Before You Automate, Have The Plan In The Can

"Automating" is mechanizing collection by replacing human labor with mechanical labor. It uses dedicated containers picked up or dumped by flippers and arms.

Automating also means new practices on the consumer's part and higher equipment purchase costs. It may require maintaining specialty vehicles to collect other materials like recyclables and bulky items. And injuries such as twisted ankles and bad backs may give way to carpal tunnel syndrome.

The decision to automate involves weighing tradeoffs. For example, because automation requires only one person per truck, significant reduction in salaries, medical insurance, span of control and managerial problems are possible.

It also may mean less managerial jobs as well. Here, the overall community goals must be considered, as well as the program's goals.

Automated systems are less flexible than manual. For example, carts must be taken to the street and not left in the back yard; cars parked in the wrong place will be a problem; and not everything will fit neatly into the cart. Automated systems de-mands speed, and speed demands uniformity.

Automating requires some dramatic changes in procedures. To reduce problems with the public, you must:

* be sensitive to the publics' point of view, knowing what is being done now and determining the impact of the changes;

* know the answers to questions about your plan, and the changes it will bring, before presenting the plan for public review; and

* hold community meetings, preferably at the neighborhood level, allow concerns to be discussed, possibly unearthing new problems.

It is extremely important to tell the governing body what is being explored and your plans for development. Keep in mind that you're seeing this as a operational/technical problem. They view this as a balance between political advantage or disadvantage.

Remember, those with the ultimate control over the project - the public, political leaders and city agencies - have their own perspectives and responsibilities. Seek their feedback, incorporating your solutions to their concerns in your final plans.

Your ideas will be weighed in terms of voter reaction, not just technological advancement. Unless you satisfy the concerns of the decision makers, you have not advanced your cause.

Changing the way you handle solid waste has many ramifications. It is a change in the way things are done, who does them, and how the job is perceived.

What does the equipment cost? A fully equipped 30-cubic yard truck is at least $145,000, compared with about $68,000 for a 25-cubic yard packer. Automated vehicles are usually a little larger. They can collect in excess of 500 to 800 homes per day, depending on factors such as the terrain, and haul distances.

The maintenance costs per vehicle may be greater for automated vehicles over the 7-year lifespan. Bottom line: Automated vehicles can collect a larger payload, faster, but at a higher initial cost, plus increased maintenance costs.

Automated collection is more of a containerization system than a vehicle system. The containers can be collected with your present vehicles as long as you add a flipper to lift and dump the container.

Adapting trucks won't allow the full financial benefits of full automation, but residents will be able to adapt gradually to the change, and the new system may lead to a reduction in injuries, and collection time.

Containers range from 30 to 400 gallons, and cost from $45 to $65 each. You will need one 60- to 90-gallon cart for each home plus 300 to 400 gallon sizes to service apartments with four or more units.

Recycling can be accommodated by an automated system us-ing a split cart, or co-mingled system. Signifi-cantly less scavenging, greater participation and lower costs, without significant losses in revenues have been reported. Rain, snow, and even wind are no longer a consideration.

How many carts will you need? Collecting 700 homes a day, an automated vehicle can collect 3,500 homes in a five day week. This represents 3,500 containers plus 20 percent more for multiple cart users and container damage or failures.

The total number of containers needed for a one-route town is approximately 4,200. That's $210,000 at $50 each - $65,000 more than the truck's cost. Since carts are heavy and unwieldy, you also need a spare truck fitted with semi, automated flippers in case the truck breaks down.

New technology, leaner times and competition has made the modern, competitive operator more versatile, creative and hungry. Two excellent examples of this new breed follow.

Micheal Woodruff Environmental Services Manager Thornton, Colo. In 1991, Thornton knew it needed to replace the majority of its aged fleet of manual sideloading collection vehicles.

The city studied its program and services to determine if it should keep its current method of collection and replace the fleet, privatize the operation and get out of the collection business or change the collection method.

From this study, the city determined that automation could increase productivity from the current 375 homes per day per truck to more than 750 homes per day per truck, reduce the number of crew injuries, increase route size and reduce the fleet, add a complete curbside recycling program and increase service levels through the addition of several "special service programs" - all at a cheaper monthly rate.

During the next few months, staff extensively investigated more than 40 municipalities currently operating automated collection systems with more than a dozen locations visited to observe their operations.

In addition, staff visited major automated truck and container manufacturing facilities to examine products. Information also was gathered from cities on public relations programs, resident reactions and pros and cons of the implementation of similar programs.

After the extensive study, field investigations and the cities bid process, Thornton purchased 33-yard automated collection vehicles and 101-gallon, universal-style automated containers. The trucks provided an extra reach to handle collection on routes where parked cars were a problem, a daily occurrence on our routes.

