Onboard Data Systems
Start your cost-containment efforts with the efficiency of your collection and transfer operations.
Many local governments are being hit hard by budget shortfalls. Residents are demanding better services for their tax dollars. The cost of environmental compliance is rising while the volume of solid waste generated per capita is increasing annually. The United States Environmental Protection Agency reports a 70% per-capita increase in the generation of solid waste in the US over the last 40 years.
Local initiatives, such as waste reduction, recycling education, Pay-As-You-Throw programs, and mandatory container deposits might provide some benefits through cost reduction in a solid waste disposal program. These activities are all laudable; however, such behavior modification programs are only part of the answer to cost control.
Significant cost reductions and efficiency improvements in the municipal solid waste field have been brought about recently through technological advances affecting waste collection and hauling. The use of onboard data systems on waste collection vehicles has proven beneficial to many waste handlers, be it a public utility or a private enterprise.
Onboard data systems can provide many benefits to waste operators. Geographical positioning system (GPS) receivers can improve routing efficiencies by tracking vehicle locations. Automated data collection systems can reduce route times and increase the accuracy of billing information. Wireless transmission of data between vehicles and central stations can reduce data-handling costs and expedite the billing process.
|Transfer vehicle scale with V300 electronics
|Front fork scale with V600 electronics
The makings of a revolution in fleet management began in the mid-1990s when the US Department of Defense completed its network of 24 GPS satellites, which now orbit 11,000 mi. above Earth. These NAVSTAR satellites were designed for military applications, but civilian use of the GPS satellite signals became widespread after technological innovations resulted in dramatic reductions in the size and cost of GPS receivers.
Small, inexpensive GPS receivers found an obvious application in vehicle tracking, providing fleet managers with real-time monitoring of vehicle locations. The use of GPS for such applications as this is a relatively recent innovation in the MSW field but one that is quickly growing as more organizations discover the benefits it has to offer.
Doug Damon with fleet tracking applications provider InSight USA estimates a market penetration of less than 15% of the solid waste field. Damon claims that "everybody's talking about it," but usage is still much less than in the service industry, which has been quicker to adopt the technology.
One recent adopter of GPS technology is K&F Industries Inc., which began tracking its Indianapolis, IN, fleet of recycling vehicles a little more than a year ago. Chief Financial Officer Matt Cole quickly became an advocate of GPS-based vehicle tracking. The system was originally installed to establish accountability of the drivers who, as Cole says, are "off-site and out of mind" while driving their rounds. Although K&F has weeded out some bad drivers, that is not the primary use or benefit of the system. Cole sees route optimization as a better use of GPS monitoring systems and doesn't feel that the company uses vehicle-tracking data to look over the shoulder of each driver during every working hour.
Most drivers at K&F are assigned routes designed to visit customers on a regular schedule, with additional pickups on an as-requested basis following completion of the regular routes. The problem for dispatchers, according to Cole, was that they "didn't have any way of knowing how long runs should take or what was done for the day."
K&F selected InSight USA's StreetEagle Waste Management solution, which includes software with built-in routing capabilities. The software determines the theoretical time to complete a route based on average highway speeds and anticipated loading time per customer. Although K&F doesn't employ real-time monitoring of their drivers, they can compare actual route times to the predicted route times and identify where inefficiencies might exist and where scheduling improvements can be made.
Don Weigel, director of products and services for Trimble, a leading provider of GPS technology, identifies this "calibration" procedure—along with "correction" and "compliance"—as one of the "three Cs of GPS" in the waste management industry. Trimble has customers who are not ready to invest in a full-fleet tracking system but who do use tracking devices on a limited number of vehicles to develop data for time and motion studies. Assumptions don't take into account actual conditions, such as narrow alleys with limited loading areas or multiple containers that must be moved to gain full access for loading. The actual load and drive times are recorded and can be used to optimize route planning, which was Cole's goal in implementing GPS tracking at K&F.
