Although only a small fraction of MSW collection trucks have a computer onboard, more and more MSW fleet managers are becoming intrigued by the possibilities that onboard computers and wireless communications offer for efficient route management.
Incongruous as it might seem, given the complexity and cost of packers and transfer trucks, only about 5% of currently operating refuse trucks are even equipped with onboard scales, let alone onboard tracking, location, and automated communication systems.
That situation might be changing, though, as a determined group of suppliers that has been supplying the transportation industry turns its attention to the MSW hauling market. Armed with experience and a steadily improving technology, these suppliers are adapting their onboard scales and/or global positioning system (GPS) location hardware and proven software to the unique requirements of MSW haulers, promising an array of benefits if haulers integrate their onboard sensor data with their dispatch and accounting systems.
Onboard Scale Systems
To date, the principal use of onboard scales in MSW applications has been to optimize load weights of transfer vehicles transporting MSW from transfer stations to landfills. "Electronic onboard scales are not new," points out Rick Talbot, marketing and sales manager for Vulcan On-Board Scales in Kent, WA. "They were introduced over 30 years ago into trucking applications where monitoring gross vehicle or payload weights was necessary but platform scales were not readily available."
Of course this is precisely the same situation that has developed in the MSW industry as near-in landfills have been replaced by larger regional landfills often hundreds of miles away. Talbot concurs, adding, "Transfer station operators are now under increasing pressure to reduce transportation costs by maximizing the weight of each payload, but at the same time not overloading the vehicle.
"Most transfer stations have certified in-ground scales on-site but often not at the loading area. Many operators who have tried scales in the loading pit have concluded that they are very difficult and expensive to keep clean and maintain. As a result, every transfer vehicle must line up to be weighed at the certified scale after loading. Typically, underweight vehicles are waved on unless they are grossly underweight. Overweight vehicles are either sent back to offload or, depending on the weight and risks, sent on. Most studies show that transfer vehicles are underloaded, on average, by 4% to 10%!"
Attracted by the potential of the "new" market, companies such as Vulcan, SI Allegheny, and Creative Microsystems are now aggressively marketing products to MSW hauling companies and municipalities. As shown in Table 1, there are a variety of different types of onboard scales from which to choose.
Table 1. Onboard Scale Options
|Types of Onboard Scales|
|Onboard Scale Type||Strengths||Weaknesses|
|Front Fork Scale |
Ideal for bin weights
GVW* needs all bin weights
|Transducer on Front Arms|
Relatively easy to install
Requires frequent calibration
Accuracy is marginal
|Body-Mounted Load Scales |
Ideal for payload weights
|Installation takes 25-40 hr.|
Easy to install
Only air suspensions
Relatively easy to install
Requires frequent calibration
* GVW = gross vehicle weight
|Vehicle Type ||Applications ||Options|
|Frontloader ||Bin weights|
Front fork scale
Body-mounted load cells
Transducer on front arms
|Frontloader ||GVW/payload weights|
Body-mounted load cells
|Rearloader||Bin weights||Body-mounted load cells|
Body-mounted load cells
|Rolloff ||GVW/payload weights|
Body-mounted load cells
|Container Carrier||GVW/payload weights|
Body-mounted load cells
|Transfer Truck/Carrier ||GVW/payload weights|
Source: Vulcan On-Board Systems
Apparently, avoiding overweight fines is not the number-one payback; rather, it's optimizing the payload. Matt Chapman, equipment maintenance supervisor for the Palm Beach (FL) Solid Waste Authority, agrees, citing operational experience to that effect. "The scale at our transfer station is quite a distance from the loading holes. Therefore, our transfer trucks would have to drive to the scale, and if the weight wasn't right, they'd have to make a U-turn and go back to dump some off or add some on, depending on the weight discrepancy. Now, with onboard scales, we avoid having to make that U-turn and that would save that driver eight to 10 minutes. Since we send out about 200 truckloads a day, that would save us 1,800 minutes, or 30 hours a day. That's not the real savings, though. Rather than make that U-turn, drivers whose trucks were underweight as much as 5,000 pounds would just keep going. With the onboard scales, every truck goes out fully loaded, yet without the risk that we'd be fined for being overweight."
