8TH ANNUAL Software & SCALES SUPPLEMENT: The waste Industry Bytes Back

In the beginning, some solid waste operations poured thousands of dollars into software and scale systems only to find that neither they nor the products they bought were ready for each other.

Today, however, waste management buyers and vendors have changed. Suppliers now produce user friendly systems, made possible in part by the graphical user interface of the Windows 95 operating system and its recent upgrades. And, waste managers, driven by the complex management requirements of growing businesses, have developed profit strategies that incorporate the new technologies.

In short, the waste management industry finally has begun to turn computers, software and scale systems to its advantage.

Zero To 9,000 in Two Years Take the case of Southern Disposal Inc., Walls, Miss., a family business that grew out of president Charles Carr's living room when it was founded in March 1997. The company currently services and manages 9,000 residential accounts and 200 commercial accounts in the northwestern corner of Mississippi and Memphis, Tenn., with nine trucks, including seven rear-loaders; two roll-off trucks; and 120 roll-off containers.

In the company's infancy, Carr hung flyers on doors and earned 550 residential customers in the first few weeks of operation. Jumping from zero to hundreds of accounts in a month created management problems that required help.

Carr says he decided on an accounting management software system by WAM Software Inc., Reno, Nev. Carr's lack of experience with computers required a system backed by strong customer support.

"That was important because we all were computer illiterate when we bought the system," Carr says. "If you don't know anything about computers, you need a company that provides support and a program that you can grow into. My wife and I had never used a computer before. Telephone support taught us to enter accounts, do the billing, handle batch payments, post the accounts and keep everything straight."

Southern uses the system to store customer information, route trucks, manage roll-off container rentals, handle billing and track account ages. Southern also uses the program to track fuel and landfill costs. The system generates reports that correlate all the information giving Southern an accurate cost summary.

"I can hit a button and find out what driver is handling what route with what truck on any given day," Carr says. "If I want to know how much we spent last March on landfill disposal on route three, I key in a query and the system tells me.

However, Carr says he probably only uses about 60 percent of the program's capabilities. Instead, the company gradually learns software features as business increases. For example, the program can flag Southern's management staff when oil changes and other maintenance is required, but the company does not use this feature because its small fleet of trucks are maintained weekly.

"As we grow, we may find a need for this feature," Carr says, as was the case when Southern decided to automate the company's account collection letters to slow paying customers. "We can flag accounts that don't pay, generate collection letters on a regular basis and suspend service on accounts not brought up to date," he explains. Since automation, delinquent account collections have increased 15 percent.

Consequently, Carr believes that the management features eventually will pay back the company's $22,000 initial investment in hardware and software.

The company also saves in payroll costs. For example, Carr has not needed to hire extra clerical help because office operations have been minimized. "Without a system like this, we would need 10 more people," Carr says. "Even then, I'm not sure we could have managed our growth. We went from one rear-loader to seven in 14 months. Routing those trucks manually would have been a nightmare."

Southern now can create routes and alter them with route block moves. Fifty stops on one route can be selected and moved to a new route in a single operation. "The system will keep the stops in the right order as you build new routes," Carr says.

Furthermore, Carr sees on-board scale and computer systems in Southern's future because of the software. "The program will integrate with on-board scales, and as the business gets more competitive and as we get bigger, we may eventually go in that direction."

Tracking the Trash If managing 9,000 customers seems tough, imagine the headaches connected to managing service for 720,000 households with 2.7 million 60- and 90-gallon trash, recycling and green waste containers. That's the challenge faced by the Sanitation Department in the city of Los Angeles.

Two years ago, Los Angeles began a pilot program installing on-board computers in four of its trucks. In 1998, the pilot expanded to 70 trucks. Now the city is negotiating a contract to install on-board computers and software in its entire 800-truck fleet.

The Auto Coach on-board system, from Stone Bennett Corp., Carrollton, Texas, tracks information about all operational and moving truck parts. It also records revolutions per minute, speed, distance traveled, cycle time on the packer, the number of times the automatic arm is engaged, rapid accelerations and decelerations, etc. The data then is sent automatically over a radio system to the base station computer.

At the landfill or transfer station, a driver enters the type of material and its weight with a keypad into the system.

