Some thought that the advent of the automated side loader (ASL) would mark the end-all and be-all of the drive for maximum collection efficiency. After all, reducing crew requirements from three men to one results in a 67% greater efficiency, doesn’t it? Do the math. But stubborn little problems have been surfacing. Things like cul-de-sac and alley service, inefficient bulky trash pickup, more cars closely parked along routes, downtime from breakdowns, contamination of single-stream recyclables. No hauler is getting anything close to that plus 67% collection efficiency target.
Picking Up in Tight Spots
Cul-de-sacs, alleys, and narrow streets can really slow down ASLs, which rightly or wrongly were designed for rapid, uninterrupted pickups without consideration of maneuverability. In many cul-de-sacs, particularly where there are cars parked at the curbs, “ASLs simply can’t turn sharply enough,” says Hunter Carruthers, president of All Star Waste in Olive Branch, MS. “Too often, drivers have to get out of their trucks and move carts before the automated arm of an ASL can get to them for ‘automated’ pickup.”
Alleys and narrow streets also make it difficult and sometimes impossible for ASLs to pick carts up efficiently. Unless customers are mandated to place their carts on just one side of an alley or narrow one-way street, an ASL must make two passes through these passageways. As a result, many haulers have gone back to using three-man rear loaders to pick up at least one side of alleys and sometimes do the pickups on both sides in a single pass. It’s not elegant, but it does the job, and frees the ASLs to do what they do best.
These haulers never gave up their rear loaders in the wake of the stampede to automated collection. They still were needed for picking up bulky items and, where contracts allow “take all” collection, they are commonly used to back up the ASLs and pick up overflow trash contained in bags or boxes on the curb next to the carts. A good case in point is CLM Sanitation in Henry County, GA. Jason Becker, chief executive officer of CLM describes the situation he once faced.
“Eighty percent of our business is subscription ‘take all’ collection,” he says. “This required pickup of both carted and noncarted waste from the curb. Garbage outside the cart is a problem, but one that is fixable. Customers who regularly have more than one cart’s worth of trash simply receive a second cart. The bulk of the cost is in the dumping of the first cart, with the second one being incidental when compared to a driver’s time getting in and out of the cab. But beyond these customers are the random extra-bag setters. On CLM’s routes, there is an average of 30 customers a route that leave excess trash outside the cart. Drivers had to get out of their automated trucks and collect these bags by loading the material by hand and redumping the cart or by trying to load the material into the hopper that was 7-feet high.
“Then there was the problem of bulky waste. To handle the collection of bulky waste that did not fit in a collection cart, we established two-man, rear-loader routes that were scheduled in specific geographical areas. The ASL-loaded carts and the rear loaders took the bulk and the overflow on days assigned for the bulk pickup. As workable as this ‘solution’ was, the fact remained that CLM was running two trucks for one route, resulting in significant additional costs of labor, vehicle registration, insurance, workers compensation, fuel, and tires.” Not surprisingly, he views eliminating these duplicate costs as a high priority goal.
Becker was not the only one to voice this need for improvement. And the waste collection industry has been responding to these complaints, designing new models and/or redesigning older ones to perfect semiautomated and fully automated collection trucks to meet this rising demand.
The earliest of these “trucks” was not a truck at all. Back in the early 1990s, a third-generation hauler named John Curotto Sr. reasoned that if he could develop a container with automated collection capability and mount it on the forks of his front-loader trucks, he could gain automated collection capability without having to make an investment in a new ASL. He spent years developing this very different new product, testing it and each revised version on his own waste collection routes, and eventually his company found that they could pick up 1,000-plus carts a day on these routes.
Soon after that, his son, John Curotto Jr., felt ready to set up a demo project using the Curotto Can with one of the country’s biggest waste haulers in one of the harshest environments: the desert. In 1999 John Jr. put a Curotto Can in Moreno Valley, CA. Working in blowing sand and 100-plus-degree heat, the Curotto Can serviced an average of 1,500 homes a day without a single failure during the three-and-a-half month trial.
According to sales director Frank Kennedy, the Curotto Can went into production at the beginning of 2000, and significant improvements were made in 2004. Curotto Cans are now being integrated into a large number of collection fleets.
