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CES: Pumping information as important as pumping gas for Dresser Wayne

From fuel tanks to marketing tools, via wireless and other network technologies.

By ,
January 10, 2007 05:58 PM ET - In the predigital world, a gasoline pump was an electromechanical device that delivered fuel.

But digital data, networking, and now wireless communications is changing all that. Today, the gasoline pump, or “dispenser” as it’s called in the trade, is a solid-state, networked, multimedia, customer-facing, digital marketing system that has a critical role in boosting profits for local service station franchisees, and their corporate parents.

That change reflects an unexpected and largely invisible shift in American business, a shift created by digital data and networking. It is transmogrifying industrial manufacturers, in this case Austin-based Dresser Wayne, into leading edge computer systems, network and software developers.

At CES, in a corner of Microsoft’s Automotive Business Unit tent outside the Las Vegas Convention Center, and almost hidden by Ford SUV’s and Mustangs, Dresser Wayne showcased the Ovation iX fuel dispenser, a towering, sleek, gleaming icon of industrial design that looked more like a combination New Age refrigerator and entertainment center than a fuel pump.

It certainly impressed Microsoft, which last year named Dresser Wayne its Windows OEM Embedded Partner of the Year for the Ovation’s innovations.

Ovation iX is the latest proof of a dramatic transformation. Founded in 1891 as the Wayne Oil Tank Company, the firm says it introduced the first power fuel pump, in 1927. Today, it claims to be world leader in fuel dispensers. Since 1968, it’s been a unit of Dallas-based Dresser, Inc. Besides its high tech fuel pumps, Dresser Wayne also offers retail electronic point of sale systems and peripherals.

Dresser Wayne executives refer to the Ovation’s digital heart as the “iX Technology Platform,” which for the uninitiated is a term that’s hard to associate with pumping gasoline. But the Ovation iX runs the embedded Microsoft Windows CE 5.0 operating system and powerful Intel XScale processor. It also sports a brilliantly clear, crisp, color 10.4-inch full VGA touch screen, which is only slightly smaller than the one on the laptop being used to write this story. It has a built-in 802.11b/g wireless access point.

It supports the ISO 14443 contactless payment standard, which is being aggressively backed by Visa, MasterCard and others. This standard is implemented in part through a set of protocols defined by the Near Field Communications Forum. The end result is that you simply wave a programmed embedded chip, often in the form of a small card or device added to your keychain, over a small panel, and the Ovation handles the transaction without the need for pressing buttons or swiping a magnetic card.

Dresser Wayne’s iX Media tools, based on Microsoft .Net Framework, let dealer chains and even local dealers customize the onscreen displays and create a wide range of multimedia applications. The company is partnering with EK3, a specialist in digital signage applications, based in London, Ont.

The pump's main data link is a wired Ethernet connection, over which run an array of diagnostic, monitoring, and increasingly ERP and general ledger application components, both to monitor the pump as a system and to integrate its transaction data with various backend enterprise applications.

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