Our operators requested another feature - a joystick for arm operations. Containers were selected based on design, durability, reputation/track record and price.

Our program was de-signed to be implemented in two phases which split the customer base into two parts, with half of our 12,000 customers receiving the new automated service in October 1992 with the remaining customers receiving the service in April 1993.

This minimized the impact on our residents and allowed the city a higher level of personal contact with customers during the initial stages. This also allowed us to troubleshoot during the first phase for an even smoother transition for phase two customers.

This proved invaluable to both the city and customers. In the months preceding the two implementation phases, more than 75 public meetings were conducted in each subdivision throughout the community to inform and educate our customers on the upcoming changes to their levels of service.

A hotline was established and staffed 12 hours per day for the first two weeks of the program in each phase to assist with customer questions and concerns.

In addition to the public meetings, weekly ads were placed in the local paper in advance of the phased implementation to alert customers which week they would receive their containers and the start of the new service. City officials secured a spot on the morning television news program to broadcast the program kick-off and first collection.

Our program consists of once weekly automated solid waste collection and monthly curbside co-mingled recycling collection.

We experienced few problems in the two phases of our implementation program; we received less than 25 complaint calls during the entire implementation process. Our hotline received more than 1,000 total calls for additional information during the two phases. All of our public meetings were well attended.

The lack of public resistance to the new program and changes in service levels was the most pleasant surprise that came from the program's implementation. In our conversations with other automated cities, we were told to prepare for a tremendous public outcry against the change in service delivery and expect criticism during the first few months.

None of this materialized. In fact, both staff and elected officials were often complimented on their progressive and futuristic approach to the changes in service.

I feel the most important lesson to be learned from our experience is to do your homework and be fully prepared prior to jumping into automated collection.

Contact those using automated collection and equipment manufacturers. Ask for demonstrations of products and user lists, talk to residents and educate and prepare them for the changes about to be made before you implement.

Jack Nydam Director of Public Works Brick Township, N.J.

Brick Township is a large community with a population of 100,000, servicing 27,500 single residential homes and 15,000 apartments and condos. Here, the old cliche "if it's not broke don't fix it" doesn't always apply.

When I came into this position in 1990, our sanitation trucks were two to three years old. In 1996, we had to decide to replace them, privatize or automate. Having researched the automated system for the past four years, I felt this was the best solution for the township's needs.

Considering our fleet's condition, which required a driver and two laborers to operate, I proposed to automate - a complete revision of our operation.

Rather than implement the program in two to three years, our equipment situation forced us to finish implementing the system in one year. As it happened, we were able to accomplish this task in just two months after ordering the trucks and cans.

Convincing the town fathers of the one-time expense took some doing. The program cost more than $2 million, but the long-term outcome would be a great savings: There would be less manpower, decreased workers compensation, a cleaner town, less litter pickup and no overtime due to faster refuse pickup.

By being able to cut a 24-man sanitation roster to seven men, it enabled other services in this department to be upgraded where manpower was lean.

There were no layoffs. The disgruntled employees who thought they were losing their jobs found that they enjoyed working with the Road and Parks departments rather than throwing garbage into the back of a truck.

Finding the right equipment for the job was quite an intense fact-finding procedure. We knew what we needed: a truck that would compact 10 tons or more, have an 81 foot reach and full ejection for dumping. Our goal was to have each truck pick up 700 homes daily, make one trip to the landfill, be maintained, washed and parked within an eight-hour period. We picked a low-entry chassis with right-hand drive only and a 27 yard capacity body.

Our trucks were ordered with polished aluminum wheels, air conditioning, AM/FM radio and CD for the comfort of our operators which has proven beneficial as the operators have taken pride in maintaining their trucks.

When we were looking into the type of containers we needed, I was surprised at the number of manufacturers. Since everyone offered a 10-year warranty, you would think that it would not make much difference which company was chosen. How-ever, this is not true.

Researching each can manufacturer, ensuring he would still be around in 10 years was taken into consideration and the components of the can, durability and if and when any maintenance had to be performed were all considered. Then, we had each manufacturer present his product to the mayor, council and 10 residents before awarding any bid.

We also have a recycling program where five different items are collected weekly at the curb. Our program has a 70 percent participation rate. Both bulk items and green waste are picked up on a call-in basis.

We notified our residents of the change in March 1996. Brochures were given out, the program was described on a local cable channel and demonstrations were given at every event possible. The township had knowledge of the program well before the initial implementation began.

As always, people are afraid of change. Now that the program has been running for three full months, the feedback has been positive. The key to successful programs is education.

The advent of multi-camera systems has increased the safety of automated collection operations.