Today’s Curotto Can is an automated system for the pickup of residential carts ranging from 32- to 106-gallon capacity. It mounts in front of the driver on the forks of a standard front loader, and it “borrows” hydraulic flow from the truck’s hydraulic system. Since this mounting procedure requires just a simple three-point disconnect, it is practical for haulers to work residential during the day and commercial at night.
The Curotto Can, whose pickup-dump-return cycle is under five seconds, has several unique features that facilitate its operation when working in tight spaces, allowing haulers to accept ‘take all’ contracts. For example, the gripper, although compact, is extremely versatile and can pick up carts in sizes ranging from 32 gallons to 106 gallons. It can also handle carts placed side by side easily without having to exit the cab. In most instances, the Curotto arm is able to grab and dump items such as chairs and dryers into the can. When the driver has to hand-load such larger bulky items as appliances and furniture, the Can’s low lift-over height and its fall-away flap feature make it easy.
The Curotto patented offset arm does not need to be extended first in order for the cart to be dumped. When working in tight spaces, such as narrow side-alleys, carts can be dumped by just grabbing and lifting straight up in an arc over to the dump position. Carts can be dumped within the distance between the truck’s mirrors. Since the arm is located ahead of the front axle, it has a boom-like action. This action, combined with the arm’s 60-inch reach, allows the operator to maneuver the grabber around parked vehicles and work in tight cul-de-sacs.
The driver always has a direct line of sight to see what is being dumped. Not only is it easy to see and remove contaminants, but also if a cart slips from the grabbers it is easy and safe to recover. When a cart falls in the hopper of an ASL, there is no safe way for an operator to climb in the hopper and retrieve it because of the packing blade.
Intrigued by these features, CLM’s Becker ordered a front loader with a right-hand drive chassis and a Curotto Can to determine whether this system would indeed provide more capability, faster net collection, and the ability to easily load overflow bags and bulky items. He soon became convinced, and CLM now operates 15 Curotto Can automated front loaders. Improved efficiency and safety were a big part of the attraction, Becker says, but the product’s ability to work in tight spaces like alleys and work around obstacles like parked automobiles and mailboxes also was a draw. And perhaps best of all, it enabled him to meet his high priority goal of eliminating the expensive need to run two trucks for a single route.
“The Curotto Can is a tool that makes automation easier,” he says. “We just like the versatility. With one truck, you can do both residential and commercial, and it’s so much easier to get around obstacles in residential areas. As a bonus, we are now able to automate routes with the Curotto Can, and our customers never see a difference because we get everything at the curb.”
By no means does Curotto Can have this growing niche market to itself, however. At least three other collection truck manufacturers have recently introduced competitive new collection truck models to meet the same or similar customer needs. One of these manufacturers, Group Labrie of Saint Nicholas, QC, has been marketing its Expert 2000 since 2006 to complement its Automizer Right Hand ASL, which came to market a year earlier. According to Marc Nadeau, product manager, “The Expert 2000 is a drop-frame, side-loading unit perfectly adapted for manual, semiautomated, and fully automated refuse and/or recycling collection.
“The Expert (t) 2000 base model is manual side-loading,” Nadeau explains. “It can be fitted with a cart tipper on either side for semiautomated collection. Alternatively, it can be fitted with a Helping Hand automated arm on the right-hand side for fully automated collection. The same model can be fitted with a Helping Hand on the right-hand side (for fully automated operation) and a cart tipper on LH-side (for semiautomated operation). And all of these different configurations permit manual loading.
“Any municipality or private hauler that needs to pick up bags curbside or streetside will still have the right unit for that job when switching to an automated collection program. Thus, when the Expert 2000 is equipped with a cart tipper on the left-hand side, it optimizes collection operations by picking up bags, different size containers, and carts that it will encounter on practically any type of route.”
Collection in alleys and on one-way streets benefits significantly from left-hand collection. In an alley, the operator can be seated on the left-hand side, operating the right-hand-side Helping Hand arm with the joystick to pick up carts there, and going out of the cab to pick up garbage or carts on left-hand-side. In a one-way street, the operator can come back in the same direction of the traffic. And for uncomplicated routes where it is allowed to put bags beside the rolling carts, the semiautomated operation is most effective.
