Equipment Efficiency

To the landfill layman, dozers, loaders and scrapers look like an army of giant mechanical insects pushing and prodding waste into place while other members of the colony hover nearby.

But landfill professionals know better. Heavy equipment is the lifeblood of a successful landfill operation. Equipment can preserve time and air space — the two most valuable assets a landfill has to offer.

Making proper equipment purchases requires a combination of knowing the intricacies of your individual landfill program and combining them with the latest industry technology. The goal is to get as close to efficiency perfection as possible.

Let's Make a Deal!

Once you've decided to purchase landfill equipment, a host of other factors must be considered: New? Used? Financing? Warranties? Customer-service agreements? The list goes on, but each decision ultimately affects a landfill's economic and operational bottom line.

Local governments typically purchase equipment through public procurement processes. The result is that the lowest price prevails unless bid specifications are written to compare equipment on an apples-to-apples basis. Un-like their private counterparts, municipal landfill owners don't have the flexibility and latitude to shop around and negotiate for the best equipment at the lowest price.

“However, governmental agencies also get a governmental interest rate, which can make a big difference in the purchase process,” says Rhey Houston, general sales manager for Knoxville, Tenn.-based Stowers Machinery Corp., a Caterpillar affiliate.

Whether in the public or private realm, purchasing new equipment allows for more creative financing options, longer warranties and stronger after-sales support.

“Finance options are packaged to add value to the sale,” Houston explains.

Caterpillar Financial Services Corp., Nashville, Tenn., offers buyers several purchase, lease and rental plans. One of the most popular financing options for construction and demolition (C&D) landfill owners is a skip payment plan. During the winter months when construction projects aren't as abundant as they are during good-weather months, Caterpillar computes an interest rate that's blended into the total equipment payment.

“[C&D] landfill owners make a ton of money in June and July, but then business slows in December and January,” Houston says. “By being able to skip a payment in the slower months, the landfill owner doesn't hurt from a cash flow perspective.”

Other payment options include deferred first payments and payments in arrears, instead of in advance. Additional value-added packages usually included in the total purchase price are extended and bumper-to-bumper warranties, and customer service agreements, the most elaborate being a Total Maintenance and Repair (TMR) program.

“When you pay for a piece of equipment, you can request that the purchase price reflect a service and maintenance program that becomes the total responsibility of the equipment dealer,” Houston explains. “It's a subjective program because certain pieces of landfill equipment are more labor-intensive than others, but it's all based on equipment utilization and application.”

Other customer-service agreements can be crafted to reflect parts availability and lost downtime guarantees. For example, if a machine breaks down and needs a part, the owner can negotiate a replacement within a certain time or it's free, Houston says. If the owner negotiates a guarantee that a machine will be up and running 98 percent of the time and it goes down, then the dealer will have to get it running or loan the operator a piece of equipment at no cost until the machine is fixed.

Maximized Machines, Minimized Labor

Determining equipment size and capacity are critical issues, especially if landfill owners want to manage their equipment instead of the equipment managing them.

“If you purchase equipment that's too small, one of two things is going to happen,” Houston says. “You'll either end up trading it in earlier than anticipated for a larger piece of equipment, which throws a monkey wrench into your long-term financing plan. Or, you have to add a second machine to your landfill operations, which means additional cost in the form of labor and benefits.”

“When you pay for a piece of equipment, you can request that the purchase price reflect a service and maintenance program that becomes the total responsibility of the equipment dealer.”

Every good landfill operator yearns to find the hidden formula to efficiency and perfection. “I've analyzed what every piece of equipment in our fleet costs the company per ton,” says Matt Dillard, vice president of operations for Santek Environmental Inc., Cleveland, Tenn. “If there are features being designed to make the equipment and operator more efficient, I want to know about them.”

Houston says Caterpillar and its peers constantly assess innovations that make the equipment faster, more controllable and more fuel-efficient. “Our goal is to make the operator more comfortable so instead of an eight-hour day, he can work a 10-hour day,” he says.