From there, the information can be programmed to report a class of data called exceptions. For example, a truck may stop and idle for a few minutes at a red light. Even though the system records this, the information is not important. On the other hand, suppose a truck stops and idles for five minutes or for 15 minutes four or five times during a route. The system can be set to report such "exceptional" stops to supervisors, who then can determine the reasons for the unscheduled stops to correct problems.

"Summarizing this kind of data into reports for supervisors, management and executives has tremendous potential," says Pouria Abbassi, who set up the pilot while working on special projects for the sanitation department. Abbassi has since left the department and has become a senior system analyst for the city administration. However, he remains familiar with the pilot.

Los Angeles sanitation department's supervisors manage the day-to-day work of 20 to 30 drivers or operators, Abbassi says. When the system is installed, each supervisor will be able to look over a series of daily reports that show the average number of containers collected per hour and the total number for the day. It also will show which trucks failed to meet the standard number of pick-ups per hour and which trucks required overtime.

"All of this information is used by supervisors to manage operators," Abbassi explains. Another set of reports will go to district managers, who oversee several supervisors and their crews. The district manager will review the commodities collected: how many containers of green waste, recycling materials and regular refuse. He also will look for unusual amounts of overtime and evaluate whether or not it was justified based on container weights or the numbers of containers collected.

The system can generate reports that summarize data by month, quarter and year, as well as by district. Executive management will use these reports to evaluate the divisional work, review content, collection rates, total tonnage collected and the time required to travel to and from the landfill, as well as help executives allocate resources in more rational ways, Abbassi says.

The sanitation department's safety and training groups also will use the reports to monitor truck speed throughout the day and, perhaps, question a sudden deceleration or stop. Training managers will look for changes in work flow that may indicate a need for driver or route management training.

The system also will connect to on-board scales, which the Los Angeles sanitation department wants to install. "We're interested in weigh-in-motion, National Type Evaluation Program (NTEP) scales," Abbassi says. However, even if they install NTEP scales, Los Angeles still would not switch to a charge-by-weight collection system.

"Charge-by-weight is a political decision way out in the future," he says. We're interested in scales that will automatically record weights. With a collection operation the size of Los Angeles', there are lots of opportunities for errors. An automatic system can eliminate errors from the system and enable us to monitor landfill charges more accurately and make sure that our trucks aren't overweight."

Managing Commercial Collections On-board computers that assist with residential collection management may drive a move to on-board scale systems, but commercial collectors have taken the opposite approach. They began using scales to audit customer weights and landfill charges, and to prevent overloading. And now, as business increases, commercial collectors are moving toward connecting on-board scales to waste management software applications.

Family owned Solag Disposal Inc., San Juan Capistrano, Calif., is the exception. Solag owns a transfer station and provides commercial and residential collection services for five communities in Southern California between Los Angeles and San Diego with its fleet of approximately 70 trucks. Recyclables go to a privately owned material recovery facility (MRF), and refuse goes to an Orange County, Calif.-owned landfill.

While Solag's owner, Jim Koutroulis, has equipped his roll-off fleet with scales, he has avoided adding on-board computers to manage the company's business.

Instead, Koutroulis has focused on finding scales that do not require continual recalibration.

Then, seven months ago, Koutroulis discovered scales from Weigh-Right Inc., South Hutchinson, Kan., which use position transducers. Koutroulis initially installed 12 scales on key commercial roll-off trucks to manage productivity, and this year, he plans to install five more. "These scales are not technically complicated, and they are not expensive," Koutroulis says. "The installed cost is about $3,600 per truck."

There are two benefits to on-board scale systems. First, the scales prevent overweight tickets. Secondly, the scales help the company justify extra charges to customers.

"When we pick up an overweight roll-off trailer, we can show the customer the readout and explain that this will cause a higher charge at the landfill," Koutroulis says. "We've never had a customer complain about extra charges when we've handled the problem this way. If the extra weight would overload the truck, we won't carry it. Instead, we'll bring another container and have the customer unload the heavy container."

Koutroulis sees little value in connecting his scales to a computerized waste management software application. However, he is considering a system that will enable office personnel to scan drivers' hand-written tickets into his office waste management system to reduce the potential for errors during information transfer.

On the other hand, Smithrite Disposal Ltd., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, uses an integrated on-board scale and computer system to manage commercial collections, as well as to track data and manage operations.

"Landfill fees in Vancouver have gone from insignificant to huge in just eight years - from $6 per metric ton to $65 per metric ton," says Gordon Smith, Smithrite's president.

