Heavy-duty specs are needed to handle the rigors of refuse collection
There's no one-size-fits-all solution to spec'ing trucks for vocational applications. Perhaps no one understands this better than those working in the waste industry, where demand on vehicles is especially tough. According to Joe Franklin, deputy public works director, Solid Waste Collections, for the city of Phoenix, his department's strategy is to buy equipment that offers the longest component life. But cost of equipment and operating expenses are very high.
From a technical perspective, however, OEMs have helped fleets successfully maximize production with automated refuse collection equipment. Equipment automation, Franklin points out, has not only speeded up the refuse collection process, but also enabled single-man truck operations where drivers can make pickups without ever leaving their vehicles.
The city of Phoenix is currently running 95 automated side-loaders, which are used to pick up contained trash from 223,000 residential customers. The number will jump to 120 units by this July when the city takes over a residential area that was previously serviced by a private contractor.
Over the last 10 to 12 years, Franklin says, the city has used Heil 7000 bodies on Volvo WXR and Peterbilt 320 chassis for the contained fleet, but is now moving toward Heil Rapid Rails, whose lift and packer assemblies are less costly to maintain. By July, in fact, when the city takes delivery of its new equipment, the fleet will be 85% Heil Rapid Rails.
Several of the new vehicles will feature the Heil STARR (Semi Trailer Automated Rapid Rail) System, a tractor-trailer type truck on Volvo chassis. "We currently have one automated side-loader STARR System with doubles trailers that we've been testing in our fleet for the past eight months," Franklin reports. "Using this configuration, we've successfully reduced mileage and the time it takes to go to the local landfill by filling up two trailers in the field.
"We've also documented savings of about 20 cents per mile in tire costs using this system," he adds. "In addition, the STARR units are easier to handle, having excellent maneuverability in tight spaces."
Between now and July, the city will be hiring 40 additional drivers for collections in the new area. Finding qualified drivers poses a big challenge, according to Franklin. Out of every 100 applicants, he notes, 30% are lost to the demonstration skills test and another 15% to background checks and drug testing. There's a similar problem with acquiring skilled mechanics, especially since they're required to not only perform maintenance but to hold a CDL as well.
Major preventive maintenance on the trucks is scheduled every 45 days due to the high mileage of the fleet-120 miles per truck, per day, 4 days a week. The highest service items after the lift and packer mechanisms, which Franklin says account for about 40% of the fleet's maintenance costs, are tires and brakes.
In addition to the city's regular maintenance staff, which services all city-owned fleet vehicles out of three regional facilities, the Solid Waste Collections division employs two service people at each site who are dedicated to inspecting and servicing the refuse fleet. Working the second and third shifts, says Franklin, these technicians help ensure the vehicles are up and running in the morning.
The city of Phoenix has had an extensive computerized maintenance program in place since 1985. Within the next year it will also be venturing into computerized routing for refuse collection vehicles and, farther down the road, putting GPS systems into the trucks.
On the private side Waste Management, with 68,000 employees working in 23 countries around the globe, is acutely aware of the industry-wide shortage of skilled drivers and mechanics. "Driver recruitment," says Vince Fortuna, vp-fleet services for the Houston-based company, "is even more of a problem for the waste industry because of the nature of the work."
To attract drivers, the company offers a variety of monetary and non-monetary incentives. But while working conditions and benefits are very important issues, Fortuna feels that somewhere down the line big companies like Waste Management need to put their heads together and develop some form of recruiting process for drivers and technicians that begins at the high-school level.
Servicing the Waste Management fleet, which includes over 50,000 wheeled and track vehicles worldwide, poses its own challenges. There are 1,300 maintenance facilities in the U.S. alone.
"Cost per hour of maintaining this type of fleet is very high," Fortuna says, "so one of the challenges for us is to reduce our dependency on spare vehicles by getting more productivity out of our equipment. Because of the severity of the application, this puts a tremendous demand on our shops to improve quality of repairs, repair time guidelines, and scheduling and planning of work in relationship to dispatch."
According to Fortuna, the average waste vehicle uses four sets of drive tires and three sets of steer tires annually. The company also does an average of four brake jobs a year on each truck.
Another high-maintenance area is the hydraulic equipment. "Right now, we're working with various manufacturers to write engineering specifications for the hydraulic system so we can start measuring life cycles and get to the root causes of failures," Fortuna says.
"Within our group," he continues, "we have body and chassis specialists that work directly with OEMs to resolve equipment issues. We're focusing on working with them to get vehicles built that meet the durability requirements of our vocational application rather than just basic truck standards.
"For instance, we've recently been experiencing problems with OEM installation of antilock braking systems," Fortuna explains. "The ABS sensors and wires were run the same way as on an over-the-road truck, but in our application we're ripping the wires and bending the sensors when we get out into the landfills."
The problem, Fortuna is quick to point out, is not one of poor product quality or lack of customer concern on the part of the OEMs, but rather a lack of understanding of the special demands of the application. Progress in this area, he says, is accelerating now that the lines of communication have been opened. "We have people right now building better brakes for us. Bridgestone/Firestone has designed a tire specifically for the waste industry. Also, we've got Volvo, Mack, Bendix, and WABCO all working together with us to solve the ABS problem."