“With either its standard 7-foot arm or its optional 12-foot arm, the Expert can readily pick up carts, even though they may be located between parked cars,” Nadeau adds. “The arm, which is located under the hopper, can pick up carts weighing as much as 400 pounds. from as far away as 10 feet. Alternatively, since the arm has a ‘zero-grab’ capability, the driver can pick up a cart right next to the truck.
“These arms and grippers are not restricted to picking up just standard carts. Operators become very adept at picking up round bins, small furniture, and other things within its grabbing width. However, the grabber’s span is bigger than the hopper opening, so when the arm is in the hopper, usually it is not possible to open the grabber. To deal with this, we offer an optional Auto-closing override capability. There is a button on the console near the operator that he presses to override the Auto-closing for 10 seconds so the operators can dump this irregular garbage [tv sets, cardboard boxes, or bags] without the grabber hitting and damaging the hopper walls.”
The Expert 2000 is available in no fewer than 12 different truck body sizes, ranging from a small 15-cubic-yard body that provides maneuverability to a 37-cubic-yard body that allows for fewer trips to the landfill. Clearly, Labrie believes that efficiency can be best achieved through maximum flexibility.
In 2008, Wayne Engineering of Cedar Falls, IA, released a redesigned version of its AutoCat collection truck, and it now offers a small (14-cubic-yard) maneuverable automated side loader with a time-proven refuse collection body. According to Matt Lamb, Wayne’s vice president, sales and marketing, the philosophy behind the newly released AutoCat was to put automation efficiency in a small-body, fuel-efficient unit that would complement any fleet of larger, automated units.
The AutoCat’s upgrades included several structural modifications, a redesigned arm with hydraulic cylinder action, and a beefed-up gripper assembly. Lamb says the new AutoCat retains the original model’s capability to cost-effectively pick up missed stops, cover rural subscriptions, and to go where larger trucks can’t go or don’t do well, such as gated communities, trailer parks, and neighborhoods with short radius cul-de-sacs.
According to Lamb, “The AutoCat’s small body makes it particularly maneuverable and able to collect in tight spots. Its arm has a 6-foot reach and a lifting capacity of 500 pounds. Plus, whereas larger loaders guzzle fuel when collecting sprawling rural routes or in city traffic, the AutoCat’s small body is not only the right size for the job, but it makes it very fuel-efficient. As a fully automated side loader, the AutoCat also excels at collecting on busy streets, such as in business districts, or on rural routes, keeping the operator safely inside. When stops are close together, the AutoCat’s simultaneous Load-N-Pack feature, with 600- to 800-pounds-per-yard compaction, saves time and speeds collection. The AutoCat also offers the convenience of dual side cleanout doors.
“In Toronto, Canada, the trucks are soon to be used to collect organics. A number of other communities and private haulers are using the AutoCat for collecting residential recyclables. The advantages are numerous in larger cities where curb space is at a premium, traffic increases gas usage, and a fully automated truck like the AutoCat can deliver safety, productivity and fuel efficiency.”
Those advantages are certainly intriguing, but the redesign will have to prove itself like the original did, over time, of course. Some of the first redesigned AutoCats have already found a home in Rockville, MD, which ordered two new units in January of this year. According to fleet manager Pat Stroud, “Some areas of our city are very congested, with parking on both sides of the street and on narrow streets. The initial reason we were buying these units is that they are highly maneuverable with a very short wheelbase, and they seem almost ideal for alleyways.”
As of early March, the Rockville AutoCats were still being used for training as the city ramped up to its first ever implementation of full automation. Widespread implementation of the redesigned AutoCat and other new or redesigned trucks may take time, especially in the current economic environment. However, the potential offered by the AutoCat is certainly tantalizing for many municipalities like Rockville.
Heil may face an even greater challenge despite its powerful dealer network. The company just released its new MultiTask SL collection Vehicle in January 2009, and although the name implies that it is an automated side loader, it is marketing it as a “transitional vehicle from manual rear loader to automated side loader.” Like the Labrie Expert 2000, the MultiTask SL is equipped with a cart tipper on the street side and an automated arm on the right side so it, too, can operate in a manual, semiautomated, or fully automated mode depending on the route requirements.
