Blazing: The Collection Trail

Some factors involved in selecting and purchasing collection equipment are universal. No matter where you're located or who you service, collection managers - including the four people presented here - must research what's available, learn as much as possible about the manufacturing process, investigate other managers' experiences and demand a trial on their own streets before final purchase.

All the while, financial factors must be weighed against performance, both for profitability's sake and to stay within budgetary constraints.

Like their counterparts throughout the nation, the following four managers are innovative, forward thinkers who know their operations thoroughly and often anticipate and diffuse a situation before problems can evolve.

The ability for collection managers to articulate their vision to others is vital, not only to win approval from decision makers, but also from residents and employees. Such communication skills distinguish the leaders from the followers.

These four people are not unique, but they are good examples. Others just like them are probably reading this right now.

Chuck Smith Assistant Director of Sanitation Operations, Dallas Several years ago, in another city and state, I ran a three-person, rear loader garbage collection system. My city manager requested I look into automated collection. At first, this was not an easy task. After checking several industry periodicals, I met with a representative for Rapid Rail, Phoenix, Ariz.

He explained his automated system in detail, including the types of containers used, and I became very leery of automation. Plastic containers? I immediately thought of the commercial garbage cans that had to be replaced each year because they broke from manual collection abuse. How could I ever recommend a program that used plastic containers?

The salesman recommended I visit a program already in place. Once there, I found the system had merit. However I was still skeptical of the 10-year guarantee he had placed on the containers, and requested a visit to the container manufacturing facility.

Gradually, I began a complete study on both collection trucks and containers. Personal visits to container and collection truck manufacturing plants followed. As I watched the products being made, I became quite knowledgeable of the plastic used, and realized why it could last 10 or more years.

My next step was a test-run in my own city. Two competitors agreed to lease me enough trucks and containers to establish two routes for a six-month trial. This lease agreement did not require me to purchase their equipment, even if my city implemented automation.

During the test, I encountered other truck manufacturers and offered them the same opportunity. Of the seven known manufacturers of that era, five participated in the study. Performance requirements were compared among those trucks and two types of containers.

This on-the-job training allowed me to evaluate all the equipment necessary for automated collection. One city requirement was to accept the best low bid. Seven manufacturers bid; the third lowest bid won.

When considering automated garbage collection, I highly recommend that you visit the manufacturers and pick the brains of their experts. This method can give you a wealth of knowledge quickly, allowing you to familiarize yourself with new programs and the necessary equipment.

Tom Frembgen Pubic Works Supervisor Refuse Section, Cedar Falls, Iowa Cedar Falls, Iowa, is home to 37,000 people, 9,700 households, a university, a compost facility and a transfer station. Refuse is collected once per week, Tuesday through Friday. On Mondays, green waste is collected in bags purchased by residents to defray collection costs.

In Fall 1993, the city faced shrinking budgets, an aging fleet of manual collection vehicles and a recycling goal of 50 percent. Meanwhile, some elderly residents began voicing discontent at being charged the same rate as residents who generated more refuse.

The city conducted extensive research to discover how others were able to increase service in an era of financial cutbacks. Due to budget constraints, any new ideas would have to be implemented over three to four years. Automating collection was deemed a vital first step in reaching the goals.

Rather than change the entire city's service in one fell swoop, we knew people needed time to sell themselves on new ideas, no matter how beneficial. Consequently, in an introductory area, residents were allowed to select container sizes, while a volume-based fee was introduced to the entire city to eliminate the discrepancies causing complaint.

In the automated area fees were $8.00 per month for a 32-gallon container, $13.00 for 68 gallons and $19.00 for 95 gallons. One extra bag, with a tag purchased from the city, could be placed on top of the cart. Those not in the automated area would be charged $13.00 per month and were allowed two, 30- to 33-gallon containers. Complaints about this arrangement were few and were considerably outweighed by those wishing to participate in the automated system.

Purchasing was done through bids; all bidders were required to attend the pre-bid meeting. The specs were for automated trucks and dual-purpose carts. We wanted semi-automated carts because we were also purchasing one rear loader with a cart tipper mounted on the back in case the automated truck broke down. Although this was a good idea, it has only been used twice and only for a brief period.

Bids were awarded to Wayne Engineering for a 22-cubic-yard, full-eject body mounted on a Peterbuilt chassis, and Otto carts were selected from Mid-Iowa, a dealer in Des Moines.

Start-up occurred in low-, mid-, and upper-income areas with relatively light street parking. For the most part, the change from alley collection to mandated curb collection has been well-received. Benefits include improved appearance, less animal rummaging and increased customer satisfaction. However, supervisors are no longer able to track a crew's progress by following the trail of empty cans since the full and empty containers look alike.

