Not-So-Risky Business

You can learn a lot from Joseph "Bud" Nicoletti. You can learn how a few vehicle innovations can lead to higher productivity and lower operating costs. You can learn how to increase the longevity of your equipment. And you can learn what it takes to achieve these goals.

"We're not afraid to push the envelope and take calculated risks on innovative refuse/recovery equipment and have found that buying for the life cycle of the vehicle is the most efficient and cost-effective way to operate a fleet," Nicoletti says.

As the commissioner of public works and city engineer for White Plains, N.Y., which has a resident population of 50,000 that swells to 250,000 during the day, Nicoletti is responsible for spec'ing and maintaining nearly 400 pieces of equipment.

The fleet consists of 38 refuse packers, 35 dump trucks, 45 light-duty trucks, 12 street sweepers, two tractors, three trailers (two flats and one dump), 75 police cars and motorcycles, 18 pieces of fire apparatus, 8 aerial buckets and two bulldozers. In addition, the fleet's off-road equipment consists of loaders, compost processors, leaf vacuums, black-top pavers and rollers.

These vehicles are maintained and, in part, constructed at the city's central Department of Public Works (DPW) garage. This 35,000-square-foot facility includes a machine shop and metal fabrication operation, as well as an area for maintaining the fleet, which provides a variety of municipal services. A superintendent, two foremen and 20 technicians oversee the facility's operations, which also include a 39-foot paint booth and a body repair shop.

According to Nicoletti, frame length and wheelbases are modified, and bodies are routinely mounted in-house. Chassis are re-used after a particular body is past its service life, although some bodies that outlast the chassis are re-mounted. The shop carries a $300,000 parts inventory including tires, and is controlled by a bar code computer system.

The Refuse Fleet Over the years, many changes and innovations have been made to White Plains' refuse units, which consist of four 37-yard front loaders, 30 25-yard rear loaders and four 31-yard rear loaders.

"On the 25-yard rear-loading refuse packers we formerly spec'd 12,000-pound front axles and 40,000-pound rear tandem axles," Nicoletti explains. "Now we spec 14,000-pound fronts and 25,000-pound drive axle (with no-spin) with a 16,000-pound self-steering tag axle."

He says the tags use 315/80R22.5 J wide-based tubeless tires on 9-inch disc wheels.

According to Nicoletti, the benefits of the new specs include $2,000 less initial investment; 1,000 pounds less weight; two fewer wheels; less parasitic loss with no gears and less tire scrubbing. Also, the effective wheelbase is reduced by 26 inches to 204 inches, resulting in a tighter turning radius. As long as the trucks are not operated off-road, the no-spin axle more than compensates for the loss of tandem dual drive in inclement weather, he says.

"We also have unique rear-loading packers where we spec Leach Beta units with high-strength low alloy (HSLA) steel wheels that are tougher yet lighter in weight than carbon steel," he says. "This is combined with a higher-pressure hydraulic system, which can out-pack our previous units, yet they weigh 2,000 pounds less and are easier to service owing to the smaller lighter hydraulic cylinders."

Contrary to expectations, Nicoletti says White Plains hasn't experienced any reduction in hydraulic component life.

"I don't think this has ever been done in a municipal fleet," Nicoletti adds.

Because the fleet operates in a city of 10 square miles with 135 miles of roads, White Plains' vehicles do not accumulate many miles. For instance, the refuse trucks may only run 2,000 to 3,000 miles a year. Nicoletti says most of the vehicles are seasonally maintained, and the once-a-year inspections, fluid changes and other upkeep is done in the summer.

All of Nicoletti's vehicles include Allison transmissions, which, when necessary, is the only replacement and repair work that White Plains outsources. The city handles all other maintenance and repairs itself. Daily driver vehicle inspection write-ups pinpoint problems before they develop further, Nicoletti says.

So far, handling maintenance and repairs in-house has proven to be cost-effective as well as noteworthy. In 1996, Nicoletti's department was the first and only municipal government in the state to be honored with the New York State Governor's Award for Pollution Prevention, issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

It reads in part: "The city has reduced air pollution dramatically by increasing the overall fuel efficiency of the general fleet and using cleaner-burning alternative fuels."

Focus on Energy Efficiency According to Nicoletti, White Plains accomplished this reduction in vehicle fuel consumption by using specific energy efficient policies, components and designs, which include:

* Anti-Idling - A written policy for all city vehicle operators reminds them of the inefficiency of prolonged engine idling. The city now uses an electronic engine shut-off device that operates after the vehicle is motionless for a preset time.

* Lightweight Body Components - Aluminum and/or fiberglass have proven to be a durable material replacement for steel truck cabs, dump and utility bodies, suspensions, wheels, air and fuel tanks. Reducing vehicle weight by as much as 2 tons significantly increases legal payload capacity and fuel economy, as well as prolongs tire and brake lining life. Lightweight high-pressure hydraulic systems are used in lieu of larger, heavier, medium pressure units.

* Energy Efficient Drive Lines - Several vehicle powertrain design improvements have contributed to lower fuel consumption. These include modulating or electronic cooling fans, uncommon 6x2 drive axle/tag axle combinations (to replace standard 6x4 tandem truck axles), smaller high-efficiency diesel engines, and the use of low-friction synthetic transmission and drive axle lubricants.

* Alternative Fuels - Using alternative fuels has proven an effective way to reduce air pollution. Specifically, the city's three alcohol cars, two-battery electric and two propane vehicles have been tested to meet federal emissions testing protocol. Six more alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) have been added to the fleet.

