There’s no denying the need for regular maintenance of collection trucks. “There is no garbage police,” says Collin Ruhs, a technical service specialist with Wayne Engineering, a Wayne Industrial Holdings company based in Cedar Falls, IA. That means that everything gets thrown out in the trash. Trashcans and bags can contain destructive surprises. “A lot of items that get thrown out cause damage. Anyone with a Sawzall can cut up metal items to fit in a container. Some people put construction debris in their regular trash.”
Even ordinary garbage is caustic. “Orange juice is acidic,” Ruhs continues. “It eats steel. No coating can stand up to acidity.” That’s why he says it’s an important part of everyday preventive maintenance to clean out the trash and rinse the truck to dilute acidity. “Housekeeping is a big deal. You need to wash the truck. Keep it clean and lubricated.”
Unfortunately, he says, because of tip fees charged by landfills, in order for a collection company to reduce costs, a partially filled truck might get parked overnight instead of emptied. In that situation, the truck is “always loaded with caustic material.”
This industry is different than the automotive field, Ruhs explains. “The technology is just as advanced as the automotive market, but you have to fix your own vehicle … and the maintenance person is usually not as experienced.” In smaller municipalities, it’s common for the same personnel to work on all fleets, including fire and police vehicles. Some municipalities have the operator do maintenance, he claims. “That’s a challenge for manufacturers. There is complexity in the vehicles; failure is not immediately obvious.”
Even if a collection company or municipality does have a dedicated maintenance staff, there are barriers to effective service. “The maintenance crew usually works second shift,” Ruhs indicates. “They work off a repair order with no face-to-face consultation. In some areas, like south Florida, there’s a language barrier. You need a translator. If that translator isn’t very technical, “˜bolt’ becomes “˜pin’ in translation. Much is lost.”
It’s incumbent upon the operator to adequately convey maintenance issues to the mechanics, but Ruhs believes the industry’s standard arrangement discourages that. “The operators don’t like to have their equipment down, so if it still works, they keep going-even if the warning lights are on-until it becomes an Apollo 13 deal. By then, the problem is compounded, which means more downtime and more expense.”
In addition to a reluctance to report problems, Ruhs believes the typical work schedule and pay structure contribute to maintenance issues. “The operator is paid by the job, not by the hour. If he completes his route in six hours, he goes home with the same pay as if he completes it in eight. That’s the US way of doing business: complete the route and go home. The incentive is to run fast and hard.”
Running hard causes more wear and tear on the vehicles. That is resulting in a new phenomenon in the industry. Because the bodies are under warranty according to time (a period of years) rather than an hour or mileage meter, Ruhs says some customers are running their new equipment twice as hard because they are shifting the load away from older, out-of-warranty equipment. “To save money on maintenance and repair, they’re placing the load on newer equipment through the warranty period, running 15-hour days.” As a result, the manufacturers are seeing more warranty issues.
Budget remains a perennial obstacle to good maintenance. “Budgets are tight,” Ruhs acknowledges, “so many operate in triage mode. There is no monitoring system except failure, and preventative maintenance is not done like it should be.” While some companies require sign-off on a daily maintenance checklist, he says, those lists aren’t all-inclusive. “There might be a box for tire pressure and brake lights, but what if there’s a 3-foot-by-5-foot gaping hole in the body? There’s no space for that. A truck could pass the typical inspection, but that doesn’t mean it’s good to go.”
In some ways, the lack of rigid maintenance schedules is surprising, because Ruhs has noticed that the “older equipment is not going away. It’s being rebuilt or refitted. It used to be that after seven years of useful life, the body was scrapped. The body and chassis used to be retired at the same time, but now they re-body the chassis. They’re salvaging older equipment and investing in it to keep it going.”
Ruhs believes the interest in extending the life of older equipment is related to emissions. “The older equipment doesn’t have to meet the new emissions standards. That’s a $20,000 difference, with the DPS exhaust system. Even the big guys are doing it now. Replacement is not apples to apples.”
Brian Sumners, residential route supervisor in Olathe, KS, is in the process of bidding on four replacement trucks. “We run a 7-year cycle,” he says. “Our trucks are 4- to 6-years old now.”
To serve 37,000 customers, this public waste service maintains a fleet of 14 automated trucks. “Four are McNeilus with Crane Carrier chassis,” Sumners lists. “We also have some Bridgeport with Crane Carrier chassis and two tandem axel on Mack chassis.” He’s converting the entire fleet to the tandem axel Macs and insists on getting “only electrical over hydraulic” as opposed to air-over-hydraulic, because he’s “tired of trucks freezing up in winter.”