Based on data like these, Talbot has calculated that onboard scales on a transfer truck with an 80,000-lb. payload limit would pay for itself in just six months if only the cost of this underweight is taken into consideration (see Table 2). If other precluded costs (such as the cost of overweight penalties, the cost of weighing, the cost to readjust weights, and the cost of out-of-route miles) are included, payback could be achieved in as little as four months.
Table 2. Cost Considerations of Onboard Scales on Transfer Vehicles
|Cost of Underweight|
|1.||Legal gross weight in pounds||80,000|
Current average GVW in pounds (without onboard scales)
Use at least 30 scale tickets
Average tare weight in pounds
Use at least 30 scale tickets
|4.||Maximum payload in pounds (line 1 minus line 3)||47,000|
|5.||Average payload in pounds (line 2 minus line 3)||43,000 |
|6.||Average payload shortage in pounds (line 4 minus line 5)||4,000|
|7.||Average loads per day for truck||3|
|8.||Average payload shortage per day in pounds (line 6 multiplied by line 7)||12,000|
|9.||Days worked in year||250|
|10.||Average payload shortage per year in pounds (line 8 multiplied by line 9)||3,000,000|
|11.||Extra loads per year in pounds (line 10 divided by line 5)||70 |
|12.||Number of roundtrip miles to the landfill||100|
|13.||Number of extra load miles per year (line 11 multiplied by line 12)||7,000|
Cost to operate transfer vehicle per mile
(includes allocated overhead)
|15.||Cost per year per vehicle of extra trips to the landfill||$14,000.00|
|Cost-Benefit Summary per Vehicle|
|Cost of underweight per year||$14,000.00|
|Cost of overweight per year ||$1,500.00|
|Cost of weighing per year||$960.00|
|Cost to readjust load weights per year ||$1,320.00|
|Cost of out-of-route miles per year||$3,000.00|
|Total annual costs of operating without onboard scales||$20,780.00|
|Installed cost of onboard scale (range: $2,000$9,000)||$6,500.00|
|Cost per month of operating without onboard scales||$1,731.67|
|Months for onboard scales to pay for themselves||4|
Months for onboard scales to pay for themselves
(only considering the cost of underweight)
Thus, the use of onboard scales on transfer trucks can yield a very attractive return on investment (ROI). The argument for using onboard scales on collection trucks is less persuasive, however - unless weight-based billing is permitted. Hence it is a political issue, not a technological issue. Richard Boyovich of Creative Microsystems in Renton, WA, makes that point when he describes the performance of his company's LoadMan.
"For frontloaders, LoadMan's proprietary microcomputer 'learns' the load-cell waveform as a function of the angle and position of the lift arm and the front forks relative to a tenth of a degree throughout the entire lifting cycle. The system weighs the container in motion going up and then reweighs it in motion coming down, thus providing the net content of the container without stopping the front forks for the weight reading. The system completely ignores vibration and shock from running motors and measures the material regardless of where the weight is located in the container. Moreover, the system automatically compensates for out-of-level weighing conditions. As a result of these features, the system's weighing accuracy is typically within 1%."
Still, when pressed to detail benefits of onboard scales for refuse collection where weight-based billing is not used, Boyovich becomes much less quantitative. "The system provides easy access to critical information, allowing identification of unprofitable accounts and accurate measurement of set-out rates for new customers and in general shows which routes are or are not operating efficiently. In addition, the system provides the drivers with gross load information so that they know when to go to the tipping station without risking overweight fines. What's more, trucks operating at their legal axle weights reduce maintenance costs and increase their overall life."
That's all well and good, but it is weight-based billing that makes onboard scales really pay off for collection trucks. Today's systems overcome most of the traditional objections to weight-based billing. Not only are they virtually error-free, but their software can integrate with even a municipality's billing system. Therefore, without redundant keying, the municipality's utility can print the weight and the cost as just another line item on the resident's utility bill. For commercial accounts, the system (if supplied with an onboard printer) can deliver an immediate hard-copy invoice to each customer.