Consequently, Vancouver haulers decided to bill restaurants, hotels, apartments, heavy industrial facilities, etc., in different rate categories. "We still use categories to estimate fees when first talking to a customer," Smith says, "but on-board scales make it possible to formulate pricing schedules based on average weights within categories."

To this end, three front loaders have been equipped with integrated on-board weigh-in-motion scale and computer systems supplied by Mobile Computing Corporation (MCC), Toronto. The system includes strain gauge cells welded to the sides of the front loader arms, a computer, a two-way radio for voice and data transmission, and a keypad and display for the driver.

Every day, the Smithrite dispatcher transmits routes to the truck's computer via the radio. Drivers also receive hard copies of the day's route, which they use to note exceptions. At a pick-up, the driver punches the "arrive" button on the keypad. The display then tells the driver to "begin lift." As the driver tips the container, the scale records the full weight of the container as it goes up and records the empty weight of the container as it is lowered. The system then records the difference, the driver punches the keypad's "leave" button and the next account on the route is displayed.

Every five minutes throughout the day, the system automatically transmits pick-up data from each front loader to the company's main office. This ensures that reliable data gets into the office system and enables the dispatcher to track each front-loader's location.

Furthermore, the system is flexible so that if a driver does the route out of sequence, he can scroll through the system to bring up the right customer.

"To take account of changes the driver encountered during the day, we have an end-of-day procedure that we go through with every driver to match the hard copy of the route sheet with the information entered into the system," Smith says. This allows drivers to explain extra lifts or "phantom" pick-ups, which will show up on the report when the driver forgets to push the "arrive" button signifying that the account has been picked up.

The data is not used for billing purposes because Smithrite bills flat monthly fees, "so there is no need to transfer data from the system to our accounting system," Smith says. Instead, data is used to help manage Smithrite's commercial collection operations. The company also does not bill by weight because the scales have not been approved for that use.

The most useful report, Smith says, is the customer profitability profile, which will list every lift done for a customer between any two dates. The key figure on the report is the average weight over time. "We [can] go back as far as 15 years, if we want," he says.

"Another report associates revenue with customer activity to tell me if I'm winning or losing on the account."

Keeping and Building Accounts The Public Works Department of State College, Pa., uses on-board scales and a computer system to keep accounts. Because State College is one of the few municipal operations that collects commercial accounts and requires both residents and businesses to pay for their trash collection, it justifies its monopoly in the local waste market by setting prices that are competitive with the private sector.

In pursuit of that goal, five years ago, the department installed an on-board scale and computer system in two of its four front loaders, which will handle the lion's share of commercial pick-ups. The third truck services apartment complexes in outlying areas where weights remain predictable, and the fourth truck is used as a backup.

Before installing the scales, the borough had a billing system under which everyone paid approximately the same amount. "A lot of customers complained that the system was unfair," says Mark Whitfield, public works director.

State College decided to install strain gauge scales welded to the arms of the front loaders. "The scales enabled us to set up seven billing categories and to estimate which category customers should be billed under," Whitfield says. However, "they were accurate one day and off the next by as much as 25 percent. If a customer contested our billing, we couldn't show them data that we believed to be accurate."

Consequently, State College recently replaced its strain gauge scale and on-board computer system with Strategy, San Diego-based Hardy Instrument's load cell weigh-in-motion scale and computer package. The system is NTEP certified and accurate, says Whitfield, who attributes this to load cell technology.

Whitfield also uses the vendor's radio frequency identification (RFID) system, which consists of three components: a reader and antenna mounted on the truck, and a transponder, or tag, mounted onto the container.

With RFID, the antenna emits a constant radio frequency. As the truck nears a container's tag, the frequency activates the tag, sending a signal to the reader to identify the container.

"With our old system, drivers had to stay on a predetermined route and remember to scroll down to the right customer," Whitfield says. With RFID, the driver can run whatever route he wants because the system identifies the container and records the pick up.

The system also simplifies other operations. For example, "if a container is blocked, the driver can mark the account as blocked and we'll follow up with a notice" to explain the situation to the customer, Whitfield says. "If a can is rusted out, the driver can note that with the on-board system and the information goes into our system telling us to replace the container."

In addition to justifying costs to customers, private haulers have found this type of scale system useful in establishing charge-by-weight systems.