Because cold weather is an issue in Kansas, it’s an important consideration when purchasing as well as during maintenance. “Winter is hard on any truck,” Sumners begins, “but with air-over-hydraulic controls, you get moisture in the lines. When it’s below zero, the lines freeze and the valves don’t move.”
Parking inside at night isn’t a realistic option, due to lack of space, because the warm storage area is shared, although Sumners indicates that the trucks “get through the day better when they’re parked inside overnight.”
Another change Sumners is making involves switching from dual-steer over cab to right steer only. It’s a money-saving move that will benefit maintenance. “If we’re not running all that linkage, there’s less things to go wrong. Ninety percent of the time we’re picking up on the right anyway.”
When the trucks do have something go wrong, they’re taken to an in-house maintenance shop where five heavy equipment mechanics service the whole city fleet, from fire trucks to police cars. In addition to handling minor breakdowns, regular PMs are performed: brakes and oil changed every 300 hours. “Major failures are farmed out,” he says. Factory support is key. “Bridgeport is good on structural issues.”
One of Olathe’s main maintenance issues is blown hydraulic hoses. However, Sumners says the automated trucks have saved money. “The cost to replace the occasional part is less than manpower costs.” They have also saved a few backs. “Our Workman’s Comp claims have been reduced. We’re not seeing many back issues because they’re not getting out at every stop. They have to get out only 5% of the time and we’re down to just one [guy] running the truck.”
His staff is happy with trucks. “Since we went automated in 2006, our turnover rate is nearly zero.” Ergonomics of controls can improve a driver’s comfort. Proper monitor placement reduces neck complaints. “We put it to the left of the joy stick so they can watch the hopper cam.” Placing the camera in the right corner where the mirror and monitor are keeps the driver’s head facing forward so he is more comfortable and happy-as well as safer. “We change something every year to get the right configuration.”
Keeping drivers happy has a pay-off. “When they’re happy, they take better care of the trucks,” Sumners states.
Another way in which Olathe drivers are kept happy is by having assigned trucks (plus a “couple of spares”). “Each truck has its own personality,” Sumners explains. “You can have a bad day with the wrong truck.”
The arrangement benefits maintenance. Pairing driver and truck helps to catch problems early, Sumners insists. “The drivers know what’s wrong with the truck because they know its history. The same things happen over and over in the same truck. The drivers are also sensitive to changes in their trucks. If the speed of the arm goes down two seconds, maintenance doesn’t see it, but the driver does.”
That’s why he says it’s critical for the drivers to work hand-in-hand with the shop personnel. While the drivers are in charge of their trucks for daily pre- and post-trip inspections of tires and to check for visible damage and leaks, they also answer to team leaders. “We have two teams of seven to do the city,” Sumners details. “Each team leader is in charge of seven trucks.” Team leaders also help train new drivers, who shadow experienced drivers to learn grease points, cleaning items and how to run, operate, and care for the trucks.
Training is serious business at WastePro USA. The training program there, known as WastePro University, consists of eight different programs, with emphasis on employee interaction to help employees get along with people and supervisor training because many in management are promoted from within. Technical training is ongoing, adds John Jennings, president and CEO.
The son of a residential garbage man, Jennings started WastePro 11 years ago with one truck. One of the country’s fastest-growing solid waste collection companies, WastePro now has 62 locations and 16,000 trucks serving residential and commercial customers in 75 locations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
With revenues in 2011 that exceeded $400 million, the Longwood, FL-based company had approximately 2,400 people on its payroll. Because Jennings believes it’s important to “love where you work and treat people like you want to be treated,” he has no COO buffer between him and his seven regional vice presidents in the field, each of whom “runs his company. I set up a system for employees to do their best,” he elaborates. “You hire good people and let them do their job.”
Individual rules don’t supersede company policies that require both the driver and maintenance personnel to perform thorough daily inspections of the collection trucks. “We have 140 trucks in Ft. Myers,” Jennings relates. “The trucks drive through the building for inspection in four safety lanes. The driver and a mechanic do the walk-around, checking every hose, every fitting. A prevention maintenance person gets on a crawler to check underneath. The truck is then vacuumed out, fueled up, and washed before both the driver and mechanic sign the report. We have great cooperation and communication. Everyone is on the same page and everything is written and signed off on. Every day. It’s a program we started six years ago, on the recommendation of our maintenance people.”