Even so, the widespread political resistance to weight-based billing continues to be a potent force to overcome. Jim Pickett of Toter, for one, doesn't see the situation changing soon. "We have a straightforward system for handling weight-based measurement and billing," he states. "We place a tag with a unique radio frequency identification [RFID] on each cart. When that cart is lifted, our onboard scale system weighs it, records that customer's RFID, weighs the cart again after it has been dumped, and subtracts that weight from the initial cart weight to produce a net refuse weight that the customer will be billed for.
"The weight will be very accurate too. Today any scale used for weight-based billing must meet standards set by both the National Institute of Science and Technology and the [National] Conference of Weights and Measures. To meet those standards, a scale weighing a container with up to 500 pounds must be accurate to a half pound at any weight, and the measurement cannot be affected by the truck's being out of level, whether caused by a slope or a pothole.
"We have had a system we refer to as 'Garbage by the Pound' on the market since 1995. The scale system is relatively inexpensive, it is certified as 'legal for trade' by the federal government, and it is very simple to implement. However, we have found that the political barriers to weight-based billing are formidable. There is a popular opinion that low-income residents generate more garbage per capita so that switching from the traditional flat-rate billing would penalize them. As a result, Garbage by the Pound has not nearly realized its potential."
There are signs that Europe might be moving toward weight-based billing more rapidly than the United States. Mark Bottomley of PM On Board Ltd. in Bradford, UK, reports on this phenomenon: "Green/environmental issues are very big right across Europe. National governments are providing funding and hard targets for reducing waste to landfill and incineration. At the Kyoto summit, the 'polluter pays' principle was agreed as being the best way of reducing wastestreams. The problem is how to implement it. Now, weighing waste at the point of collection and billing the producer is being introduced in trial towns and cities. Just recently there has been huge trade and municipal interest. We have received dozens of inquiries that we have turned into orders."
While the US is not a party to the Kyoto Accord, Boyovich believes that a major switch to weight-based billing is inevitable in this country too because it would have such a strong positive impact on recycling and composting. If residents had to pay for what they put in their refuse cart, he argues, they would be much more likely to source-separate recyclables and compostables and thereby minimize their waste collection bills.
"And this impacts on the quantities of MSW going into landfills," he adds. "As the congressional hearings this summer amply demonstrated, states are concerned and want some control over the amount of waste material being imported from other states and, in a few cases, from out of the country. They see their landfills filling up at faster rates and are at last worried. However, if states ever hope to reduce the amount of waste material going into their landfills, they'll have to come up with a way to get people more motivated to recycle in greater amounts. I believe that the most practical way to achieve this today is through weight-based billing."
Location systems and software based on the GPS are attracting keen interest in the waste community. A number of different companies now are offering systems to waste companies and municipalities to increase the productivity of their fleets. A typical system is the ORBTRAC.COM system (see Figure 1) just now being marketed to the waste industry by Orbital Transportation Management of Columbia, MD. Orbital's Chris Body explains the system: "Users simply log on to the Internet from home, office, or vehicle and are connected to their fleet in real time. Using GPS satellite technology, the system will track the location and status of vehicles, helping to dispatch assets where they are most needed during daily operations. It also captures and stores data for postservice analyses to assist in reducing the overall cost of future operations."
Typically such an onboard data system consists of a processor, a differential GPS receiver, memory, a wireless communications modem, and sensor interfaces. Some systems add a display, a control unit, and even a mobile data terminal. The communication link can be a commercial two-way radio, a cellular telephone, a cellular digital packet data (CDPD), or even a low-earth-orbit communication system. To complete the overall system and link the onboard computer seamlessly with the home office dispatch and accounting systems, software packages have been developed and are being marketed by such firms as FleetBoss, @Road, and Rastrac.
Rastrac describes its system structure as follows: "A server provides a secure gateway through which clients can view their vehicle tracks. The server allows client users to see what the vehicles are doing now; and see what they have been doing just by choosing a date/time range. I/O processors [IOPs] collect incoming vehicle data from the wireless communication media [for example, radio, cellular, CDPD, or satellite] and present it onto the server network in a standard format, independent of the wireless medium over which it was originally transmitted. The IOPs act as information sources to the network.