As many as three cameras monitoring various angles can be installed on automated side load trucks:

* One camera mounted on the back provides the traditional rear view. Experience has shown that rear-mounted cameras substantially reduce backing accidents.

* A second camera located on theright side views the automated arm as it grabs the container and begins to lift it into the hopper. This camera eliminates the need for the operator to look over his shoulder or swivel in his seat to observe the arm in operation. Instead, the entire operation is visible in front of him, on the monitor.

* A third camera can be positioned inside the hopper to allow the driver to watch the container dump its contents. The advantage of this vantage point is that improper or hazardous materials placed in the container can be detected and dealt with before they are compacted and taken to a disposal site.

To insure that vehicle operators take full advantage of each camera, some advanced systems incorporate automatic switching that allow drivers to automatically select the appropriate camera depending upon the stage of operation.

For example, the rear-mounted camera is displayed on the monitor when the vehicle is moving forward or backward. The system will switch to the side camera when the automatic arm is activated. As the container is lifted into the hopper, the system then switches to the camera inside the hopper.

While a driver can manually override the system to view the hopper or side arm cameras when the truck is moving forward, he cannot override the rear-mounted camera when the truck is in reverse.

Some systems allow the driver to view two or more cameras simultaneously by using dedicated camera and monitor systems for each position or by displaying two or more images on a single monitor.

Dedicated systems have the advantage of full-screen, high-resolution images for easier viewing and quicker driver reaction.

A drawback to this feature is finding sufficient cab space to mount more than one monitor. The answer may be smaller, 5-inch monitors that can be mounted side-by-side.

Simultaneous viewing on a single monitor is accomplished through split-screen or picture-in-picture technology. Here, the image's quality and quantity may be sacrificed: A typical 4.5- to 7-inch monitor provided with some rear- or side-vision systems may be too small for this function. A 9-inch monitor would be better.

As with any purchase, you should know your needs. Camera features that are important for rear visibility may not be as necessary or beneficial for cameras mounted inside the hopper.

Systems should offer a selection of versatile cameras and monitors that allow you to choose the camera and monitor combination for each angle.

Drivers of automated collection trucks with left- and right-side steering must be able to view the monitor from either driving position. Swivel mounting brackets enable the driver to manually turn the monitor. Once in position, the bracket should hold the monitor steady even over rough roads.

A proper field of view is an important consideration in camera selection. Rear-mounted cameras should have wide visibility to cover as much of the blind spot as possible. Side-mounted cameras that focus on the automated arm may require a narrow view. Consider systems that have camera or lens selections that offer a variety of views.

One method to increase the available view with the same camera is by moving the camera image. For example, drivers can electronically tilt the camera's image to see more of the truck or the road behind. For a camera inside the hopper, this feature could insure that the entire hopper is visible.

While traditional rear vision systems provide an image equivalent to a rear view mirror, the camera image is inverted so that objects on the right appear on the right side of the monitor.

However, this inverted image may not be desirable for cameras positioned inside the hopper or watching the automated arm. A driver looking over his shoulder to watch the automated arm has a normal image through his own eyes. A system that displays a reverse image on the monitor produces an opposite image.

To avoid confusion and potential accidents, use a system that allows each camera to display the appropriate view - mirror or normal - independent of the other cameras.

Technological developments have improved camera and monitor safety systems, expanding their uses beyond the basic rear-view system.

Taking advantage of this technology requires an analysis of your fleet needs, a careful review of the systems available and the companies that support these systems.

Trucks: eight Peterbilts, model 320 with Leach Curbtenders, automated

Services provided: recycling, commercial waste collection, residential waste collection, waste disposal

Number of employees: 100

Types of containers used: Schaefer Systems containers, 22,000 95-gallon; 500 65 gallon and 100 35-gallon

Number of collection customers: residential: 27,500; commercial: 350

Service area: The program is based on 22,000 residential. 3,500 senior communities will be in place in 1997.

Trucks: seven white Volvos with Wayne Curbtender 33-yard automated bodies; one white Volvo with Leach Curbtender 32-yard automated body Services provided: recycling; residential waste collection; household hazardous waste collection; curbside motor oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze and battery collection; curbside Christmas tree collection; fall special leaf collection; curbside, weekly bulk item collection; curbside white goods collection/recycling; four free resident/customer landfill days per year; four weeks of free bulk item collection per year; handicap/elderly push-out/pull-in container assistance; one-week holiday boxes and wrapping overflow collection; and one-time free new move-in box collection for new customers

Number of employees: one division manager, one field supervisor and 9 equipment operator IIs

Types of containers used: 101-gallon and 64-gallon Toter "universal style" automated containers

Number of customers: Approximately 14,500 residential customers within a 26-square mile city limits area. Currently investigating getting into the commercial customer business on a limited basis. Service area: City of Thornton, population approximately 68,000

Company quote: "We operate a full-cost accounting program and enterprise fund. There is no tax money for program operations, only customer user fees. Service by city is not mandatory. However more than 97 percent of eligible households use the city service. If a customer does not want our service, they do not pay for it. We provide one-a-week collection at a cost to customers of $11.50 per month, which includes recycling and all special programs and services listed."

