Weighty Matters

After it has been picked up, garbage has to be accounted for in order to bill the customer properly, to keep the truck's axle weights within legal limits and to maximize profits while minimizing costs. Because understanding software and scales systems can be difficult, Waste Age invited manufacturers and suppliers to discuss, via e-mail, the continuing evolution of those types of products in the industry. The panel includes:

  • Joe Grell, Rice Lake Weighing Systems, Rice Lake, Wis.;
  • Rick Talbot, Vulcan On-Board Scales, Kent, Wash.;
  • Stephen Cole, Cardinal Scale Mfg. Co., Webb City, Mo.;
  • Richard Boyovich, Loadman On-Board Scales, Renton, Wash.; and
  • Dennis Keizer, Routeware, Beaverton, Ore.

Waste Age (WA): What factors should a buyer consider when purchasing your type of product?

Grell: Scales are the “cash register” for almost every enterprise in the waste industry. They play a part in data collection, traffic flow, customer service, process automation and workforce efficiency. Selecting an independent local service provider that represents a product line broad enough to cover all of these areas is an important step. It helps to standardize on one manufacturer as long as that product line incorporates open architecture and can interface easily to both existing and future systems throughout the enterprise.

Planning for future growth of the business requires weighing equipment that is flexible and able to conform easily to changes in the day-to-day operation of the business. Scales are data collection devices, so getting that information upstream to the ERP [enterprise resource planning] system is essential. It's important to look for products with multiple communications interfaces, both wired and wireless. Return on investment, initial cost, durability and product lifecycle should be considered to arrive at the total cost of ownership. Too often, buyers only consider initial cost and end up replacing equipment sooner than necessary.

Talbot: Exactly what weight information is needed (GVW, axle weights, payload weights, etc.)? What accuracy is required? How will the information be recorded, retrieved and used? How much is required of the driver? What is the economic payback?

Also, reputation of the manufacturer, product quality, local support, manufacturer support, installation requirements and price.

Cole: There are many items to consider in the purchasing of scales and software. In today's world of governmental regulation, the scale and software must be considered as to how effectively it can be used to collect required reporting information. Speed and ease of operation are items of consideration because companies are doing more with fewer people. The scales' productivity must be considered.

One of the most important factors is how long has the company been providing software for the scale industry. You may have a company that is great at providing business software but does not understand the scale, its operation or the types of transactions that will take place at the scale. In other words, the software should be from a company that is either in the scale business or has truck weighing as their primary course of business.

Boyovich: Waste haulers purchase scales typically for two reasons. The simple one is to avoid overweight trucks. Smart buyers purchase them for auditing customer accounts.

Also, how much interaction is required by drivers and local service providers to use the onboard scale?

Keizer: A buyer should consider whether adding real time, accurate data to their operation will help and at which levels of their operation the data should be reviewed. Organizations should ask themselves if visibility of a vehicle's location history is enough to drive the improvement needed in today's demanding customer service environment. Or whether it is time to provide the operation with both driver and customer data that is based on real time, accurate tracking.

An organization must also be prepared to know how they will react to increased efficiencies from their staff and how they will make use of their newfound capacities. They will also need to think about how the organization will leverage real-time data on both driver and customer activity.

WA: What are some common mistakes that solid waste operators make when planning the use of your type of product?

Grell: With truck scales, traffic flow is an important consideration, not only for today, but for 20 years or more. All of the vehicles coming in and out of a facility must go over a scale. The scale should be positioned to minimize the amount of time that the truck will be on the property.

If we can reduce “in-yard” times, we can increase the number of transactions across the scale, and that will result in greater revenue for the enterprise. This is also the best time to incorporate some “lean thinking.” If a step in the process has no value to the customer, it should be eliminated. If materials are weighed more than once in a process, question why and take steps to reduce material handling in all phases of the process.

Talbot: Not getting top down support for the decision, not appointing someone as the scale expert or point person, not performing basic scale maintenance with PMs and not developing a plan to use the weight information.

Cole: They do not consider the details of the scale operation. They do not evaluate all of the different weighing scenarios that will occur at the scale. They do not consider the flow of traffic and information through the use of the scale. In many cases, the end user is told by a software company how its software works, and it is accepted, so their mode of operation is around the software. The operation of the scale and the information to be collected should be built around the customers' needs.