"The server accepts all incoming vehicle reports [see Figure 2] and stores them on its local disk, keeping each vehicle's reports organized in a date-structured hierarchy of disk folders. Thus, it has the power to go "back in time" and instantaneously access vehicle data from days, months, and even years past at the simple request of a client viewer. Moreover, since TCP/IP [transmission control protocol/Internet protocol] is also the protocol the Internet uses, clients [users] can view their vehicles via the Internet from anywhere in the world."
Thus, fleets ranging from a single vehicle to a large multilocation fleet can use a GPS vehicle location system. The question arises, though: Are such systems worth the money? Clearly there are significant benefits to be gained with such a precise vehicle location capability. Joel Smith of Clear Computing in Red Bank, NJ, describes some of the principal ones: "First of all, a fleet manager can optimize his routes. The fleet manager can pinpoint all customer locations as determined by the GPS data and then populate the waypoints on an electronic map display in his office. Then he can revise the routes of his trucks to make the overall collection more efficient. Thereafter, he can see if each driver is staying on his route and see exactly where each truck is located. If a truck breaks down, he knows exactly where it occurred, how many stops and lifts that truck had made, and where nearby trucks are located. Then he can make an informed decision as to the best way to service the customers on the balance of that route.
"Also, the dispatcher can deal effectively with customer telephone calls complaining that their refuse hadn't been picked up that day. The dispatcher can pull up that driver's route progress that day and inform the caller, 'Your truck picked up at your address at 8:14 this morning. Perhaps you hadn't put your cart out by that time. Would you like to authorize a special pickup?' Customer relations tend to improve when a hauler has hard facts at his fingertips."
Boyovich adds an ominous "benefit" to knowing exactly where every truck is at all times: "Since the system gives them a measure of driver productivity by knowing things like how long it took a truck to get to a tipping station, how long the truck was there, and how long it took to return to the garage, a dispatcher can quickly determine if a truck is 'lost' and how long it has been lost. That's important these days. Remember, the cavity of a packer is huge and could be filled with a large amount of explosives. What's more, if a terrorist group highjacks it, fills it with explosives, and drives it to a target site in the middle of town, they'd almost surely get away with it. People are so used to seeing collection trucks, no one would be likely to notice that it was in the wrong place until too late. But a dispatcher will know that a truck has gone missing and, unless the highjacker has disabled the GPS system, will know where that truck is and where it is heading."
Joe Anderson of Disposal Management in Des Plaines, IL, cites yet another advantage: "Our company is strictly a rolloff operation. Every order is, in effect, a custom order, so our trucks leave with only one or two orders in the morning. Therefore they have to call in for additional orders throughout the day. The problem used to be that when a truck driver called in, it took the dispatcher awhile to give him the orders that were closest to his current position, and he had to take the time to carefully spell out the address information so there wouldn't be an error. Therefore the dispatcher might well be tied up on one call while other drivers were waiting to get their orders. I know this doesn't sound like much, but now our GPS-based system enables our frequent dispatchings to be faster as well as more accurate."
Clearly a location system provides significant benefits, but what about the cost factor of the cost/benefit equation? Barry Grahec of Desert Micro in Jacksonville, FL, provides some insight into that elusive number: "We sell a turnkey system consisting of a GPS receiver, an onboard computer, a display, and our TruckManager software for $4,300. And one of our customers who leased 10 of these systems ran an ROI analysis after 60 days. [Table 3 shows the ROI he calculated with the benefits based solely on labor savings.] Nothing for route optimization, nothing for customer relations - just labor savings and added revenues from the operation of five frontloaders and five rearloaders. The total cost savings plus added revenues was $8,087 or $404 per month per truck. Their one-time out-front cost was $4,600 for the installation on the 10 trucks, and their recurring monthly system cost per truck was $189 for the system lease and the wireless system - $215 less than their $404 monthly labor savings. Therefore they concluded that their out-front cost would be paid back in less than two years."
A more sophisticated ROI analysis is now being conducted by Western Disposal in Boulder, CO. Ten McNeilus trucks equipped with Cat/Trimble's CrossCheck CDPD mobile unit that gives GPS-generated position and records sensor inputs are being evaluated. This is one of the pilot programs McNeilus has in place throughout the country. According to Randy Bice, chief engineer for McNeilus Refuse Products, one of the major goals of these pilot programs is to verify that integrating Trimble's hardware with body and chassis networked data will minimize the need for and cost of redundant sensor information.