About 18 months ago, Ted Carson Disposal, Lancaster, Pa., installed Strategy and set up a marketing program called Cybertrash to build its commercial collection business.

"When people call in shopping for a new hauler, I can quote a rate that includes a monthly service fee and an estimated fee for a certain weight," says Bernie Carson, office manager. "Many of those calling in seem astounded by how much lower our quotes are compared to what they've been paying.

"Yesterday, a potential new customer called asking for a quote. He told me that he was paying $100 a month more than what we would charge, so he's recommending us to his board of directors."

This pattern has characterized Carson's Cybertrash system for the past 18 months, as the company has brought in 60 new commercial accounts, bringing its total commercial roster to 100.

Under the Cybertrash program, customers sign a six month trial contract, instead of the typical multi-year agreement. After six months, if a company is not satisfied, it can go elsewhere. So far, five customers have left after the trial period ended, as their bills rose to unacceptable levels under the charge-by-weight system.

"We didn't want to lose them, but we can't pay to haul their trash either," Carson says.

Some of Lancaster's competitors hope that the Cybertrash program will fall through, but "if it doesn't, a lot of people will find out that they are paying to haul other companies' trash," says Ted Carson, owner. "I think this is the way for a small company to build its business."

New Levels Of Automation Other waste businesses agree that today's on-board scales and computer technology are leading waste management companies to attempt levels of automation rarely contemplated even two or three years ago.

Miller Waste Systems, Markham, Ontario, Canada, recently installed a comprehensive on-board scale, computer and wireless communication system on five front-end loaders following a year-long pilot of the system, which was supplied by MASS Corp., Markham.

Simultaneously, Miller is implementing a productivity management system from MASS along with an accounting system by Transcomp Systems Inc., Irvine, Calif., to service its 200,000 residential households and approximately 3,500 to 4,000 commercial accounts in the Toronto region. The company also owns two transfer stations, five MRFs and a composting facility in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"The pilot was impressive," says Ron MacKinnon, operations manager for Miller. "We've had on-board scale systems in the past, and these are very accurate. You can put a one-pound bolt on the forks anywhere and the scale will register one pound."

MacKinnon also likes the weigh-in-motion capability. "You don't have to stop to get the weight; it's all done in one fluid motion," he says.

"This system answers a lot of our concerns surrounding scale systems, MacKinnon continues. "When we analyze our maintenance records, the cost of scale maintenance always has been high. If we can reduce that expense and also have consistent and accurate information, we are ahead of our competitors."

Miller also is installing a base station, an Integrated Technology (IT) Windows-based management software module that transmits customer and routing information to and from vehicles. The software will allow the dispatch office to alert drivers of last minute route changes via e-mail, as well as to send messages in real time. Billing information also can be sent to the base station in real time or directly to the customer confirming pick up times. A reporting feature that evaluates and answers productivity questions also is included.

Additionally, Miller is installing a Transcomp Tower 2001 waste and recycling management system that includes Solomon IV accounting, customer service, billing, electronic mapping, routing, performance graphing, vehicle and container management, and other waste management functions.

"Doing all of this at once is difficult, though," MacKinnon notes. "My advice is to get one system up and running before adding the next. Nevertheless, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and we have great expectations for systems providing this level of auto-mation."

Transforming the Scalehouse For many years, landfill, MRF and composting facilities resisted the move toward advanced technological systems. Integrating scales and computer systems seemed like unnecessary costs. But with the arrival of complex new facilities that handle a range of material processing tasks, this notion is changing.

For example, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the Edmonton Public Works department is developing a multi-use facility on 500 acres of city-owned land adjacent to the city's 200-acre landfill.

This includes the construction of a new MRF owned by Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI), Houston, that will process 30,000 metric tons of material per year; a city-operated aggregate crushing operation that will recycle rubble from municipal construction projects; and a major composting facility constructed by Bedminster Technology, Marietta, Ga., that will serve as an operator upon its completion in June 2000.

A high-tech scalehouse, which is scheduled to open by April 1 along with the MRF, also will manage material flow in and out of the site, by recording and tracking what goes to the landfill, to the compost facility, to the aggregate operation and to the MRF. It also will track materials that leave the facility for sale.

Once fully operational, Edmonton Waste Management Center is expected to provide one of the highest waste diversion rates in North America, with composting and recycling expected to divert as much as 70 percent of the city of Edmon-ton's municipal waste stream.