So far, the equipment has performed so well and public acceptance has been so positive that the implementation schedule will likely be accelerated. Currently, the automated trucks collect 1.45 tons of refuse per personnel hour; the rear loaders collect 0.55 tons per hour. The two-person crews switch collection and driving tasks every hour.

One important consideration is weather. For example, it is not advisable to begin new operations in the fall if inclement weather is a possibility. Allow residents to get used to the change before tough conditions add to problems. Start gradually - problems are part of any change, but are more manageable in small bites.

Give the residents plenty of information, include them in the discussion and make them feel a part of it. We found that the more these residents knew, the more they wanted change. The new system is expected to be fully implemented by Spring 1996.

Rose Collins Refuse Collection Superintendent Long Beach, Calif. When I arrived at the City of Long Beach, Calif., two years ago, I knew we were in for a rough ride, especially with the rising popularity of contracting services in the face of dwindling city coffers. Recently, the City of Phoenix, Ariz., had contracted out a portion of its services, as did Houston. It seemed inevitable for us, too, unless a bit of magic ensued. That "magic" was automated collection equipment.

We observed tremendous gains from automated collection programs in more than 30 cities. The formula was always the same: double the productivity and a reduction of 65 to 70 percent in workers' compensation injuries. However, the real key to a successful automated system is the equipment, because any savings gained can be lost in downtime.

Our criteria for an automated side loader included the capacity to haul 10 tons legally and to collect from 1,000 homes in a 10-hour day; a reliable, low-maintenance arm; and an automatic packing cycle to "pack on the run" to attain the highest productivity possible.

We had been using trucks with an 8.75-ton carrying capacity, no automatic packing cycle and a chain-driven arm. Members of our Fleet Services Bureau helped us develop specifications since they would be maintaining the vehicles.

The successful bidder was Crane Carrier. Their vertically lifting arm used a corkscrew design (instead of a chain) and kicked out horizontally with a boom and mast. They increased the carrying capacity by placing the axle farther back on the frame, and lightened the tare weight by using polished aluminum wheels rather than steel. A second hydraulic pump boosted the power to enable "packing on the run."

These changes allowed us to increase productivity and bring our operating costs in line with those of possible competitors. Now, contracting out doesn't seem so inevitable. In fact, we're thinking of "contracting in."

David Gobin CEO, Gobin Disposal Systems Claremont, N.H. Gobin Disposal Systems (GDS) is a private operator covering more than one community. Although all companies have their own management style, most have not developed basic operating and financial parameters. The standard objective - to operate at minimum cost and maximum return - is easier said than done.

There comes a time in managing any collection company when one must buy equipment. Backward as it may sound to some, price should not be the governing factor in equipment purchases. This approach can keep companies from improving their operational and financial performance. Conversely, buying equipment you cannot afford can generally have grave consequences.

The first approach we use in procuring equipment is to determine the type of service, or job, that must be performed. Clearly identify each task involved and the processes required to perform them. This may include asking such questions as: * What types of equipment are normally used?

* What are the personnel requirements?

* What is the frequency of maintenance?

The next step, and most difficult, is to make the available technology and performance criteria match our company's parameters to perform efficiently with minimum equipment and personnel. This requires additional questions: * Can we utilize automated or semi-automated equipment in this application?

* Can we electronically record the operating activity of the equipment?

* What is the ergonomic impact on the operator and/or customer?

* Does the equipment provide the maximum comfort level to the operator?

Once the necessary equipment is determined, detailed specifications are designed and distributed to several suppliers. The customer/supplier relationship is a key component in choosing who we buy from. Analyzing or evaluating responses can be part art and part science, but it's usually a rewarding experience. All things being equal, deciding which brand to choose or who to buy from is usually more a factor of how well the specifications are met than of price.

I've found that price differences among suppliers is usually linked to the compromises a manufacturer must make to meet the specifications. However, just because a supplier meets the specifications does not mean they'll automatically make the sale; of course, they will be given stronger consideration.

The final step is to analyze the life cycle costs of the equipment, including acquisition costs, fuel economy and maintenance projections. Compare these to available funding.

Recently, we were awarded a municipal contract to collect both trash and recyclables at the curb. After completing the above process, we decided we wanted to co-collect both materials with one vehicle, one operator and in one pass. The equipment available to perform within these parameters was limited.

We evaluated many different combinations of trucks and waste collection equipment. At one point, we were concerned that the design of co-collection vehicles had not yet caught up with the concept of the service we were offering. However, we decided that the split body of the Labrie Expert 2000 allowed us to simplify our co-collection approach.

Due to our careful equipment design/procurement process, a properly implemented and innovative collection program as well as vehicle/ operator efficiency, GDS has successfully acquired several new municipal contracts. Now, GDS has a proven method to provide effective collection to our existing municipal and subscription base.