"In the Western test, there are six rear-load refuse haulers, two McNeilus frontloaders, and two McNeilus rolloff trucks outfitted with Trimble hardware," Bice reports. "There is one sensor on each of the McNeilus trucks, an ifm efector inc. proximity sensor that gives an indication when the forks are at about shoulder height. The rear-load trucks do not have added sensors, but the CrossCheck is connected to the indicator lights for PTO [power take-off] and for the rear can lift.
"The basic information being collected includes a 'popcorn trail' of truck locations collected once per minute and transmitted every 10 minutes to a Telvisant platform, and real-time events are transmitted immediately whenever the front fork passes the shoulder height position (on the rear-load trucks whenever the PTO is engaged, when it is disengaged, and when the rear lift operates). Finally, ignition on and off times are also reported in real time, as are stops and starts of the trucks and speeding events.
"Western intended the system to provide better information for route planning. Their going-in proposition was that they needed to save five minutes per day per truck based on optimizing their routes. What they immediately found was that the system saved them much more in driver compliance. Within the first week, they discovered almost an hour a day was being wasted by the drivers. As far as route planning goes, their evaluation is still evolving."
John Sowl of Western confirms that this Beta test evaluation is still proceeding and that final results are not yet in. However, he adds, "I think we'll be able to justify the system."
Table 3. Labor Savings and Calculated ROI With Location System
|28 stops at $35 each in generated revenue from proof we were at the site for the pickup and the customer was charged to return to dump an extra.||$980 |
|Savings from stops no longer missed due to driver mistakes (119 stops at $18).||$2,142|
|Generated revenue from 339 stops at $6 each in extra residential stops picked up with same amount of labor and equipment.||$2,034|
|48 stops at $35 each in increased extras that are accurately billed as compared to 60 days previously when drivers were responsible for writing down extra charges.||$1,680 |
|39 hours at $21/hr. in eliminated time drivers had spent on paper route sheets before and after each route.||$819|
|16 hours at $27/hr. in eliminated dispatch time to manually find closest truck and to radio the new stop and directions to driver.||$432|
|Total Impact Over 60 Days ($404.35 per truck per month)||$8,087|
|One-time installation cost for 10 trucks||$4,600|
|Recurring monthly service costs||$189/mo.|
|Monthly operating savings ($404.35-189.00 = $215.35||$215.35/mo.|
Judging from the interest being expressed by large fleet owners, it seems likely that some onboard data systems in the future will at least offer both scales and GPS tracking and a tie-in with other onboard sensors. Indeed, several vendors are offering such a combination right now. Of course, cost will always be a consideration in determining how much capability an MSW hauler can afford. That's the reason that Creative Microsystems's announcement that its price, installed, for a combined onboard scale and a GPS location system will total just $8,000 for rearloaders and $10,000 for frontloaders.
Boyovich breaks down that latter price as follows: "It will be $7,800 for the onboard computer and software, about $200 average for shipping, $1,000 for the GPS receiver, and about $1,000 for installation and training by our dealers. What's more, the basic system software will provide a seamless interface with any Windows-based office accounting system. And for customers who want to upgrade that basic system, we offer such optional capabilities as wireless communications at $900, an onboard printer at $500, and a barcode reader for $500."
Is $10,000 too pricey for this application? Will prices drop further as integrated, as opposed to modular, systems come on the market? Is price even the major barrier to widespread acceptance given the contention of Dan Lee of FleetBoss that the savings of fleet management using onboard computers goes right to the bottom line?
It is possible, even likely, that the McNeilus/Trimble pilot programs might answer these questions positively and chart the future of comprehensive onboard data system capability. If the large companies now Beta testing the system are satisfied and McNeilus goes ahead with its current plan to offer fleet management systems on all new products as an option, its competitors are likely to follow suit. And then these systems no longer will be exclusively aftermarket products. With that might come sufficient added credibility and downward cost and pricing pressures to make onboard systems a logical choice for far more MSW fleet managers than are buying them today.
Author's Bio: Author Charles D. Bader is with Dateline II Communications in Los Angeles, CA.