Vehicle tracking data are generally provided as either real-time tracking or in-batch reports. Real-time tracking is most useful for larger haulers with dedicated dispatchers who frequently must reroute their trucks as calls for pickups or container drops are phoned in during the day. In these cases, dispatchers typically spend a good part of their day in front of computer monitors, where they can see the current location of every vehicle and dispatch the nearest truck to a customer's location.
Batch reports, though, are useful for any size fleet. Damon finds that these management reports provide business intelligence that is extremely valuable—but only if it is used properly. "If you do nothing with it," he says, "it's worth nothing."
At K&F, the data are used by the traffic department, which reviews the management reports on a weekly basis. If a driver's performance is seen to decrease, the traffic department looks into possible causes. Cole has found that performance problems often are caused by customer procedures. For example, increases in traffic at a customer's facility might cause long loading delays, which can be solved by changing the service time for that location. Likewise, Weigel points out that tracking data might show long waits at a company's own scale, which would justify the expense of adding another scale.
Mike and Cindy Leichner, owners of Pride Disposal in Sherwood, OR, use Routeware's DMS3000 system to optimize their collection operations. "Its in-truck system gives us a complete time stamp on our collection, travel, cleanup, and dump activities," Mike explains. "It's hard data, so it takes the guesswork out of what's actually happening out on the routes."
Pride Disposal offers a full line of services, including rolloffs, commercial and residential collection, and recycling services at the company's transfer and recovery facility. The Routeware system installed in the company's trucks has two buttons, green and red, to assist in the ease of recording the pickups or misses, or the driver can go to the screen to record special situations.
"Routeware allows us to prepare detailed reports to justify our charges to the different customers and jurisdictions we serve," Mike explains. "Because of the system's GPS location-validating capability, we have been able to satisfy our customers' questions quickly and accurately."
Another example of the "correction" aspect of Weigel's three Cs of GPS includes that of employee misbehavior. Weigel says drivers going off-route are rampant in the waste business, and GPS tracking will quickly identify those drivers who make side trips, either for personal reasons or to perform unauthorized collections that aren't reported. Likewise, GPS addresses compliance, which is Weigel's third C. The best route optimizations won't work if drivers decide they know a better route, and vehicle tracking can identify those drivers who don't follow the assigned routes.
Tracking can also work in a driver's favor. Cole relates the story of an overdue K&F driver whose cell phone malfunctioned during a route. The GPS tracking data were used to find the vehicle and to verify that the driver was still in transit, eliminating the need to have a supervisor drive the route to see if the driver was in trouble. The tracking data have also been used to support drivers when customers complained that a driver missed their location. Dispatchers are able to confirm that a vehicle has visited a customer facility on schedule, even though the customer might be unaware that the pickup has already been made.
Tracking device installation is relatively simple, often simpler than installing a car stereo. The devices are usually placed in an out-of-the-way location, such as beneath the seat or behind the dashboard. Hardwiring the units into the electrical system is recommended to reduce tampering with the units. Drivers have been known to disconnect GPS units, so K&F installs tamper-resistant plates around its GPS units, and InSight uses tamper-evident tape on all wiring installations.
Automated Data Collection
Many GPS-equipped onboard data systems are capable of more than just identifying a vehicle's location. Anything operating on the vehicle's 12-V power system or using the vehicle's PTO can be monitored, with the time-of-device activation or deactivation recorded and reported.
The vehicle ignition switch is a common device to tie into the onboard data system. Recording when the ignition is turned on for the first time each day and when it is turned off for the last time each day can be a reliable timekeeping method and is especially useful when vehicles are parked in remote lots with no supervisory personnel. If ignition events are monitored for this purpose, it should be in conjunction with a review of GPS location data, as drivers have been known to idle trucks for long periods before leaving the lot and to drive around aimlessly before returning to the lot to avoid making additional service calls at the end of the day.
