Pushing the Envelope

Moving, spreading and covering trash expediently can make the difference between a well-managed landfill and one that struggles. With each charge into a freshly dumped mountain of trash, dozers, scrapers and loaders handle abrasive, corrosive and awkward materials. Consequently, selecting the right equipment can mean the difference between building profits up or scraping them away.

Performance Is Job One

Over the years, manufacturers have improved the heavy iron found at today's landfills, increasing the ability to resist damage. Guards that protect components and self- cleaning designs reduce downtime, improve maintainability and increase performance. Additionally, components have been strengthened to withstand the rigors of operating on uneven surfaces and different material types.

Operator comforts also have improved. Environmentally controlled cabs provide positive airflow to reduce dust and odors. Air conditioning, ergonomically designed seats and controls, and amenities such as cup holders, sound systems and lighting also help to increase driver productivity by reducing fatigue.

Safety hasn't been overlooked; today's cabs have been designed to protect drivers during a rollover.

The Right Machine

Yet selecting the appropriate combination of features and manufacturer support still can be daunting. With several manufacturers, each offering five or six machines, you must do your homework first before you buy.

“We follow market trends through reading and research, and of course talking with other operations,” says Mark Russell, the city of Columbia, Mo.'s landfill superintendent. “We determine how those variables — haul distance, material type, etc. — might apply to our operation.”

Columbia operates a 500- to 600-ton per day facility using 14 people and six pieces of heavy equipment. Recently, the city purchased a hydraulic excavator, a new machine for landfill operations.

Previously, the city used scrapers. “What made the deal was when we needed a rental to do cell excavation and site work.” According to Russell, the city could move more soil with an excavator truck, and no scraper fleet was available to rent, “so the market participated in what we ended up with,” he says.

The challenge for Waste Management Inc., Houston, which operates more than 300 landfills, is specifying the right machines to minimize equipment variability, while maximizing options to meet local needs. The first step, says Bryan Monk, director of heavy equipment, is putting together a cross-functional team.

“We have members from field organizations, and also different departments within the corporate office,” Monk says. “We look at what we need from the equipment and we have some options … for different sites. We want … equipment to handle the harsh environment and [be equipped with] waste handling and cooling packages that can handle the high amount of contaminants. This harsh environment stresses equipment more than normal dirt applications.”

To help, Waste Management has developed corporate-wide specifications for their rumbling behemoths, as part of a larger effort the company undertook when evaluating its suppliers, says Stan Ganderson, strategic sourcing manager for heavy equipment. The company uses a basic model in its supplier evaluations that include five components:

  • Product and technology leadership;
  • Service and support leadership;
  • Quality;
  • Delivery and lead time; and
  • Total cost and total cost productivity.
  • The right equipment also should ac-commodate future needs. Currently, Riverside County, Calif., oversees six active landfills that use 29 dozers, 21 scrapers and eight loaders/backhoes. Because the 5,000-ton per day system expects significant growth, the county chose new equipment with larger capabilities.

    Last fiscal year, managers purchased three large compactors, says Joe McCann, principal engineer. The county selected this equipment because the manufacturer was the lowest responsive bidder that met the engine specification requirements consistent with the rest of Riverside's fleet, McCann says. “It appeared to us that [they] would be the best selection with the increases in tonnage [we anticipate] at some of the major sites.”

    Environment also played a role in the purchase. “Some equipment in the desert was nearing retirement,” McCann says. “The operating environment weighs heavily in our decision, so if [the equipment] can fit in our budget, we will try to make it work.”

    Soft Specs, Hard Costs

    Many manufacturers offer warranty and financing options, but most organizations purchase the machines outright. “Typically, we buy equipment using cash; we don't lease,” says Scott Smith, landfill administrator for Iowa's Boone County landfill. “We budget from year-to-year for equipment replacement.”

    Smith is more concerned with specialized manufacturer warranty and maintenance programs. “In one case, we usually get two 40-yard rolloffs of sandpaper waste per day, and don't get the undercarriage life that other facilities might,” he says. The undercarriage has to be replaced every 21/2 years, which can be “tough to budget for, especially if other things go wrong.”

    Smith says the costs have spiked as high as $38,000, so he looked for a manufacturer that could help even out costs over the machine's life. The chosen dealer offered a five-year customer service agreement, with the county paying an hourly rate to use the machine.

    “The [manufacturer is] responsible for maintenance and replacement of the undercarriage system,” Smith says. “That allows us to budget over five years without the peaks and valleys. It also probably will mean more timely maintenance and replacement.”

    Waste Management selectively uses extended warranties and maintenance agreements to maximize equipment value, and to ensure repairs are handled either by the company's staff or the manufacturer.

    “It depends on the repair type,” Monk says. “A major repair is outsourced to the original equipment suppliers as often as possible. [Repairs] are not our core business, and most often the dealers can better perform that function. We have sites that outsource daily maintenance, as well.”

    Smith always requires a dealer franchise guarantee. “Sometimes the dealer has given up its franchise and left us orphaned,” Smith says. “We now have penalties if they do that — especially if we weren't notified.”

    Service is the largest part of any purchase, Smith adds. “Why make life frustrating? Build it into the performance spec.”

    To the Future

    Onboard diagnostic computers will continue improving, leading to better maintenance practices, Monk says.

    “It provides an excellent training. You can review the machine's functions and show the operator what's happening,” he says. “These components can lower your operating costs. They're becoming an integral part of some of the supplier agreements.”

    Some manufacturers offer global positioning systems (GPS), but the costs generally are high, Russell says. “I see GPS's applicability, but the cost keeps us from getting it right now,” he says.

    Alternative fuels also may make in-roads into off-road equipment. Some landfills already have used methane to fuel their equipment.

    Selecting the right equipment boils down to understanding the current and future needs of your site. Operators should consider costs, evaluate their expectations and desires for equipment reliability and dealer support.

    “See the equipment in a real world situation,” Smith suggests. “It doesn't end when you accept a bid. That's the beginning. It's not the amount you write a check for, it's what that check is going to provide over the machine's life.”

    Lynn Merrill is the director of public services for the city of San Bernardino, Calif.