Propane distribution transport
Ignoring propane distribution best practices can keep trucks in the yard rather than on the road.

As US propane inventories grow, the need for quick, efficient propane distribution becomes increasingly pressing. According to Morningstar Commodities Research and Butane-Propane News, “US propane output from natural gas processing plants more than doubled between 2010 and 2015.” Even with more than half of that output being exported to other countries, the need to move propane domestically is also significant. An excess in undistributed supply can result in substantial losses.

Beyond dollar figures, consider that nearly half of all US households depend on natural gas for heat. Suddenly, the importance of streamlined, error-free propane distribution becomes very personal. The need to implement best practices is less about financial performance and more about the desire to keep people warm during the bitter cold winter months.

While the propane supply chain can be a complicated puzzle of various components, a key piece in getting propane from Point A to Point B is obviously the delivery driver. The potential for bottleneck at this point in the chain is very real, so the processes used in transporting propane to its destination must be tested and refined. Minimize frustration and implement these three best practices for propane distribution into your daily workflow.

Perfect Your Pre-Trip Checklist

Taking a cue from the Boy Scouts of America, the best way to ensure a profitable propane distribution experience is to be prepared. Before your bobtail leaves the yard, be sure to complete your pre-trip checklist. Don’t have one or need a more thorough version? The NPGA makes available bobtail delivery operations (BDO) on their website, but even with a thorough checklist, drivers can still be stymied by overlooking a few simple pre-trip practices.

Beyond vehicle safety, maintenance and inspection procedures, drivers should ensure that their trucks can print and communicate before they leave the yard. You’ll likely only forget this step once, as realizing your components are not working together properly often results in a memorably frustrating trip back to the yard.

While you’re checking printer status, take a moment to also review your register. Is it displaying legibly? Are the dial and keypad (if so equipped) functioning properly? If not, for the sake of accuracy and safety, repair these issues immediately. Is the register displaying the previous day’s last delivery? If so, it needs to be cleared out for the day; otherwise, you risk confusing your day-to-day delivery details.

Finally, before your bobtail crosses the threshold of the yard, make sure all routes and customers are properly listed in your handheld. Missing a delivery costs you money and leaves valuable customers without the propane they need. In the heart of winter months, each individual delivery is crucial.

Anticipate and Correct Communication Issues

Communication disruptions, frustrating though they may be, can arise even when every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed during pre-trip inspections. Some aspects of delivery communication are out of a driver’s hands; however, there are a few things drivers can do to head off communication issues on every trip.

Some devices require Wi-Fi to update and populate. To avoid watching endless “spinning” on your device, be sure you are attempting to initiate communications in close proximity to the wireless router. If the handheld is bolted to the truck, pull the truck close to the building to get a good, strong, reliable signal.

If you use a cellular network to update your handheld, know that signal strength can be affected by the location of your vehicle. Are you hitting a dead spot or are you in a low signal area? Move closer to nearby cell towers for better cellular communications.

Still no connection? Sometimes communication issues can be remedied with a simple shut down. Initiate a power cycle according to your handheld’s manufacturer instructions to see if the resulting reset works out the kinks in communication.

When All Else Fails, Check the Hardware

Your comprehensive propane distribution solution consists of a variety of pieces of hardware, any one of which could fail at any point during the delivery process. Excessive truck vibration, hazardous environments, and repetitive use can cause hardware to perform at substandard levels.

Before leaving the yard, complete a quick scan of the physical hardware network to ensure that everything is plugged in and connected. The mobile nature of your hardware network makes cables, cords, and plugs susceptible to disconnect and deterioration. Replace corroded wiring, and tighten plug screws and connectors ahead of time to avoid problems on the road.

Even the toughest, highest quality hardware has a finite lifespan. Keep backup equipment and spare hardware on hand in the event that a piece of hardware fails and cannot be recovered. Familiarize yourself with all hardware agreements, and know the warranty status for the various pieces of your hardware network. Sometimes, a quick phone call can remedy a hardware catastrophe quickly with minimal cost.

Finally, as with communication issues, before calling your hardware provider, conduct a quick power cycle according to manufacturer instructions. Sometimes, simply powering a unit off and on can provide the reset needed to get your hardware up and running again.

Obviously, some distribution issues will fall outside of these recommendations, but wrapping these three best practices for propane distribution into your larger delivery protocol may help you save time and money, and head off frustration before it rears its head. PDI can help you determine the most fitting and comprehensive solution for your propane distribution needs. From hardware to software to service, PDI mobility solutions empower you to manage propane inventory accurately, improve customer service, and increase driver utilization.

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