Automating Fleets Can Bring Safety and Savings

Automating Fleets Can Bring Safety and Savings

Making the decision to automate solid waste and recycling fleets isn’t a decision to be entered into lightly. Converting from a rear loader to an automated side-loader (ASL) or an automated front-loader (AFL) unit takes some consideration of routes, safety of drivers, types of fuel and technology necessary to meet the demands of a city’s specific collection needs.

The upfront cost may also put off the powers that be from making the change, but automation can add significant savings and greater safety to converted fleets says Heil Environmental’s Director of Mobile Products, Anthony Henson.

“In the case of those converting from rear-loader to AFL, it’s not cheap, because it’s cheaper to buy rear-loaders on the front end than to order an ASL or AFL,” Henson says. “But from a safety standpoint, the number of drivers, the number of units you have to maintain—there’s definitely a savings.”

Switching to ASLs is the initial step for many customers switching to automation, says Henson. One benefit of an ASL is safety, because the driver stays in the truck and isn’t working behind a rear loader.

The collection industry as a whole works to reduce injuries and fatalities. Annual Labor Department statistics rank refuse and recyclable material collection as one of the occupations with the 10 highest fatality rates.

Technological changes, too, have made ASLs more appealing. Converting fleets to compressed natural gas (CNG), and in some cases, such as in Heil’s CNrG, having the option of tailgate-mounted CNG tanks versus roof-mounted, reduces the overall height of units. It also increases the total diesel gallon equivalency (DGE) that can be carried on each unit. The vehicles go up to 105 DGE, without additional body height. The added fuel capacity in one place allows the trucks the potential to carry enough fuel for longer routes and reduces the need for daily refueling.

“Another good thing about this ASL is it has the ability to lift containers off of curbs at above grade pitch, which is a nice feature,” says Henson.

“When you pick up a can, particularly when the can is sitting at street level, the truck pulls up, swings the arm out and picks up the can and dumps it,” he says. “But if the can is above grade, meaning that it’s sitting on a 2-ft. embankment of snow, which is much higher, this arm has the ability to do above-grade pitch much better.”

The advantages of an AFL include some of the same benefits as an ASL such as CNG and tailgate mounted CNG. Improved driver safety also is realized, as the driver stays in the cab and always has eyes forward, says Henson.

With the AFL, Henson says, there’s a major safety improvement as the driver is able to pick up the cans in front of him with a better line of sight since he’s not looking behind him. Another advantage of an AFL is a reduced wheel base, which eliminates backing events, which is where most injuries occur.

The AFL also has a low entry hopper side for the Curroto Can, which allows for bulk collection and eliminates the need for rear-loader chase trucks, necessary with ASL in bulk collection. In most routes, an advantage of the AFL is that because of the low-entry can, it’s actually got a lower height to dump than a rear loader, says Henson. 

“So an operator can step out of a low-entry cab, pick up the bulk, place it in the can and then dump it," He says. "He can collect that bulk during the route instead of having to send another truck out to pick those things up. So the advantage of that is, the AFL then would allow the elimination of those chase trucks.”

Additionally, an AFL reduces recycling contamination, says Henson. When municipal solid waste (MSW) is tossed in the wrong containers, it greatly reduces revenue. The Container Recycling Institute has said a quarter of single-stream recycling goes to landfill. For glass, that loss can be as high as 40 percent.

“We’ve had operations see contamination rates go from 20 to 40 percent to less than 7 percent—which is a huge, huge benefit,” says Henson.

With an ASL, the driver can’t see what’s in the cart and typically takes whatever’s there, says Henson. Cities, he adds, are transitioning to AFL so the driver has the ability to see MSW in the can. With a contaminated load, the driver can choose not to collect it, tag it, and let the consumer know they’ve contaminated the recycling.

The lower contamination rate means much less MSW to sort through and much cleaner material running through the MRF.

Along with market, key drivers and technology, Henson will speak more on automation at WasteExpo in Las Vegas in on Monday, June 6 at 10:30 AM along with consultant Marc J. Rogoff, of SCS Engineers. The discussion will include a case study on a county that converted its 30-vehicle fleet to automated collection and how, as a result, more than doubled its recycling rate, while reducing its annual solid waste budget by $18 million.

“In a typical scenario where you have a fleet with 30 total vehicles,” says Henson, “with 26 side loaders and four rear loaders, you could convert that entire fleet to 24 units, which would be a total reduction of about 20 percent of your fleet. That would significantly lower your operating costs. It’s really more about how you do more with one truck to increase your flexibility to be able to purchase and maintain your truck.

“I know it sounds counter intuitive to have a garbage truck manufacturer selling you on buying fewer trucks, but that’s really the value proposition for the front loader.” 

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