With the exception of certain commercial loads and homeowner drop-offs, most of the non-recyclables arriving at the facility will go to the composting plant first. Residual composting material then will go to the landfill, as will residuals from the MRF.

This, along with the aggregate processing operation, should enable the landfill's remaining capacity of 1.1 million metric tons to serve Edmonton's needs for another 10 years.

The scalehouse will manage material moving in and out of the facility with two in-bound and two out-bound lanes. Mettler-Toledo Inc., Worthington, Ohio, will provide four 90-foot long, 100-metric ton, low profile, pitless scales, while PC Automation Inc., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada's Geoware system will assist with management functions.

"We will use the scale facility as the main control point for the site," says Hugh Latta, senior project engineer for Edmonton's public works' waste management branch.

One in-bound and one out-bound lane will operate automatically, with the help of a vehicle identification system. As a vehicle approaches the scalehouse, a transponder will send the vehicle's identification number to the system, which will verify against the company's database. An authorized number will be connected to an account, vehicle type and material category, so the system will admit the vehicle to the scale, record the weight and pass the vehicle through to the site.

The out-bound automated lane then will identify the vehicle again, record its empty weight and correlate a delivery with the material category associated with the vehicle in the database. Automatic lanes also will track out-bound vehicles and materials headed for customers purchasing recycled compost, aggregate or some other materials.

The second set of in-bound and out-bound scales will be for vehicles not in the database. In this case, a staff member will handle the transaction and the driver will be required to pay with cash or credit card. Overall, the system will log payments and generate billing documents, and provide reports to help manage the facility's operations.

"There are several reports that we need to review," Latta says. "Because we have wide seasonal fluctuations, we will need to keep up with volumes or weights over time. This information will help us predict waste volumes, staffing and refuse collection equipment.

"We also will look for trends in the material categories moving in and out of the facility," he continues. "Are recyclables going up or down? How about MSW and commercial wastes? We need this information to allocate resources."

Latta says, depending on the level of recyclables, one or two shifts at the MRF may be required. Edmonton can use the reports to determine this and to project revenues.

Indeed, scalehouse technologies are more sophisticated and the trend will continue, predicts Mark Wills, president of PC Automation.

"Technology for these kinds of installations has taken off in the past two years," he says. "Today, as operations become more complex with different kinds of materials, more sophisticated technology is needed to keep track of operations."

This is true for facilities as well as haulers. As collection operations grow to serve more customers who dispose of more types of materials, more sophisticated technology is necessary to ensure efficient and productive operations. Despite the original setbacks, in today's modern world, trash has become technical.

Updating your operation with a software program can transform your paper-congested office to one that works with "click and print" efficiency. A software supplier can sell you a whiz-bang program loaded with features. However, if the program doesn't meet your core needs, it's worthless. Before deciding on the right software for your operation, consider these simple steps.

1. Know your expectations. To successfully upgrade your operation, you must fully understand your needs. Ask yourself why you need a system and determine your expectations for labor efficiency, organization, cost reduction,transaction speed and simplicity. Create a wish list of desired features. For example:

* Ease of use;

* Time savings;

* Customer account information simplification;

* Real-time reporting;

* Multiple scales;

* Backup utilities;

* Networking capabilities;

* Attended/unattended capabilities;

* Flexible material charge tables;

* Special rate (contract price) management; and


Most software manufacturers will offer free demonstration copies of their software so you can explore a program's features before you purchase it.

2. Know your equipment. Understand the hardware and software programs you currently use. For example, landfill software can be a simple program with ticket and report printing, or a complex system that includes interfacing to your LAN or company's network.

3. Think about the future before you buy. Ask your software provider about its upgrade capabilities. Don't get locked into a mediocre program that does not allow for expansion or upgrades. Invest in programs that provide ongoing enhancements.

4. Determine the true value for your dollar. Consider market price vs. functionality and performance vs. consumer effect. Value is not measured in size or appearance, but rather in performance. Generally, a higher cost will give you more functionality, but make sure that the potential software package is consistent with the market.

5. Evaluate your support. A software manufacturer's support policy is as critical as the program itself. When you run into problems, you don't want to find yourself alone, and even software resellers may not have the answers or may not be available in your time of need. Be sure to investigate:

* The support policy of the vendor and/or manufacturer;

* Available support contracts;

* Phone support charges; and

* Support staff accessibility.