New cabs include air-suspension seats to keep the operator better rested and relaxed. Ergonomic features include high-tech steering systems for heavy equipment. Instead of a steering wheel, operators use a joystick, which limits physical stress.

Although these features increase sticker price, regulatory-driven innovations also present efficiency opportunities.

“When we were forced to change our fuel systems to meet air-emission standards, it cost us more money to manufacture the same piece of equipment,” Houston says, “so, we had to add value to the machine.”

Caterpillar redesigned its fuel systems, which resulted in a higher purchase price, but the same piece of equipment became 20 percent more efficient in fuel consumption, thanks to a stronger and faster engine.

Electronic Edges and Eagle Eyes

Evaluating electronic features currently offered in heavy equipment can reduce operator error and increase operational efficiencies. Programmed power settings, for example, are cutting-edge technology that enables landfill owners to pre-set equipment to meet the varying demands of fluctuating waste volumes. A low-volume day results in an excavator being operated at a lower power setting, saving fuel and maintenance costs. A high-volume day sees the same excavator being operated at higher power settings to meet the demands of the increased waste stream.

“Program technology hasn't completely spread through the product lines,” Houston says. “It's available on excavators because they more adequately lend themselves to power settings. But, I believe you'll see that type of programming filtering its way to other equipment types.”

Once relegated to the maintenance garage, diagnostic checks now are possible in the field through electronic control programs on equipment. Mechanics and their technical support can run a set of diagnostic checks directly from the equipment, which are downloaded onto laptop computers. Fault codes immediately indicate the source of equipment problems. Instead of days, troubleshooting can be done in mere hours.

According to Houston, equipment owners typically pay their dealers by the hour to troubleshoot, but diagnostic time has been shortened because it's done in the field, resulting in a lower operating cost per ton to the operator.

Electronic tattletale modes also are giving owners and dealers insight as to how operators should care for equipment every day. Dating back to when trucking industry semi-owners wanted to know why their new tractors were blowing engines, the same electronic eye is being installed in compactors and excavators.

“It tells the time and date to the exact minute, so landfill owners can back-track to who was operating the equipment at the exact time of equipment failure,” Houston says. “It's not designed to be judge, jury and executioner. It's designed to let equipment managers manage the equipment instead of the equipment managing them.”

Rebuilding from the Nuts Up

Certified rebuilt equipment and parts are giving landfill owners a third purchase and replacement option. The rebuilding process is so extensive that the equipment receives a new serial number because it's certified as new, although it's typically not warranteed. A similar process applies to rebuilt parts.

“The core machine is designed to run for a lifetime while the components are designed to be rebuilt for a lifetime,” Houston says.

In more intense applications such as landfilling, rebuilt equipment makes good economic sense because, regardless of its birthdate, landfill equipment must withstand excessive wear and tear. A certified rebuild can involve a single component such as an engine or transmission, or the entire machine.

The machine is disassembled piece by piece. Parts are measured to ensure they meet new manufacturer specifications, or they're replaced. Then, the machine is cleaned, painted and reassembled. The cost to purchase a certified rebuild is generally half the price of a new piece of equipment.

“We've taken three of our existing compactors and had them rebuilt,” Santek's Dillard says. “They've performed just as well as new compactors, but better yet, they cut the cost of purchasing a new replacement in half.”

Rebuilt parts can save landfill owners thousands of dollars if the part being replaced doesn't have a wear surface. For example, a transmission casing or engine block that's damaged would be “unbelievably expensive to replace new,” Houston says. “But since it doesn't have wear surfaces, a rebuilt casing is a better value.”

Overall, Houston says, the solid waste management industry has demanded that equipment manufacturers remain innovative with their approach to new technology and replacement parts.

“We're introducing new products into our program every 18 months, which, compared to 10 to 15 years ago, is a lightspeed improvement,” Houston admits. “In the past, we over-designed a machine. We'd have a product that would run forever, and because it was dependable, we'd keep it in the system for 20 years. Now, the industry sees technology as accessible and demands that it be added to equipment.”

Cheryl Dunson is a free-lance writer based in Cleveland, Tenn.