The result is that WastePro has fewer engine and transmission failures than any other company, Jennings reports. “It keeps trucks on the road.” That’s important, not only because downtime is expensive, but also because it keeps insurance costs low. As an added incentive to ensure the trucks are properly maintained, Jennings pays a $10,000 annual bonus for drivers with no complaints, no breakdowns and no accidents with property damage. “Last year I paid 50 of those.”
It’s an intriguing strategy designed to encourage “ownership” of the trucks to keep the drivers happy and the trucks in good running order. It all starts with buying the truck the driver wants. “Buy the best equipment for drivers,” Jennings advises. “It’s a hard job.” When a driver is on vacation, his truck is parked. Policies like these have contributed to seven consecutive years with less than 2% turnover in an industry where the average is 28%. “We have productive employees who view this as a career, not just a job,” he says.
But perks are the reward of responsibility. WastePro’s maintenance shops are evaluated on the number of road calls they receive. All routine maintenance is done in-house, as is engine work. Transmissions are removed by shop personnel in preparation for replacement by Allison, and WastePro has an arrangement with Mac and International to do warranty work in the bigger shops.
When more complex problems arise, Jennings relies on factory support. In 2008, the Jacksonville branch had a contract for new Mac trucks. “We got our first 28 Mac trucks with a new configuration for reburning fuel,” Jennings recalls. “All 28 failed.” Mac rented and delivered 30 new trucks to Jacksonville and sent an engineer to rebuild the original trucks. “We never missed a route.”
At WastePro, cooperation and teamwork occur before problems arise. “We work with the body and chassis manufacturers,” Jennings says. “We run phantom routes to get people used to new vehicles and learn the capabilities of the vehicles. It helps the manufacturers know the changes needed.” WastePro’s fleet consists of automated sideloaders, manual sideloaders, frontloaders, rearloaders, rolloffs, and 88 new CNG trucks at the Ft. Pierce, FL, location-an economical addition since they own the pumping facility.
WastePro also works with the tire company on proper alignment. “We have tire problems due to heat,” Jennings explains. “We have to have enough space between the tires on the tandem to keep the heat down.” Tire pressure is important, so an employee checks pressures on all the trucks at night. “Tire costs are up; it’s a major cost component. The cost of replacement is astronomical.”
The cost to replace bodies is also high, so precautions are taken to extend life. Coastal operations battle corrosive salt. Rolloffs and trucks going to landfills pick up dirt and debris in the undercarriage. Many rural routes don’t have paved roads. Jennings tells stories of trucks getting stuck in the mud during rainy season. “We almost lost a truck in St. Lucie County when it pulled off a dirt road to let traffic by and sank up to the cab. That’s why we wash the trucks daily.”
Keeping a Fleet Like New
Across the country, near a very different coast, CleanScapes services approximately 80,000 residential and commercial customers-“about half the city of Seattle and two suburbs,” John Taylor specifies-with a mixed fleet of 100 automated sideloaders and rearloaders for narrow streets, using an extra person to help during the peak summer season.
This private collection company performs routine maintenance in its own shop, unless it’s a major mechanical issue, such as engine, bodywork, or painting. That work is outsourced. “We do simple, basic work,” Taylor specifies. “We have six bays, where we do in-shop preventative maintenance: 100-, 150-, and 300-hour PMs, oil changes, cables, et cetera.”
Some of the drivers are assigned to specific trucks, while others are floaters to cover routes in case of absences. All drivers fill out inspection reports before and after their shift and talk with the mechanics about issues.
Taylor says that because the company is new in the market, it has a young fleet, so problems have been few. Besides, he adds, “the West Coast is a gentle environment; there’s not a lot of wear and tear on the trucks.”
Helping keep issues to a minimum, CleanScapes incorporated an “aggressive fleet replacement program” and as it adds new contracts, it updates the fleet, which includes spare trucks as 15% of the total.
“We’re starting a new contract in Issaquah,” Taylor reveals. For that contract, CleanScapes acquired new CNG collection trucks with hydraulic launch assist for easier braking. “We got the trucks for the fuel. The cost of CNG is half of diesel.” Among the benefits, he says, the trucks are quieter, cleaner, and more attractive. In addition, he says, the communities appreciate the lighter environmental footprint.
As for maintenance issues, he says, they’re “about the same magnitude.” However, he adds, CNG isn’t as dirty, because it requires less grease, and the trucks are more pleasant to work on. Mechanics always appreciate that, and if it’s easier to work on, it’s likely to be regularly serviced.