Overall, the savings in fuel and the increase in durability and reliability from the city's energy efficient initiatives have more than offset the slightly higher initial costs of using premium materials, Nicoletti says. In addition, the city's computerized preventive maintenance program helps keep vehicles tuned to a peak state, lowering overall fuel consumption. The less fuel burned per year, the lower the exhaust emissions level.

Dumps for Road Debris White Plains also maintains its own dump trucks, which are used primarily for plow and salt service. Five are tandems, and 15 are four-wheel drives (Marmon-Harrington axles). The single axles are 8 to 10 yards; the tandems are 18 to 20 yards and used for spreading de-icing salt or black top, and picking up debris from the roads, Nicoletti says.

To keep these trucks running smoothly in inclement weather, polyliners on the dump bodies help with black top clean-up and don't require nearly as much solvent, according to Nicoletti. In addition, the cargo slides off more quickly, requiring less tilting of the dump body. This is a plus when using long dump bodies under low-hanging branches in urban or suburban road re-paving, he says.

The city also found mid-range diesel power in the 210 to 250 horsepower range to be perfectly suited to a municipal operation, and this range provides the benefits of lower initial cost, lighter curb weight and reduced operating costs. The transmissions and drivelines also last longer because they are not being punished by a big bore diesel.

But costs are not White Plains' only concern. Nicoletti switched from steel to aluminum tailgates because he found it to be almost impossible for two men to lift steel tailgates. Now aluminum tailgates are used even on some dump bodies that must be made of steel, such as trucks used to haul rocks or steel roadway plates.

Currently, White Plains has four Freightliner Business Class FL-80s chassis for packer bodies on order. These refuse chassis have a set-back axle, left-hand primary steering location, and CFE 210-hp at 2200 rpm diesel engines. Major components include Allison MD3060P six-speed transmissions and Meritor rear axles, front axles and cam brakes. [See "Freightliner Model FL-80 Refuse Chassis Specs" above.]

Innovation and Improvement White Plains' economical and award-winning operation largely is due to Nicoletti's dedication to innovation and improvement. Nicoletti, a licensed professional engineer with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, has a history of forward-thinking decision-making.

Prior to joining the city in 1985, he worked as the assistant chief engineer for Volvo Buses, when Volvo brought trucks, buses and diesel engines into the United States. In 1985, he began work with the city's DPW as deputy commissioner and was promoted to commissioner in 1992, responsible for city-owned property and vehicles, and the public water supply. Throughout his career, Nicoletti has introduced many different configuration designs to make vehicles more productive, while lowering purchase, operating and maintenance costs.

For example, he decided to relocate the normally trailer-mounted leaf vacuum machines to the front of each dump truck using the snow plow hitch to improve visibility and increase safety and productivity.

Other changes White Plains has incorporated under Nicoletti's watch include improvements in warranty recovery, fuel economy and shop safety.

"This is not the most efficient part of the city's vehicle operation because timely service on the refuse fleet is difficult to get," Nicoletti says. "We do a lot of warranty repairs ourselves - we used to get the parts free from Ford Heavy Truck Division for some units."

To reduce unnecessary idling, electronic engines are set to turn off after 15 minutes if the vehicle is not moving or the power take-off is not operating. In addition, in 1998 Nicoletti installed a FleetLink fueling system. For the previous system dating from 1987, two cards were needed to activate the pump, one for the vehicle and one for the individual. With FleetLink, a donut-like magnetic coil uses an induction method of transferring information between the vehicle and the pump to begin fueling. The pump turns off in 10 seconds when the nozzle is withdrawn from its mate to prevent unauthorized fuel dispensing.

Nicoletti says his operation also is safety-conscious.

"We have the standard medical and safety equipment, publish right-to-know information and keep after the personnel to use the 10 to 12 overhead exhaust reels even though they may sometimes be a nuisance to hook up," he says. "We have verbal and written warnings for those who violate safety rules."

All the innovations Nicoletti has made in White Plains, both the risky and not-so-risky, have added up to a municipal fleet operation that is a model of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Manufacturer/Model: Freightliner model FL-80

GVW Capacity: 39,000 lbs without tag axle; 55,000 lbs with tag axle

Wheelbase: 204 in.

Engine: CFE 210-hp at 2200 rpm, 2500 governed rpm, 605 lbs/ft at 1440 rpm

Transmission: Allison MD3060P 6-speed, with Refuse Special 1 programming

Rear Axle: Meritor RS-25-160, 7.17 ratio

Front Axle: Meritor FG-941 14,600 lbs

Power Steering: TRW TAS65, frame-mounted, 14,000 lbs max. front axle rating

Main Driveline: Dana Spicer 1710HD half-round yoke

Brakes: Rear - Meritor Qs, cam 16.5 in. x 6-in.

Front - Meritor Qs, cam 16.5 in. x 8 in.

Tires: Rear - Michelin XZE 12R 22.5 16 ply

Front - Michelin XDE A/T 12R 22.5- Hts.

Hubs: Gunite, iron

Wheels: Accuride front and rear, steel, HP10, 22.5 x 825

Air Cleaner: Donaldson, 1-stage

Alternator: Delco 130 amp, 22-SI

Batteries: Delco 12v, 1150 MF, 1250 CCA, (2)

Starter: Delco 12v 41 MT 400 series

Compressor: Bendix 16.5 CFM

Fan Drive: Eaton viscous

Radiator: 720 sq. in., aluminum

A special add-on option spec is the RSS Ridewell Sure-Trac, 16,000 lbs capacity with an "R" type auto reversing kit, 10-bolt ISO hub-piloted wheels 22.5 x 9 with 315/80R 22.5-J tires. Also, an axle to automatic height control leveling valve, mounted 52 in. to the rear of the driveaxle centerline, and s-cam 16.5 x 6 in. brakes.