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January 1, 2006

12 Min Read

AFTER IT HAS BEEN PICKED UP, garbage has to be accounted for, in order to bill the customer properly, keep the truck's axle weights within legal limits and maximize profits while minimizing costs. Because understanding even the basics of software and scales systems can be difficult, Waste Age invited manufacturers and suppliers to discuss via e-mail the continuing evolution of those types of products in the industry. The panel includes:

  • Steven Kaufman, Routeware, Beaverton, Ore.;

  • Rick Talbot, Vulcan On-Board Scales, Knt, Wash.;

  • Jackie Barlow, Paradigm Software, Lutherville, Md.;

  • Laura Strapon, Rice Lake Weighing Systems, Rice Lake, Wis.;

  • Stephen Cole, Cardinal Scale, Webb City, Mo.;

  • Peter Shroyer, Soft-Pak, San Diego, Calif.; and

  • Randy Passe, Accu-Trax, Grants Pass, Ore.

Waste Age (WA): What should a buyer know about his or her operation or business needs before purchasing your type of product?

Kaufman: Haulers should spend time identifying their key challenges. Is it driver management? Efficiency improvements? Route optimization? Bottom line cost savings? [Defining the] ROI and payback period measurements clearly illustrate the direct benefit from the investment they are making.

Talbot: They need to know their objectives for the on-board scales system. What weights are required? GVW, payload, axle or pick-up weights? What accuracy is required to be effective? How capable are your drivers and maintenance personnel? In other words, how simple or complex a product can the organization handle? Finally, it is important to determine if the organization is committed to take advantage and utilize the system.

Barlow: The buyer should know the business requirements of their operation and how they would like the system to operate.

Strapon: The life of a truck scale depends on two major factors: daily truck volume and gross vehicle weight (GVW) and axle loading for those trucks. It is important that landfill operators select a product specifically designed to handle their traffic demands.

Cole: The owner should thoroughly review the operation to understand what function the weighing system is to perform.

Shroyer: Software decisions should be based upon how well people and existing systems and procedures are working together. Buyers should make an informed decision based on: what systems or procedures work well today and which ones need improvement; which areas of the business are less efficient than others, and why; what customers are currently saying about their level of service; the size of the company today and projected size in the next 10 years; the types of services being offered today and those planned for the future; [and] the company's cost of doing business today, compared to the return on investment and total cost of ownership of a software system.

WA: What are some of the factors to take into consideration when purchasing your type of product?

Kaufman: A customer looking into on-board computing tied to the back office should look for products that are easy to use and feature a high level of vendor training and support. Secondarily, the products should meet the hauler's objectives. Are the goals financial (e.g., improving extra revenue)? Do they pertain to route monitoring? Efficiency improvement across the hauling operation?

Talbot: Buying an on-board scale is a financial decision that needs to be evaluated from a ROI basis. Evaluate the cost/benefit of scales versus no scales for your particular application. Always check the customer references, the manufacturer, the reliability of the product and the local support provided. For those making a significant investment in on-board scales,

Barlow: A company needs to look for a product that has a proven track record in the industry. A product needs to have the ability to be customized to fit the specific business needs required by the company. Each facility has its own way of doing business and may need slight modifications to the software to meet the requirements. A company needs to be comfortable with the vendor's ability to integrate changes into the product to meet its needs.

Strapon: The single most important consideration in the purchase of any truck scale is the structural integrity of the weighbridge. The more steel content a truck scale has, the longer the scale will generally last. One of the most important factors is determining the anticipated traffic volume and types of vehicles and axle configurations to be weighed. Although many vehicles are legal-highway loads, heavy rain or snow can significantly increase the weight of garbage trucks. Consideration should also be given to protective coatings to the steel surfaces to prolong the life of the steel weighbridge components, especially the underneath portion that is frequently exposed to standing water. Additionally, the strength, size and capabilities of the local scale company that services the scale are paramount in maximizing efficiency of the installation.