Boyovich: Does the provider of onboard scales provide driver training? If drivers wanted to read manuals, they wouldn't want to drive trucks.

Keizer: One common mistake is thinking that a GPS-only system will solve their technology problems. They know they want to buy something, so they buy a GPS tracking system. However, a GPS-only system tracks just the driver/vehicle data, not the customer data. For some companies this is already an improvement; however, most companies need more. Having access to weight, pick-up times, extras, skips and other service data is fundamental to having accurate customer data and providing fast response.

Another mistake is not preparing drivers upfront when a system is implemented. The drivers then end up thinking the system is only there to monitor and intimidate them. They end up trying to sabotage it. With proper preparation and education, drivers can understand it is a way to reward them and recognize their hard work.

Finally, some haulers want to act by trying a pilot on a small number of trucks to see what happens. This is a mistake because the small number of trucks cannot make a difference in the operation, and there is a lack of commitment to it. Typically, these pilots fail since there was never a real commitment to begin with.

WA: Describe the extent to which GIS and GPS systems are growing in use in your type of products specifically and in the solid waste industry as a whole.

Grell: We have seen GPS used to track the location of roll-off containers. This combined with on-board scales on container trucks, along with ticket printers, will allow customers to receive invoices for container usage when the container is retrieved.

Talbot: Use of GIS and GPS equipment has grown rapidly in the last few years. Many of these devices have serial data input capabilities, which allow for the recording and transmission of other truck information such as weight. In the solid waste industry, GPS information can also be used to identify commercial customers and match route data such as pick-up weights to specific accounts.

Cole: We have not used any GIS or GPS in our systems since our systems are for static applications. However, I am sure we will see the integration of the GIS and GPS into scale software in the future.

Boyovich: As a whole, the solid waste industry hasn't really embraced GPS, mainly because [haulers have] GPS and back-office software from one company, scales from another, and service is none to little for having an integrated GPS, software and onboard scales.

Keizer: They have been continually growing in the solid waste industry as separate units because many haulers believe they will solve most of their problems. It is critical for an operation to assess their objectives and needs upfront before buying a system.

WA: How has the solid waste industry changed over the years when it comes to its willingness to use your type of products? As a whole, is the industry's interest in new technologies increasing?

Grell: Scales have been used in various applications within this industry over the years. We are noticing an increase in the number of facilities that are automating the existing weighing process as part of an enterprise-wide cost control plan. RFID, dynamic messaging, loader scale telemetry and wireless communication protocols are being rolled out to replace labor-intensive manual ticketing and data collection processes. The technology is proving to be durable enough for the application and the return on investment is measured in weeks or months in a majority of cases.

Talbot: The solid waste industry, like the rest of the world, is more competitive, and weight information provides a competitive advantage and cost savings, improves operation efficiency and reduces liability exposure. The on-board weighing manufacturers today offer a wider range of products that are easier to use. As a result, the interest for on-board weighing products in the solid waste industry has greatly increased.

Cole: In the 70s, the use of scales in the waste industry took off. Part of this was because of legislation. The profit motive was [also] part of the driving force to use scales. The scale became the cash register for [solid waste] operations and, of course, as computers and software costs lowered, the businesses started to use the new technology to reduce costs, thus increasing margin. The industry is very receptive to new technology if it can help to reduce costs, help in daily regulatory tasks and increase flow of material.

Boyovich: The truth is the onboard scale industry hasn't really provided much value-added ROI for waste haulers. I believe that the main reason that our technology has not generated the ROI is because [the haulers] typically purchase the scales directly from a manufacturer or through the body OEMs, which do not provide any service after the fact.

In short, the scales come into the facility, and there is an initial interest, but this fades away due to lack of service and training. I do believe that the waste industry is interested in new technology, but service and training on new technology is an issue.

Keizer: The solid waste industry has improved its focus on safety and profitable growth through retention of profitable customers and profit minded employees. The industry has become more and more willing to use technology to measure and ultimately improve these core values.

What's important is that buyers also need to be smart about the systems they buy. For example, it's important that they know what RMS system they already have in place and how a new system will integrate with it. Also, it is important for the operation to initiate training in order to ensure the organization is focused and aligned to the new system.