Purchasing major equipment - including software - takes time and effort, but by following these basic steps, you can eliminate many of the hassles and stresses.

Many waste processors and landfill operators find used truck scales at bargain prices - either from a company going out of business, someone who no longer needs a truck scale or at a heavy equipment auction. But if the scale does not meet regulatory requirements, that could result in thousands of dollars wasted in purchasing and installing the device, site preparation and lost production time.

How can a waste processor or landfill operator know if the scale will meet the requirements and ultimately be approved for use by the local Weights and Measures jurisdiction? By following a few simple rules and guidelines, purchasers can avoid potential pitfalls when shopping for a scale.

1. Look for the NTEP label. Scale specifications and accuracy requirements are established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Washington, D.C., and published in NIST Handbook 44, "Specifications, Tolerances and Other Technical Requirements for Weighing and Measuring Devices."

Most states and related Weights and Measures regulatory agencies have adopted these requirements and use them to approve or reject scales intended for use in commercial service.

This approval procedure is handled through the National Type Evaluation Program (NTEP), a process established by NIST and the National Conference on Weights and Measures to help regulatory officials and private industry determine whether a weighing device is Handbook 44 compliant. Most states required NTEP compliance in the mid-1980s.

Scale manufacturers, installers, and service/repair companies also are required to be licensed and meet certain knowledge and testing equipment requirements. Scale operators should contact their local regulatory officials for the requirements in their area.

2. Make sure you receive the NTEP Certificate of Conformance. After thorough testing in an NTEP laboratory, all newly manufactured weighing, measuring and metering devices are issued an NTEP Certificate of Conformance number.

Other types of associated devices that solid waste processors and landfill operators use that may require NTEP certification include scale weight indicators and replacement loadcells.

When purchasing a new or used scale, make sure the seller provides you with the NTEP Certificate of Conformance information. Generally the conformance information will be required when the scale is placed into service with the local Weights and Measures jurisdiction.

3. Seek assistance when necessary. Older scales often are missing identification serial numbers, model numbers or the manufacturer's name. It takes an experienced eye to identify the device and determine if it is compliant or can be made to meet requirements. Consequently, if the scale you're interested in purchasing is missing information, be sure to seek advice before committing to buying the scale.

Also note that some jurisdictions will allow operators to use "pre-NTEP" or "grandfathered" scales, but the potential purchaser should obtain approval from Weights and Measures officials before purchasing it.

For more information about Weights and Measures regulations, contact your local Weights and Measures agency or call the National Institute of Standards and Technology at (301) 975-4005.

With consolidation and change in today's marketplace, waste haulers and municipalities are faced with increased competition. One way to grow revenues and maintain acceptable profit margins, however, is to use the information provided by on-board computers and truck scales.

For example, a computerized collection system can include an on-board scale, an on-board computer with driver display, automatic container identification, wireless data communications and management software.

Working together, this system can help you determine an account's profitability by recording the weight at each stop, collection time per stop and the time of day a customer was serviced. Specifically, computerized systems can provide detailed data on day-to-day operations such as:

* Accurate container weights;

* Pickup sequence, time and date;

* Exceptional route events;

* Pickup time-to-collect;

* Off-route time;

* Total route time; and

* Container location, condition and maintenance activity.

This information can eliminate the guesswork from developing pricing schedules, and is especially helpful in setting prices for new accounts. For instance, a waste hauler can assign each current customer a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) or North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code to track the average weight and time to service that type of customer.

Using that information, the hauler can compile pricing schedules for a sales force that groups potential customers into pricing categories based on historical averages.

Additionally, computerized collection systems can help waste haulers: * Improve route efficiency;

* Identify heavy and light accounts to adjust billing;

* Improve customer service through the availability of up-to-date pickup data;

* Manage inventory assets such as identifying lost or damaged containers; and

* Analyze overall profitability of each account.

For example, if a hauler currently operates in a franchised area that will be put up for competitive bid, the computerized system will give a historical record of all of the franchise's accounts. Armed with this data, the hauler can evaluate how to improve collection methods to increase route productivity and profitability while providing value-added service to the municipality.

Municipalities also are facing a stronger competitive environment with managed competition. One way municipalities can become more competitive is by implementing a bill-by-weight system using on-board, legal-for-trade scales as a competitive marketing tool.

