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One Size Doesn't Fit All

WHEN CONSIDERING a move to an automated collection system, it may be tempting to stock a fleet with identical vehicles to standardize operations and reduce inventory costs. Unfortunately, the collection areas in which your trucks operate may not be standardized. From narrow urban alleys to mobile home parks and the cul-de-sacs of planned unit developments, communities present a wide variety of landscapes, and trying to squeeze the same truck into each of those unique service areas probably is not the right approach.

So how does a collection manager go about making sure his collection fleet has the variety of vehicles necessary to operate in the different environments? It all begins with examining, in great detail, the various routes in which your automated collection trucks will perform. The data to consider include the number of stops and the distance between the stops, the estimated volume to be collected and the physical configuration of the service area's roadways.

Vendors offer a variety of collection truck sizes, with capacities ranging from 6 cubic yards (cu. yds.) to more than 30 cu. yds. and a variety of arms with different abilities. By rigorously examining the characteristics of your collection routes, it is possible to more accurately match an automated truck with the service area to improve operational efficiency. Both your customers and drivers will appreciate the faster route times and the fewer zinged mailboxes.

Different Sizes in Tucson

When Tucson, Ariz., switched to automated collection of garbage and recyclables several years ago, the city engaged in detailed route audits, according to Sam Chandler, the city's former deputy director for solid waste and now a consultant with R3 Consulting Group, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. “Tucson was much like any other city,” he says. “They had kind of given in to the fleet demand of ‘one size fits all.’ But there was a great desire to develop [fleets] that were more suited to collect a variety of things in the various neighborhoods.”

However, after studying the areas the city wanted to automate — including mobile home parks, high-density urban neighborhoods and more sprawling suburban areas — the managers decided to tailor truck selections to better fit their needs. “We tried to ferret out the unique characteristics of [a] route and match up the automated vehicle that we were going to use,” Chandler says. “That led to a lot of success. It cut down on the number of miles driven, and it allowed us to maximize the payload.”

The city purchased 10-, 15- and 18- cu. yd. automated trucks for the harder-to-navigate areas such as mobile home parks and intown neighborhoods. For rural and suburban routes, where there is generally more room to maneuver and greater distances between stops, Tucson uses 32-cu. yd. trucks.

Rear Loaders to the Rescue

Spokane, Wash., operates a garbage collection fleet of 24 automated trucks from Cedar Falls, Iowa-based Wayne Engineering that service a total of 18 routes. The vehicles feature a capacity of 31 cu. yds.

Alan Milson, refuse district supervisor for the city, says collection drivers and workers have to deal with different landscapes. “Spokane is in a valley,” he says. “You're climbing hills on the south side, as soon as you get out of the downtown. The north side is fairly flat, but with some of our far north routes, we get into some hills. Widths of roads range from 12-foot wide alleys to some of our neighborhoods [with] 40-foot-wide streets.”

The city has elected not to buy more than one size of automated trucks. However, Spokane still needs some different equipment to service the routes. The city relies on semi-automated rear loaders or existing rear loaders to handle the odd pickup. “We really haven't been able to justify having anything special,” he says. “On a few rare occasions, there's an alley or a cul-de-sac or something that isn't real practical for the [automated] trucks that we have to go through. We still have a small fleet of rear-load trucks that we send into those areas.”

The older fleet of rear loaders also comes in handy for customers with appliances or significant amounts of garbage to collect. “We also use those rear-load trucks if the automated [truck] comes up to a stop, and people have a large quantity of extras or big, bulky items that are just kind of impossible for that one-man route to take the time to handle by themselves,” Milson adds. “The automated truck will dump the cart and will call in the closest [rear-loader] truck to that area to pick up all the extras.”

Even though Spokane's automated collection fleet features trucks of the same capacity, that doesn't mean the city purchases duplicate vehicles. There are certain variables, such as arm reach, to consider depending on what routes the vehicle will cover.

“We have a good working relationship with our fleet maintenance people,” Milson says. “They will sit down with us when we're writing the bid spec. When the vendors bring out the demo trucks, we sit down with [the fleet maintenance people] and say, ‘We really like this horsepower,’ or, ‘we like this arm reach.’ Between the maintenance folks and ourselves, we come up with a set of bid specs.”

Spokane also keeps an open mind, to a certain extent, when replacing automated trucks, according to Milson. “We basically tell the vendors that this is the size box that we would like to stay at,” he says. “Other than that, we're pretty much open to looking at anything they bring out.”

“A lot of the stuff in our bid specs, we put ‘must comply,’ but then there's a few things that we'd like to have, but if the truck isn't available with it, we're willing to live with something a little bit different.”

When is a Truck Automated?

Automated collection systems don't necessarily mean a fleet filled entirely with automated collection trucks. Just ask Gordon Beers, president of Blythe, Calif.-based Palo Verde Valley Disposal Services.

Included in his fleet of 24 trucks used to provide automated collection services, are automated side loaders that lift only one size of carts and side loaders that can lift a variety of carts and metal bins. The fleet also contains three trucks from Hagerstown, Ind.-based Autocar combined with front-loader bodies from Dodge Center, Minn.-based McNeilus. The trucks also use an attachment from Sonoma, Calif.-based Curotto Can, which allows the vehicles to essentially function as automated trucks.

The bucket-like attachment is held in place by the forks of a front loader. Arms on the attachment pull up carts and empty them into the attachment. “The trucks were pre-plumbed from the factory so that the hydraulic connections are mounted right on the arms of the front loader at a point with easy connect couplings,” Beers says.

The firm decided to use the attachment when it expanded its services into Imperial County, Calif., where Beers discovered he needed to add something to the conventional automated truck to accommodate the existing systems. “There were municipalities that had 96-gallon, three-cart systems for commingled recyclables, trash and green waste,” Beers says. Comparing the various type of trucks with the demands from the new customers in the county, Beers says they added the Curotto attachment to decrease the number of vehicles they would have to purchase. “That's when I felt it would be good for us as we expanded into a new market because it gave me the ability to not have to purchase as many trucks.”

A Healthy Mix

When selecting trucks for their automated collection fleets, collection managers may initially want to purchase identical vehicles for several reasons. However, that often is not practical.

Varying landscapes and other route characteristics often dictate a variety of trucks. Careful examination of the routes in your service area can help ensure that you possess the right combination of equipment to handle the many different circumstances that your vehicles will encounter.

Lynn Merrill is a contributing editor based in San Bernardino, Calif.