* Bridgeport Refuse Trucks. Automated side loaders. Contact: Trey Stamps, P.O. Box 217, Bridgeport, Texas 76426-0217. (817) 683-5477. Reference: Gilton Solid Waste Management, 1722 Monc Dr., Medesto, Calif. 95354. (209) 522-3781, Ext. 113. Fax: (209) 527-0422.

* Clarion. Surround site cameras. Contact: Dafna Kaplan, 661 West Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, Calif. 90247. (310) 217- 4267. E-Mail: [email protected]

* El Monte Plastics. Automated refuse hauling and recycling systems. Contact: Glen Sanders, 1372 Sierra Alta, Tustin, Calif. 92780-2836. (714) 544-9599. Fax: (714) 730-7272.

* Hardy Instruments Inc. Computerized collection software. Contact: Kari Guentner, 3860 Calle Fortunada, San Diego, Calif. 92123-1825. (619) 278-2900. Fax: (619) 278-6700. E-mail: [email protected] com

* Intec Video Systems Inc. Cameras. Contact: David Nama, 23301 Vista Grande, Laguna Hills, Calif. 92653-1497. (714) 859-3800. Fax: (714) 859-3178.

* IPL Products Ltd. Environmental recycling boxes, wheel carts and bio-carts. Contact: IPL, 10 Forbes Rd., Northboro, Mass. 01532. (508) 351-6050. Fax: (508) 351-6044.

* Kann Manufacturing Corp. Recycling and refuse bodies. Contact: Jim Niehaus, 210 Regent St., Guttenberg, Iowa 52052. (319) 252-2035. Fax: (319) 252-3069.

* Labrie Equipment. Automated side loaders and recycling bodies. Contact: John Izzi, 175 Rte. DuPont, St. Nicholas, Que., Canada G7A 2T3 (800) 463-6638. Fax: (418) 831-5255.

* Leach Company. Curbtender. Contact: Matt Lamb, 2737 Harrison St., Oshkosh, Wis. 54903-2608. (414) 231-2770. Fax: (414) 231-2712.

* Lodal Inc. Side loaders. Contact: Lodal, 620 North Hooper St., Kingsford, Mich. 49802-2315. (906) 779-1700.

* Manco Engineering & Equipment Co. Ltd. Automated side-loading arms. Contact: Ross Williams, P.O. Box 58609 Greenmount, Aukland, New Zealand. Phone: 0064-9-2749862. Fax: 0064-9-2739148.

* Otto Industries Inc. Two and three cubic yard commercial front loader containers and lifting mechanisms. Contact: Cathy Keretsis, 12700 General Dr., Charlotte, N.C. 28273. (704) 588-9191. Fax: (704) 588-5250.

* Plastopan. Automated refuse and recycling carts. Contact: Plastopan, 812 East 59th St., Los Angeles, Calif. 90001. (213) 231-2225. Fax: (213) 2068.

* Rehrig Pacific Co. Roll out carts and recycling containers. Contact: Bill Mashy, 4010 East 26th St., Los Angeles, Calif. 90023. (800) 421-6244. Fax: (213) 269-8506.

* Ruckstell California Sales. Split containers. Contact: Dick Townley, P.O. Box 12543, Fresno, Calif. 93778. (209) 233-3277. Fax: (209) 233-9844.

* Schaefer Systems International Inc. Refuse and recycling containers. Contact: Michael L. Knaub, 10021 Westlake Dr., Charlotte, N.C. 28273. Reference: Brick Township, 401 Chambers Bridge Rd., Brick, N.J. 08724. (704) 588-2150. Fax: (704) 588-1862.

* Scranton Manufacturing Company. Rear loaders, side loaders, satellite, automated side loaders. Contact: Mike McLaughlin. 101 State St., Scranton, Iowa 51462. (800) 831-1858. Fax: (712) 652-3399.

* Toter Inc. 32-, 64- and 96-gallon carts. Contact: Toter, 841 Meachan Rd., Statesville, N.C. 28677. (800) 424-0422. Fax: (704) 878-0734. E-Mail: [email protected]

* Zarn Inc. Carts for semi- and fully-automated lifter systems. Contact: Mel Paterline 1001 N.E. Market St., Reidsville, N.C. 27320. (800) 678-2278. Fax: (910) 342-7013.