Monitoring ignition events and location data is also useful for evaluating vehicle idle times. Reducing idle times also reduces fuel and vehicle maintenance costs. If extensive idle times are recognized, corrective steps can be taken, which might include changing loading procedures or working with customers to reduce long waits at their facilities. Because GPS receivers record both time and location, tracking software easily can identify periods of time when the vehicle is not moving and, when combined with monitoring of ignition events, can generate reports showing idling durations and locations.
Lift events can also be monitored, with the time and the location recorded each time the lift is activated. Waste haulers can determine the coordinates of their customers' locations based on street addresses and enter these data into their GPS tracking database. The GPS receiver records the vehicle's coordinates every time its lift is activated. Tracking software then compares these coordinates to those previously loaded into the database and matches the location with the customer. Bookkeeping is reduced, and the driver spends time traveling to the next location instead of recording service calls. An added benefit is that unauthorized pickups are reduced because dispatchers easily can identify lift activations occurring at locations that don't match known customer locations.
Whether a vehicle is equipped with a GPS tracking unit or not, onboard scales represent another leap in waste management technology. Onboard scales have been developed for many different types of waste-hauling vehicle configurations. Stress-Tek Inc. of Kent, WA, manufactures several different systems for its Vulcan On-Board Scales product line. Vulcan scales are available for tipping and fixed refuse bodies, rolloff haulers, hooklifts, transfer vehicles, and front fork loaders.
Body scales from most manufacturers provide information on total load weight and are most useful for checking gross weights to avoid fines for overweight vehicles. These devices don't always provide accuracies that make them suitable for billing purposes, but Weigel has seen onboard scales used for auditing purposes and for route planning. Gross weights can be plotted, and standard deviations can be calculated for all customers. An evaluation of the standard deviation for each customer can be used to optimize routes. In operations that bill by volume or by number of service calls instead of by weight, tracking of changes in gross weight over time could increase fees only for customers whose weight is significantly above that of the average customer.
For curbside waste haulers who bill based on weight, lift-based scales might be worth serious consideration. With these systems, the standard original equipment manufacturer lifts are replaced with lifts having integrated scales. On a typical front fork system, the existing forks are replaced with fork scales that tie into a meter in the cab. The driver can record the weight from the meter readout. More advanced systems can record the date, time, and customer information in addition to the pickup weight.
Weigh-in-motion or dynamic systems offer an advantage over static weighing systems in that driver productivity is not reduced. Weights are measured during the lift cycle, and the lift does not need to be stopped while a reading is obtained. With the LoadMan onboard fork weighing systems from Creative Microsystems Inc. of Renton, WA, onboard microcomputers take into consideration the fork angle, arm angle, velocity, and acceleration throughout the entire lifting cycle. Creative Microsystems claims a weight accuracy of 99% in the net weight, obtained by weighing the container while it is being lifted and reweighing it after it has been emptied.
Likewise, SI Technologies Inc. of Tustin, CA, claims a typical accuracy of 1% of the load for its Route Man weigh-in-motion fork-based onboard scales. The Route Man system directly replaces the standard forks on commercial frontloaders. One-button operation allows the driver to collect the bin weight and additional customer information for up to 1,000 pickups.
Onboard scales are also an option for residential curbside pickups. LTS Scale Corporation of Twinsburg, OH, developed the EnviroScale line for the waste industry. In addition to scale forks for commercial front-end loaders, LTS provides two types of systems for residential collection.
The fully automated sideloader truck with weight hopper uses a grabber arm to pick up the curbside refuse container. A transponder on the grabber arm communicates with the onboard computer system via a truck-mounted antenna. The computer opens the customer account record while it reads the weight of the hopper. The grabber arm dumps the container contents into the weight hopper, then the scale system records the hopper weight and calculates the net weight of the refuse while the arm retracts.
LTS also manufactures semiautomatic scales for side and rear tippers. This scale is mounted to the truck body with the tipper on either the side or rear of the vehicle. The tipper lift raises the container to its weighing position, and the weight is recorded and transmitted to the receiving system in the cab. After the load is emptied, the container is returned to the weighing position, and the empty container weight is read. The net weight is computed and recorded while the tipper lift returns the container to its curbside location. This system is an example of the static weighing process, which requires six to nine seconds, according to LTS.