“When it comes to dealing with the variables in everyday business, versatility is the name of the game,” explains Jody Hurley, Heil program manager. “You want the ability to collect containers from the relative comfort of a cab; sometimes, along narrow streets, a cart tipper is a better fit; and ultimately, you may even need to pick up loose bags. With the MultiTask SL, you can easily complete a route that includes all three.”
The MultiTask SL is available in four body sizes: 24, 27, 30, and 33 cubic yards. The 30- and 33-cubic-yard bodies can pack more refuse and hence minimize the number of trips to the landfill. However, the 24-cubic-yard truck is more maneuverable for collection in cul-de-sacs and alleys. Like Labrie, Heil seems to believe that efficiency can be best achieved through maximum flexibility, or versatility, and that haulers can and will deploy both sizes in their fleets to help achieve that increased fleet efficiency.
“An optional, strengthened TeleGrip lift arm can be utilized on automated and semiautomated vehicles to further increase efficiencies,” Hurley goes on to say. “The new TeleGrip arm, which can smoothly and quickly grab a cart from 0 to 84 inches away from the MultiTask SL, ensures that a hauler has the flexibility to serve many different types of routes. When the TeleGrip arm is stowed and in the work-ready position, the overall width is 102 inches, but it can be stowed in the hopper for a maximum overall width of 96 inches for those communities that have maximum vehicle width restrictions. The TeleGrip’s new design also permits the MultiTask SL to be used in narrow streets and alleys, with the arm acting as a cart tipper for receptacles that may be located close to the vehicle body.”
Although the current version of the MultiTask SL was released very recently, Heil was beta-testing it for nine months in 2008. During that time, there were a number of onsite customer demonstrations, and some Heil customers tested the truck by using it to collect trash on one or more of their routes. One of the customers, who now is using a MultiTask SL, is All-Star Waste, a prime prospect with a fleet of 47 packers covering a five-county area around Memphis, TN.
“We don’t have any ‘cart contents only’ contracts, but sometimes it seems like we do,” says All-Star President Hunter Carruthers. “Our customers put their trash in carts, but often they also put out overflow trash. We generally accept that situation, and pick up the overflow manually, although if it occurs three weeks in a row, we make them take another cart, which we charge them for. Elsewhere along the routes, however, we find overflow trash that we have to pick up. That requires an ASL driver to stop, get out of his truck, and manually pick up the bags or boxes. With the dual-drive, low-entry MultiTask, our driver is on the right—or curb side—of the truck and can quickly get out and grab any overflow. That problem was the main reason I wanted to try the MultiTask on one of my routes.
“The route we selected was in the city of Hernando, MS. Our MultiTask is equipped with an automated arm on the right side and a tipper on the left side. We have the flexibility to use it as a semiautomated side loader that we can load from either side, but we mainly use it as an automated side loader. It’s doing just fine. We’re picking up from just as many stops as our two-man rear loaders had been on that route, and it only requires one man to do it.”
Loss of Efficiency from Breakdowns
A recurring problem with automated and semiautomated collection trucks is breakdowns, usually because of the hydraulic systems and, hence, arms. Despite better and better design and manufacture by the truck and arm manufacturers and significantly better preventive maintenance programs by the haulers, there continue to be failures, and sometimes it seems like they always occur in the middle of a route with half a load already on board.
While the repair itself may not be too costly, the time and disruption of the resulting downtime can be very costly. Frank Kennedy analyzes the cost of this. “We poll our customers about arm failure on their ASLs,” he says. “Fifty to 80 percent of the resulting downtime is due to issues with the ASL arm. You have to drive that ASL back to the shop, and complete the route with another truck. If one is available, the route can be finished with only an hour or two of delay; otherwise you have to somehow rearrange other routes and extend hours to get a truck available to complete the rest of that route that day and the rest of the time that truck is down.
