landfills: Maintenance Plans Extend Equipment Longevity

Instead of employing an equipment mechanic on the landfill's employee roster, Warren Grimes at the Johnston County Landfill in Smithtown, N.C., subcontracts all equipment maintenance to Smith-town's Jondis Inc. Grimes, director of the county's solid waste department, admits he doesn't know if it works any better than employing a full-time mechanic. But, he says, it works for Johnston County.

"We probably could hire our own mechanic, but when you compare the cost of hiring someone of that caliber and paying them $35,000 a year, it's a lot easier for people to understand a contract versus blowing out your salary scale," Grimes says.

Johnston County entered into a maintenance agreement with Jondis in the early 1990s to achieve greater equipment efficiencies and performance for the landfill's 11-piece fleet. For an annual contract price, Jondis furnishes a full-time mechanic, service truck and crane and, for an agreed-upon hourly rate, will provide additional mechanics from the field to assist with major engine repairs and replacements.

"We own the shop and the big pieces of maintenance equipment. We also provide all the supplies and parts. They furnish the manpower and the necessary tools and vehicles," Grimes says.

Internal preventive maintenance is another option to service agreements and maintenance contracts. But, it requires a coordinated effort between people in the field and equipment mechanics as well as a dedication to scheduled repairs and replacements.

"We choose to purchase equipment and then extend the life of that equipment with a preventive maintenance program because we retain more value in what we own," says Cleveland, Tenn.-based Santek Environmental's vice president of operations, Matt Dillard.

"Whether you own equipment or lease, any way you look at it, it has to be maintained," he says. "Any time you overhaul an engine or have to replace it, it represents a fairly significant expenditure. By incorporating a strong preventive maintenance program we're better able to predict equipment failures and protect against them."

Dillard admits Santek mechanics don't have all the strengths and capabilities of an outside vendor, but overall, internal equipment maintenance is more cost-effective. "When we started in the landfill business in the late 1980s, we made a conscious decision to invest in a strong preventive maintenance program," Dillard recalls. "We were probably ahead of our time with the computer software system we use to track hours and schedule equipment service needs, but it's paid dividends for us in the long run."

Today, 95 percent of the company's fleet of equipment is maintained in-ternally. "All scheduled maintenance and component repairs are forecasted a year in advance from the corporate office which allows the personnel at the facilities to focus fully on the landfills," Dillard says.

The care and consideration given to equipment purchases and subsequent maintenance needs can determine the success of equipment as well as landfill life, Dillard continues.

"The landfill industry is one of the few businesses I know in which it takes as much as $1 million of equipment to do a $50,000 job," he concludes.

"Landfill equipment is probably the largest single investment that a landfill owner makes, other than in his people. You could be the best equipment operator in the world, but without the equipment, you can't do your job."