Wireless Data Transmission
The data collected from the onboard systems, whether GPS tracking data, pickup weights, or readings from other monitors, must find their way back to the office if they are to be used. In the past, the data were commonly stored in the onboard system and downloaded in a batch at the end of the day. Many of today's systems, however, use wireless technology to transmit the data to receiving systems at regular intervals.
Batch processing obviously limits the use of the data and eliminates the ability to conduct real-time vehicle monitoring. There are also unseen costs to batch processing, however, that waste operators might not take into consideration.
"A lot of people assume a wireless product is more expensive than a ‘dumb' data logger," says Weigel. "Look at the total cost, including someone to download the data and truck wait times." Weigel has seen trucks idling in line at the end of the day while someone connects a cable to individual vehicles to download the data. The actual cost of wireless might be less than expected.
Wireless transmission commonly makes use of cellular telephone technology, but the transmission method for nonvoice data varies from that for voice transmission. In voice communication, a voice channel is kept open during an entire communication session, similar to the way in which landlines operate. Nonvoice data, such as those from onboard tracking, monitoring, and weighing systems, are transmitted using a system known as "packet switching." The data are compressed and sent in short bursts between voice communications or during gaps in conversations on voice channels. This is how newer cell phones send and receive text messages, e-mail, and Internet data.
This is a greatly simplified explanation of wireless technology, and new users are likely to encounter myriad confusing acronyms such as GPRS (general packet radio service), GSM (global system for mobile communications), 3G (third generation GSM), TDMA (time division multiple access), CDMA (code-division multiple access), and 1xRTT (single-carrier radio transmission technology). Don't get hung up on the pros and cons of these technologies; they are simply different specifications or methods for transmitting data through the services of commercial cellular carriers.
Rather than worry about the transmission technology, potential users should be asking questions about coverage, reliability, and the cost to upgrade. Many cellular companies are in the process of changing their network from one type of system to another, and these systems are not all compatible. If the carrier changes its network system after you purchase your equipment, you might need to upgrade the transmission system on every vehicle. Some companies offer modular systems that make this upgrade simple and relatively inexpensive, but other systems might become obsolete. A reliable vendor of onboard data systems will be knowledgeable in wireless technology and should be in touch with trends and what the local carriers are planning.
Putting It All Together
Onboard data systems can obviously generate large volumes of data, which must be reviewed and analyzed if they are to provide meaningful results. Fortunately new users aren't left alone to figure out what to do with all of this information.
Many vendors of onboard data systems also provide full software systems that will collect the data, store them in a database, and generate standard or customized reports. In many cases, users won't even need to install any software, as the data and reports are made available over the Internet using a standard Web browser.
Wireless systems will usually transmit your data back to the supplier, where they are stored in a database accessible over the Web. This eliminates the need for data specialists, software installations, and data backups, as all data-handling occurs at the supplier end.
As an example of what a Web-based system can provide, the Telvisant system from Trimble provides a suite of hosted applications, which include messaging, reporting, and work-order management. The mapping application displays vehicle locations in near real time using in-vehicle GPS receivers. Text messages can be sent to drivers using a Web-based, e-mail-like user interface; the messages are displayed on an in-vehicle monitor. The reporting application has a configurable, Web-based database reporting system that generates vehicle event reports, which can include location-related event data, driver-initiated messages, and changes in sensor inputs.
Onboard data systems provide the opportunity for waste operators to become more efficient, provide better customer service, and lower their operating costs. As noted earlier, the penetration of these new technologies is still relatively small in the waste management field. As the systems become less expensive and even more advanced, however, many more waste operators will discover the benefits of onboard data systems and adopt these systems within their own organizations.
Author's Bio: Guest author Thomas M. Roth, P.E., is a geological engineer with Parson's Engineering Science in Atlanta, GA.