An Economy of Scales

Haulers are fighting the recession with scales and software.

The waste industry is waging war on costs, and technology is one of its most powerful weapons. The recession has heightened the sense of competition among large and small haulers alike, and the widespread emergence of new zero waste programs across the country is causing waste haulers to rethink their strategies and to try out new cost-control measures.

Right now, imminent and potentially costly federal regulations along with the high cost of fuel and equipment are driving haulers toward on-board truck scales that do more than audit accounts.

Today, haulers want on-board scales to ensure that drivers observe legal loading limits and to reduce maintenance expenses from wear and tear and the workers' compensation costs that follow accidents caused by overweight loads.

At the same time, waste industry facilities — transfer stations, landfills and material recovery facilities (MRFs) — are moving toward more automated, more integrated and, sometimes, more customized cost-management software applications.

New Regs

Onboard truck scale manufacturers, have reported a recent increase in calls for information and requests for brochures. The vendors attribute the spike in interest to the imminent rollout of a new federal regulatory program from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This July, the FMCSA's Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 will replace the current enforcement and compliance program with a much stricter and more punitive program (see “CSA 2010” below).

Noting this, trucking companies, including trash collection and hauling firms, have begun to implement stronger safe driving programs. Among these are efforts to ensure against overweight trucks.

“We are focused on making sure that any trucks we run are at legal weights,” says Lonnie Sullivan, national sourcing manager with Phoenix-based Republic Services. “On-board scales are a way for trash haulers to do that in real time.”

“From the top [of the company] down, the goal is no more overweight trucks,” Sullivan says. “First, overweight trucks are safety hazards. Second, regulations prohibit it. And third, too much weight tears up the trucks and raises maintenance costs.”

In Sherwood, Ore., Cindy Leichner, the controller for Pride Disposal Company and Pride Recycling, says her firm installed Air-Weigh scales on its four roll-off trucks last year. “A lot of our compactor customers were going overweight, and the on-board scales help us manage that problem,” she says.

Pride Disposal also is thinking about more onboard scales while making preparations for CSA 2010. “Our fleet manager attended a training session (on CSA 2010),” Leichner says. “There were some motor carrier inspectors and several local police officers attending to get training to perform additional inspections. We're already seeing an increase in random inspections.”

The company is considering adding on-board scales to its yard debris collection trucks to ensure that they comply with maximum truck weight regulations.

On the Ground

While waste companies are using on-board scales to avoid regulatory fines, maintenance costs and safety problems, they also are looking at unattended facility scales to as a way to create leaner and more efficient operations. The Staten Island Transfer Station (SITS), operated by the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), features Driver Assisted Terminals (DATs) from Oxford, Pa.-based PC Scale Tower. The terminals run a highly customized software program that enables drivers to use the scales without an attendant.

It works this way: the driver pulls onto the inbound scale, and a radio frequency identification (RFID) transponder on the truck identifies the truck to the terminals. A screen then asks the driver to identify the waste. The driver punches the button for residential waste, and the system records the truck's laden weight.

The driver proceeds to the tipping floor, discharges the load and drives onto the outbound scale. At the outbound scale, a reader records the truck's information, while the scale checks the tare weight. The system calculates the tonnage of the load and generates a receipt for the driver to turn in to the supervisor. Both the inbound and outbound scales are from Webb City, Mo.-based Cardinal Scale Manufacturing.

Meanwhile, the transfer station system sends the load data across a virtual private network to DSNY.

The sophisticated technology is a key feature of the economically operated truck-to-container-to-rail SITS, which handles all of Staten Island's residential garbage. The state-of-the-art facility received SWANA's Gold Excellence in Solid Waste Management Award in 2008.

Pride Disposal has four DATs at its transfer station and MRF, and Leichner wants to upgrade the system to send the data from the Mettler Toledo truck scales directly into the hauler's billing and reporting system. "Right now, we manually input the disposal ticket and tie it to the work order before the invoice is generated," she says.

Still another automated cost control employed by Pride takes advantage of the route management system from Beaverton, Ore.-based Routeware and the hauler's billing system. "When drivers carry out extra tasks — picking up extra bags, for instance — they record the extra in the [route management] device in the cab," Leichner says. Using modems placed in the truck cabs, the route management system automatically sends the data to the Pride Disposal office, where it is added to the customer's invoice.

The waste industry appears to be coming to terms with the return on investment that technology can provide, whether it is scale technology or any other technology designed to improve productivity and cut costs. And none too soon. As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession and environmental concerns grow more important to the public, local, state and federal governments likely will mandate more environmentally friendly ways of carrying out jobs like collecting and disposing of trash.

CSA 2010 is only the first example of emerging green regulations that will affect waste industry costs. At the same time, U.S. economic competitors such as China and Russia will continue to ratchet up the demand — and so the prices — for commodities like steel, plastic, rubber, oil and fuel that are important to waste industry operations.

When costs rise faster than revenues, profits fall. The only way to keep pace is to find ways to lower or at least hold down costs. Technology may be the key to that effort.

  • Read the "CSA 2010" sidebar to learn about the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 program.

Michael Fickes is a Westminster, Md.-based contributing writer.

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CSA 2010

The Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 program will re-engineer the current one-size-fits-all approach to compliance reviews of trucking companies. Instead of the seemingly haphazard, random selection of companies for review, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will now select companies for review based on computer analyses of two years of roadside violation and crash data.

The data will come from citations and crashes across the country recorded in a safety measurement system (SMS) under one of seven categories: unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, controlled substances/alcohol, vehicle maintenance, cargo and crash indicator.

The companies with the worst scores will become targets for intervention of some kind: a warning letter about specific safety problems noted by the system, a roadside inspection targeting a particular company's consistent violations, targeted on-site investigation or some other procedure focused on specific violation and crash data.

CSA 2010 stems from the realization that the rate of truck crash reduction pursued by federal and state enforcement agencies since the 1970s has slowed in recent years. The FMCSA has decided that ramping the safety or crash reduction rate back up will require new, stricter measures.