Shroyer: Ask questions like, how will the software help improve the company's bottom line? Does the software meet the company's current and future needs? Does it support: expansion/growth of business operations; all business activities within the company (e.g., billing, services, routing); new feature enhancements? The system should be scaleable [and] flexible enough to integrate other technologies used by the company. The hardware and O/S platform should be reliable, secure and stable to ensure maximum system availability. Look at the total cost of ownership (including IT costs) and return on investment over time. Consider the vendor's stability, experience, customer support and technical service capabilities. Talk to vendors' existing customers.

Passe: Price, efficiency and support are probably the most pertinent considerations.

WA: Describe some of the simple things that are overlooked when planning the use of your type of product

Kaufman: Many haulers overlook one important benefit of on-board computing: reducing the actual payroll hours — the time drivers punch in to start the route to the time they punch out. Second, trucks break down each day. How does an on-board computing system handle the remaining stops on a route? A hauler must consider how elegantly the on-board software can parse out route stops among different trucks so a route can be completed quickly and efficiently in case of unanticipated breakdowns. Finally, a hauling operation generates costs in four key areas: fleet, fuel, payroll and disposal. The back office system that analyzes the on-board computer's field data must be able to pull information from the computer software driving these four areas. Once all of the cost information is centralized in one place, cost allocation based on actual field data can take place.

Talbot: Most on-board scales are relatively simple, but require the support of drivers, maintenance, operations and management. Everyone must understand and support what is required of them. Some more complex scales, like those measuring pick-up weights, may require some type of data collection and management system to be most effective.

Barlow: [Using a company customer] facility survey prompts the customer to answer questions about their operation that hopefully will trigger them to provide us with all possible circumstances.

Strapon: Remote displays advise the driver of the truck's weight prior to leaving the scale on a 4-inch or 6-inch display near the end of the scale. This can eliminate the need for the driver to exit the truck as well as speed up the weighing process. If traffic demands at a facility exceed 200 vehicles per day, consideration should be made for both an in-bound and out-bound scale to speed up the process.

Cole: Location of the scale(s); soil conditions; traffic flow (both now and future); functions of the scale (weighing in/out, loading); the information (accounting and statistical) needed at the scale; and future considerations, such as, is the scale long enough for anticipated future changes?

Shroyer: Staffing requirements for the implementation process; database clean-up requirements due to prior software deficiencies; and the amount of training that will be required.

Passe: Immediate upload of driver reports. Photographs of “no can outs” and extras are all immediately accessible by the office staff.

WA: How are your types of products being used to better manage solid waste operations?

Kaufman: Customers use on-board computing systems to automate the collection of actual field data, eliminate paperwork, and integrate the truck's daily activities to the back office. They also verify serves in the billing system against the services performed in the field, helping to streamlet the customer billing process. Finally, customers use automated on-board systems to get a handle on margins through increased revenue and decreased costs.

Talbot: There are on-board scales for every aspect of the solid waste industry that require weight information. There are low-cost on-board air suspension and axle scales to monitor GVW and axle weights. There are body scales that will also measure payload and pick-up weights. And there are front fork scales for front-end loader pick-up weights.

Barlow: Products support near-real-time data transmission to the main office to keep management up to date on the traffic volume; create express lanes to improve traffic flow; set up rules which limit the ability of a weighmaster to make a data entry mistake; and send e-mail and text pages to management staff for current volume and tonnage activity.

Strapon: Software programs allow the displayed truck weight to be transmitted to a computer for further processing. This data collection system can track vehicles, accounts, materials and truck identification.

Cole: In most cases, the scale is the cash register for the facility. It is used more to move the trucks through the facility quicker and will require less operator intervention.

Passe: Better efficiency, accounting and customer relations, including photography to show that a customer left an extra or no can out.

Shroyer: Business critical software applications should — at a minimum — provide improved productivity in billing; customer service and dispatching; accurate up-to-date financial, asset and other business information whenever you need it; improved customer satisfaction resulting from streamlined, automated operations; and improved profitability throughout the customer's business.

WA: What are the newer applications for your type of product?

Kaufman: There are three areas where these systems are being applied: knowing the cost impact of adding containers to a route; being able to dispatch using a real-time dispatch board, and point-to-point routing.

