June 1, 2007

7 Min Read
Gotta Maintain

Michael Fickes

WASTE MANAGEMENT firms sell and lease hundreds of balers and compactors to their customers every year. In addition, they might be using several hundred pieces of this kind of equipment in their own material recovery facilities (MRFs), transfer stations and other properties.

Large waste management companies deal with literally thousands of baling and compacting units. And while almost everyone tries to pay close attention to baler and compactor safety, perhaps the most common safety measure taken with this equipment is good management.

If a company has leased hundreds of machines to hundreds of customers, how does the company track that equipment? How does the company know whether or not the equipment has been serviced regularly? How can the company have confidence in the quality of user training? What if the user trained by a company two years ago has since left? Who monitors training and schedules another round when necessary?

There is an abundance of crucial information to be tracked. For that reason, many companies have systems that track compactors and balers from purchase through disposal in order to ensure that they get full value from the funds budgeted to buy, maintain and recondition this equipment.

In some cases, purchasing and maintenance managers have built management systems not only to extract maximum value from compactors and balers, but also to manage and reduce the safety risks posed by this equipment.

“If the machine is operated and maintained properly — that is, all moving parts checked for wear, all leaks repaired properly and all safety switches and latches maintained as they should be — this makes for a safe environment in which to work,” says Ron Tuder, director of maintenance for Milwaukee-based Veolia ES Solid Waste's Eastern Region.

The Right Equipment

Republic Services, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., assigns the management of its thousands of compactors and hundreds of balers to the company's five regional maintenance managers. Every year, the managers meet with the company's purchasing department at the firm's headquarters to set equipment-buying budgets for the year. “We have national account pricing agreements with Wastequip, Marathon and other manufacturers,” says Jerry Milano, maintenance manager for the company's Southwest Region.

Republic doesn't buy compactors ahead of time, as trying to predict customer demand for a particular year can be risky. National manufacturers have reliable inventories on hand, Milano says, making it possible to order the equipment as needed. He adds that Republic deals with more than one major manufacturer to keep its vendors honest and to ensure against gaps in service areas and capabilities among the manufacturers.

Veolia ES Solid Waste Group has decentralized purchasing even further, down to the local level. “The reason we're decentralized is that people in each of our local divisions have their preferences,” says Mark Dennis, vice president of sales and marketing for Veolia. “One divisional maintenance manager may be comfortable working with people from one vendor, while another may have relationships with a second manufacturer.

“While we've considered national purchasing agreements, we think that the prices we get by giving local divisions the freedom to negotiate with people they are comfortable with aren't that different from what centralized purchasing might produce.”

Like Republic, Veolia leases thousands of compactors and hundreds of balers to customers, and makes regional and local managers responsible for tracking and maintaining the equipment.

Rumpke Consolidated Cos., Cincinnati, has centralized its approach to compactor and baler management. At any given time, John Browning, Rumpke's industrial equipment division manager, knows exactly how many compactors and balers are on his roster. “We have 1,200 rental compactors out in the field plus 1,500 customer owned units that we maintain, all ranging in size from two to five yards,” he says.

Rumpke's vendors include Wastequip and Marathon. And while Rumpke itself manufactures a portion of the compactors that it leases and sells, it does not manufacture balers, which tend to be larger and more sophisticated.

When purchasing from outside vendors, Browning negotiates and buys by the truckload to ensure the best possible pricing. He also buys stripped-down equipment with no options. Rumpke's compactor maintenance crew customizes the equipment for particular customers.

When a customer requests equipment, a sales person evaluates the site, interviews the users, and enters the data into the computer, which is reviewed by the sales manager and priced out.

Most companies use one-, three-, or five-year contracts priced to pay for the equipment, as well as installation and preventive maintenance, by the end of the contract term.

Preventive Maintenance

Browning tracks and manages the equipment with a software application designed to manage trucks but modified to deal with compactors and balers. The tracker application knows where the equipment is, when a piece of equipment's warranty ends, and what repairs and maintenance have been carried out over its lifetime.

“When a call comes in to the technicians, the office staff enters the information into the program,” Browning says. “Warranty information automatically pops up. If it is a warranty claim, our crews have been certified to make the repairs.”

Then again, not everyone is so formal about tracking warranties. “We protect ourselves from missing warranty work by checking on the purchase date and the warranty term whenever anyone calls for service,” says Veolia's Dennis. “Lots of times, nothing is wrong. The problem had to do with how the customer was trying to operate the machine. If there is a problem, we diagnose it and turn it over to the vendor.”

Milano of Republic notes that while warranties are important, the equipment is generally reliable and rarely requires warranty service. On the other hand, Milano and his regional colleagues ask the local divisions to track maintenance using software. “They all have a maintenance schedule to follow,” he says. “It includes a complete preventive maintenance checklist once a year. During that service, they will re-filter the oil, change the oil and check the hoses.”

Safety features also are checked during preventive maintenance sessions. Rumpke's Browning says his crews check the safety decals and evaluate how all the features are functioning. “For example, we make sure the gate with interlock is functioning properly and that the 42-inch barrier is intact, and that the dead man operation switch still works,” he says.

All three companies agree that annual and semi-annual preventive maintenance for every machine is key to making the equipment last and operate safely.

Each company also upgrades the equipment regularly to ensure that it remains current with evolving industry standards developed through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). “We address all ANSI changes during the next regular preventive maintenance visit after the changes are made,” Browning says.


Veolia, Republic and Rumpke all engage in training for maintenance staff, sales people and users. For example, Rumpke pursues two forms of training for its compactor and baler maintenance staff. Each month, the firm organizes a “toolbox talk” for its staff of 14 compactor and baler technical specialists. The talk covers one topic and looks at changes or issues that have arisen recently. OSHA alerts sometimes guide the selection of a “toolbox talk” topic.

Second, Rumpke brings in vendors such as Marathon and Wastequip to train both the technical and sales staffs. “This training aims to ensure that we're up with all the codes and anything new in the market,” Browning says. “We take training seriously. We train our maintenance staff to repair the equipment and in safe operations. We also train our sales staff in safety and in consulting with customers regarding their particular needs.”

The three solid waste firms say that their approach to purchasing, training and maintenance enables each to extend the lives of their compactors and balers. “If we service the equipment properly and recondition it when the need arises, our customers will be able to use the same compactor for 10 to 15 years,” Dennis says.

At Rumpke, Browning says that his department rarely, if ever, reconditions the equipment. “Regular maintenance extends the life of all our units,” he says. “Some of our units have been operating in the same location for as long as 20 years.”

Compactors and balers, like all equipment, require regular preventive maintenance carried out by skilled technicians. But unlike some other equipment, compactors and balers present extraordinary risks to users. Companies that lease and sell this equipment are obligated to train users in safe operations, to check back regularly to ensure that safety precautions are being observed, and to maintain the equipment in good, safe working order.

By installing systems that effectively track equipment and manage maintenance, waste management companies help to extend the useful life of compactors and balers and also reduce the significant safety risks that come with such equipment.

Michael Fickes is a contributing writer based in Westminster, Md.

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