“Then you have to repair that arm or get the manufacturer’s rep to do it. At this point, it’s not the arm that’s disabled, it’s the whole truck. All ASL arms are attached to the truck and are not interchangeable. Depending on whether or not the needed part is available or if it has to be ordered, that breakdown can easily cost you a week of downtime. That’s why we recommend to all of our Curotto Can users that they procure a can or two to serve as spares for their entire can fleet. An extra can only costs about $20,000, and it effectively gives them a spare to use if an arm or any other part of the can fleet goes down. They simply take a spare can to the breakdown, remove the faulty can, and replace it with the spare one. The switch can be made in a matter of minutes, and the route can be completed almost on schedule—including taking the full load to the landfill or transfer station. To do the same thing with a conventional ASL, you can’t just spare an arm, you’d have to spare a complete truck.”
Contamination in the collection of recyclables is a dirty word in the industry. It’s hard to combat. It’s most often caused by thoughtless homeowners, but it’s also caused by something as seemingly harmless as plastic bags being placed in carts by well-intentioned people who think they are doing responsible recycling. ASL fleets in particular are plagued by contamination rates as high as 25% because the drivers simply can’t see contaminants in a cart they are throwing behind them. And costs to the MRF can be heavy, and they can also be heavy for the haulers, too, particularly if they have a liquidated damages clause hanging over their heads.
“Contamination rates can be brought under control,” insists Lynn France of the city of Chula Vista, CA. “It takes an effective, consistent public awareness and education program through mailers and service guides getting through and informing residents. Here in Chula Vista, we even walk the routes looking for contaminants in carts. It’s all part of a contaminant control campaign we first established in 2002, and it has been very effective. Today, our contamination percentage is usually just 7% and never goes above 9%.
“Of course, this campaign’s success was greatly aided when our franchise hauler, Allied [now Republic Services], convinced us to convert our fleet to Curotto Cans. The reason was simple. Since the can is in front of the cab, every cart is dumped into the hopper directly in front of the driver. He actually can look right at any contaminants in the recyclables from every single cart. Therefore, he has the opportunity to remove any contaminants before the hopper load is dumped in the truck body behind him. We insist on that here in Chula Vista. Whenever a driver sees contaminants in the hopper in front of him, he stops the truck, removes the contaminants, and leaves them in the now-empty cart with an ‘Oops’ tag.
“We give residents positive reinforcement, too, giving them tags saying ‘Thank you for making Chula Vista a better place to live. You’re doing a great job with your recycling!’ It all works. The residents are responding, and so are the drivers. Our contract allows us to assess liquidated damages for excessive contamination, but it simply is not necessary. It’s really a team effort by the whole community.”
It seems clear that these hybrid trucks are becoming a very useful part of fleets both in adding to the overall fleet efficiency and providing useful services. It’s early yet, but with four of the leading manufacturers adding hybrid trucks to their product lines and actively promoting them on a cost-effectiveness basis augmented by some very useful features, they seem to be here to stay.
The Next Step
Another major contributor in improving collection efficiency is the increasingly sophisticated computerized route-mapping and vehicle-location software systems. They have come a long way from the days when route-mapping consisted of moving pins around a map to represent trucks on their routes. As Don Talend pointed out in “Next-Generation Optimization”, his comprehensive survey of route-mapping systems that appeared in the March 2009 issue of this magazine, “More and more, vehicle location is being used to provide MSW managers with flexibility for dynamic rerouting of trucks and the attainment of next-level customer service.”
Of course, it has taken more than just dynamic rerouting of trucks to attain the levels of efficiency offered by today’s system software. Steve Kaufman, vice president and founder of Routeware in Beaverton, OR, traces the evolution of today’s systems from the first introduction of technology into the cabs of collection trucks two decades ago.
“The first step is usually the placing of GPS modems in the trucks so that management could determine where each and every truck was at any time during the routes,” he says. “This not only was an essential part of the route management systems that followed, but it also illustrated the utility of having an information technology device in the cab.
“Generally, the next step for haulers (and often it was a simultaneous step) was to acquire a routing management software package such as the ones offered by Desert Micro, Tower, or SoftPak, to develop route maps that save miles by finding the most efficient travel path from customer to customer to the landfill. Soon, some haulers began to have the next level of angst, which is ‘How can we improve the efficiency of how we’re routing our trucks?’ Then such haulers tended to go in one of two directions—or both. They’d muse, ‘I need to optimize these routes with a route optimization software package so that I can really understand in better detail what the drivers are doing and to get all that field data electronically back from the routing system so that I can bill more accurately. Then they’d get rid of the route sheet that their routing package was generating and opt for a Route Optimization package from RouteSmart or IIT.