The key to succeeding in today's collection environment is to provide excellent service at a competitive price. An on-board computerized collection system can provide the additional data required to help you make important business decisions to take your operation to the next level.

As the waste industry has transformed from a predominantly family business into a competitive market, keeping revenues up, expenses down and remaining productive has become increasingly important.

Productivity can be measured in expenses per day, per route, per type of truck, per commodity carried, per employee, etc. On-board scales are one tool to help maintain productivity, as they allow you to evaluate and optimize revenues per load, to maximize loads per day and to reduce expenses.

Optimizing revenues per load. Scales immediately determine how accurately you've quoted a job and evaluate your pricing. A 10 percent drop in revenues can result in a 100 percent drop in job profits. However, using a scale to load trucks to capacity with each run will help you use your fleet to its fullest potential.

Scales also will help you determine how many trucks you need. Remember, a competitor that can do a job with fewer trucks will be rewarded the contract.

Maximizing loads per day. There are several landfills available to roll-offs. On-board truck scales can be a vital component in determining the profitability of each load, taking into consideration the lowest total cost per load, trash weight, trash type, distance between landfills and the distance to the next container.

Reducing expenses. Maintenance costs rise as a truck gets heavier because tires, brakes and other suspension and body parts suffer from the abuse. An on-board scale helps control these costs by preventing overloads. It also helps you distribute weight properly to reduce wear and tear.

Overall, on-board scales can help you position your business to take advantage of the niches that develop within your market and by helping you maintain competitiveness.

Fragmented business systems are all too common - and too costly - in the refuse and recycling service industries, as waste management personnel in organizations of all types and sizes struggle through daily operations with incompatible accounting and billing systems, manual mapping and routing procedures and sporadic asset tracking. The result? Wasted time and money, overworked staffs and very often, unsatisfied customers.

An integrated automated system, however, can improve customer service while streamlining all areas of a waste operation from the back office to the curb, including:

* accounting and billing;

* customer service and routing;

* vehicle maintenance;

* asset tracking;

* truck computers and scales;

* radio frequency identification (RFID);

* weigh station management;

* bar coding; and

* sales automation.

Waste operations need to be able to bill on time, provide services efficiently, address customer inquiries quickly and have easy access to management reporting functions.

For example, if a customer calls to ask why his last bill was higher than usual, the customer service representative receiving the call typically must request the pertinent historical billing data from the accounting department then call the customer back - hopefully by the same day.

The better scenario would be to have instant access to that customer's billing and accounts receivable records, allowing the caller's question to be answered during the initial call. An integrated automated system could provide that instant access, thus enhancing customer service and saving a significant amount of time.

No system solution incorporates every automated task, but careful planning can ensure that new systems are not islands of automation. One option for an integrated system is the traditional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) approach. ERP is an enterprise-wide management system that integrates all of a business' processes and keeps customer satisfaction in mind. However, while ERP strives to put the 4Ms - man, money, materials and machines - to their best use, the process is expensive and time-consuming to develop and implement.

Another approach to system integration is the use of core business applications that take advantage of open architecture standards such as Structured Query Language (SQL), which manages data, data formats and software design independently. These standards make it possible for easy integration and extension of the latest industry applications that run on popular PC platforms, such as Windows 95/98 and Windows NT.

Many software development companies have created applications with this open architecture technology plus incorporated industry-standard tools such as Crystal Reports and FRx Report Writer. This allows businesses to easily customize, extend and integrate the "best of breed" applications throughout their organization.

Additionally, some companies have developed comprehensive waste management systems for Windows that seamlessly integrate accounting, billing, customer service, routing, GIS, vehicle maintenance, asset tracking and management reporting.

In this scenario, all work in the system is transferred and tracked electronically from one department to another, thus creating a paperless environment. As work is performed, it is checked off in the system as "completed," and electronic records are created for audit and management purposes.

One caveat when creating your integrated automated system is to be aware of the fast approaching Year 2000 (Y2K) bug, as it could have devastating effects on your operation. The thought of suddenly having all your business records disappear or become corrupt should be reason enough for you to properly investigate the likelihood of a hardware or software problem. [For more information on Y2K, see "Ghost in the Machine," World Wastes June 1998, page 38.]

It's unlikely that all of your systems are safe, especially if you are using a DOS-based application or applications that have been converted from DOS that use a Windows front end. A prudent strategy would be to analyze your system requirements and chart an integrated systems course that will take you safely into the next century.