Talbot: Although overweight enforcement was the first application in the waste industry, the newer applications have been more involved with the measurement of individual pick-up weights and the optimization of payload weights. I see significant growth in demand for measuring commercial pick-up weights and container weights for roll-offs and hooklifts. With longer distances to landfills, the need to optimize transfer vehicle weights by using on-board scales will grow.

Barlow: Real time data flow to and from remote sites and unattended land technology.

Strapon: As many landfills have opened recycling facilities, truck scales are used to weigh outbound trucks with bales of aluminum, cardboard, paper and other recyclables.

Cole: There have not been many changes in the scale itself; however, the instrumentation is becoming more advanced with new technology. There are more unattended operations that are using RFID tags, remote printers and cameras to make the scale viral weighing systems.

Shroyer: Onboard computer integration to the back office; unattended scale operations; and better materials management.

WA: Are GPS or GIS systems increasingly being used in the solid waste industry, and, if so, how?

Kaufman: GPS systems gained a toehold in the waste industry. However, they have been unable to [show they have] long-term benefits. This is due to the basic difference between GPS and a full on-board routing system. GPS will only tell a hauler where the truck is. Full on-board routing systems will tell you what the truck is doing. GPS integrated with GIS has a good future in the waste industry once vendors can effectively integrate city and county mapping data.

Talbot: We see more waste companies interested in integrating GPS technology into their fleets, especially the mid- to larger-sized fleets. In addition to vehicle location, these systems provide users of on-board scales an easy method to match customers to bin weights and to transfer customer information to the office.

Barlow: Customers are using GIS to know where material is being disposed of in the landfill at any given time.

Shroyer: Absolutely, and they should be used more within the industry. By themselves, these technologies support excellent container tracking, route optimization, landfill management and unattended scale applications. When these technologies are integrated with on-board computer (OBC) systems operating on wireless networks, real time automatic vehicle location (AVL) and other more sophisticated applications become affordable realities.

Passe: Yes, it allows for office staff to know exact driver locations and routes at all times. GPS also allows drivers the ability to pick up other drivers routes.

WA: How have your products been integrated into the newer, more sophisticated trucks and/or waste handling facilities?

Talbot: We are now integrating with on-board computer/GPS systems and providers of routing and billing software products. This allows weight information to be included with other customer or truck information and available to operations personnel on the system.

Barlow: We have numerous locations that are utilizing unattended technologies such as RFID, thermal receipt printers, proximity cards, gates, lights, etc., which allow for faster transaction processing and the ability to bypass the scales when exiting the facility.

Strapon: On-board weighing systems provide new and better methods for weighing vehicles. Infrared, RFID and other truck identification methods provide better means of processing vehicles faster. Message signs are being used more frequently to direct drivers to specific grids within the landfill for dumping their loads.

Cole: More are using unattended scale operations to allow for 24/7 operation and reduce the cost of operators.

Shroyer: More and more vehicles are equipped with on-board computers, on-board scales and RFID tags/readers. It should be noted that these sophisticated technology enhancements do nothing without being fully integrated with the back office software.

WA: How will your type of product continue to develop technologically and/or in their use in the solid waste industry?

Kaufman: Companies marketing on-board computing hardware and integrated back office software must be solidly committed to evolve GPS, wireless, optimization, route management system and billing technologies. The symphonic relationship between all of these elements has never been more important.

Talbot: Integration of on-board scales and on-board information systems will continue to evolve to the point where a scale will be simply another sensor on the network that can be displayed on a single monitor in the cab of the truck.

Barlow: Products continue to evolve with new technology and new customer ideas and suggestions.

Cole: As new technology is developed in trucks — such as greater memory, small devices, less expensive detectors, more informational devices — it will be adapted to the scale systems.

Shroyer: Business critical software applications that support the solid waste industry will — or at least should — continue to develop according to the needs of the industry. By working closely with and listening to customers, vendors can better understand ever-changing industry challenges and develop the tools needed by customers to meet those challenges.

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