his station because he knows, if he orders fuel today, and fills his tanks, within 12 hours the oil in the storage tanks would be worth less than he paid for them. Because oil prices are falling, whatever he pays for oil today is more than what he would pay tomorrow (i.e. the next month).

So should the petrol station refill? In Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley in general (including Petaling Jaya), it might not be an issue. Just drive ten minutes and voila! There's another petrol station. But let's imagine that you're in some remote town in Sarawak (where there is an election going on right now). You go to your regular petrol station, and you see a signboard saying, "SORRY NO PETROL. COME BACK TOMORROW." You try to figure out where the next nearest petrol station is. It's about an hour away, not very far by Sarawakian terms. (Correct me if I'm wrong) Your car is nearly out of petrol and you believe that you won't make it to the next station. You might not even manage to cover half the distance to the next station. Now, would you think that that "sorry no petrol" is a good excuse? I do not think so. It is only a convenient excuse for the petrol station owner to say, "I've run out of petrol. Come back in 24 hours, when petrol is cheaper, so that I don't need to refill with more expensive petrol." And so you pull up a chair at the petrol station, and sit down to wait. It's only 12 hours to the refill....

RM1 Million or Three Months

On 1st February 2015, the Borneo Post reported as follows:
KUCHING: A petrol station in Bintulu was found to have violated its licence conditions under the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Act Section 21(1).
According to KPDNKK Sarawak deputy director and enforcement chief officer Abdul Hafidz A Rahim, the station failed to ensure that the fuel supply was sufficient and constantly available to its customers.
“We will take stern action against this petrol station in Bintulu which deliberately did not place an order for more fuel despite exhausting its fuel supply since 3pm yesterday (Saturday).
“An investigation will be carried out and if found guilty, the maximum penalty for this offense is RM1 million or three months in prison,” he said in a press statement today.
(Source: Borneo Post Online, 1st February 2015. Petrol station faces stern action)

So the maximum fine is RM1 million, or three months in prison. It sounds impressive.

But in reality, the maximum punishment is not often meted out. Being the "maximum", it is reserved for serious cases. I believe that we should ask ourselves, instead, what the minimum punishment is. What is the minimum fine? And what is the minimum prison time?

The KPDNKK were in Kuching last year looking at petrol stations. If your petrol station is half full, or half empty, you're doing all right. If your petrol station is completely empty, you're in big trouble!

Internet of Things To The Rescue?

Of late, Internet of Things, or more popularly called "IoT", has become a big thing. The promise is that machines, with intelligent sensors, coupled with 24/7 Internet access, will be able to automate many things. A common example is office printers. Many people print until the printer cartridges are empty. When the user realizes that the cartridge has been drained to the last drop, he goes to the shop to buy a new one. In the meantime, the printer cannot be used until the printer has been fitted with a new cartridge. If the user delays in going to the shop, the printer is offline and unusable for the duration of the delay. With today's fast-paced world, it's highly likely that the user will not be able to go out immediately to buy a new cartridge. ("Drop everything, let's go! No?") Even with e-commerce, it takes time for an order to be placed online, processed, packed, and delivered. Two days might be enough, but it's two days too long.

But with the Internet of Things, the story of the printer and its unhappy, unproductive user becomes transformed into a fairytale. With an IoT-enabled printer, it can sense when the printer cartridge is about to run out of ink or toner. It can sense when the drum is about to go bust. And it can connect to the Internet, make an order on behalf of its user, and send an email notification to the user as it does so. Two days later, the printer cartridge is spent, and the printer stops working. But only for 5 minutes, because a replacement cartridge is on standby.

Imagine if we had that kind of technology for petrol stations. Before the petrol station runs out of petrol, the intelligent sensor detects an impending shortage. The smart computer chip in the petrol station starts talking to the server in the petrol supplier's office. "Send me some fuel," it says, "before I am empty. Fill me again, and I will be full. I want to serve the Malaysian public." And so, an order is made electronically, and two days later, just as the petrol runs out in the petrol station, there is a delivery truck, with a tanker full of oil. A smart looking man steps out and says to the astonished petrol station owner, "We're here with your refill!"

And that's how you prevent petrol stations from running out of fuel.

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