“Alternatively, they might take the next step, selecting an onboard, computer-based system that would enable them to capture all the field activity and send it automatically to the back-room-billing and management-information modules of their route management system. With this dynamic information, they were able to understand what the drivers were doing during the day. Routeware’s onboard computer can examine the theoretical routes and enable the hauler to determine such things as ‘Did I really get that half-hour savings I was hoping for?’”
This four-step program will vary from hauler to hauler. And with every feature that’s included, there are measurables for return on investment (ROI), so management can always safely take a technology step, knowing that the step will pay for itself no matter how expensive or inexpensive it is. With the ROI analysis, the hauler knows that he is not going to spend his capital dollars unless there will be a payback period that is reasonable.
A Proactive Port
This is certainly a powerful system, but Kaufman concedes that it has one drawback. While it generates a huge amount of useful data to hauler management, it expects a manager to dig through all that data to derive the information he needs to detect minor problems before they become major problems. The data is there and it can be accessed, but not proactively. The manager has to take the time to select the data and integrate it into a report before he can fully understand what’s going on in the field.
To address this drawback, Routeware has just released a proactive software package called HomePort. It is designed to sit on top of Routeware Back Office software as an analytical engine and to give haulers an opportunity to look directly at their information and interactively gain an understanding in real time of what’s happening in the field at all times. It creates this level of understanding from moment to moment on its routes in a way haulers have never had before. It takes that system granularity and gives a manager proactive alerts as to what is going on and where he should immediately focus his attention. And the manager doesn’t have to run a report to uncover a problem and figure out what to do about it.
“As an example, consider the issue of skips on a commercial route,” Kaufman explains. “Here, the important thing to do is to take a look at where a driver is on his route now, as contrasted with where he has been at that time for the past four weeks. If he’s skipping more than he normally does or, conversely, if he’s skipping more than, say, 20% of the total stops on that route, a manager would need to know that. So he clicks on the red choice, which allows him to see (1) all the rest of the routes, (2) how many containers were scheduled for pickup, (3) how many were skipped, and (4) what’s the skip percentage. Then he analyzes the skips and may find that that a container was blocked and when. So in two more clicks he can understand every skip that’s been made and why.”
The proactive insights enabled by HomePort spread across the complete spectrum of collection activities. And, again with just two clicks, a manager can issue such commands as:
- Show me who’s behind time on his route and why?
- Show me all the work orders that haven’t been sent to a truck yet, or that are in a truck but not done yet.
- Show me drivers who don’t have any work orders left and are sitting idle waiting for more.
- Show me a list of the drivers who are on their last work orders (so that he can assign them something to do as soon as that work order is complete).
- Give me a list of landfill tickets and the ticket weights (so that he can see where some of the ticket expense will be today).
- What containers are taking the longest for pickup today?
- Which containers are being serviced most often?
- Measure nonproductive off-route time, with or without counting trips to the landfill.
- Display a map that shows who’s taken more than X number of breaks and who’s break times have been longer than Y minutes.
- Show me every driver who has driven more hours than we allow in a day, or in a week.
“HomePort also has a customer service module that allows a manager to look at a display of all events, including photos, for a specific customer,” Kaufman adds. One click brings the photo on the screen, and with one more click it can be e-mailed to that customer. It makes it easy for a customer service agent to have a customer’s complete information on his screen while he’s on the phone with that customer.”
HomePort’s P&L capability enables a manager to look globally at whether any of his routes are making or losing money. The system will calculate the revenue generated by each based on time and mileage, and can make good estimates of cost so that the manager will be able to see in dollars and cents whether he made money or lost money on any route—or for any customer account for that matter.
The essence of HomePort is the exposure of any problems to the user so he can unearth them without spending valuable management time running reports or otherwise digging into a database. HomePort’s color-coded screen elements, its two-click simplicity, and its specificity to collection operations should add to the efficiency of existing route software systems and should enable a hauler to finally take real control of his entire operation. It will be interesting to see how haulers will react to the promise of this added capability.