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Refuse Truck Body Manufacturers Respond To Changing Demands

Who knows today's marketplace better than the waste transporters and equipment dealers themselves?

For example, following is an overview of how some managers use today's vehicles:

* Side Loaders. According to fleet managers, these vehicles are gaining ground for high-density, residential collection routes. Designed for one-person operations, automated side loaders are the vehicle of choice when money is available up-front.

* Recycling Vehicles. Since these trucks must move rapidly from stop-to-stop, a premium is put on quickness and agility.

* Rear Loaders. These vehicles, which are predominately used for residential collection routes, generally require two- or three-person crews. The trucks pack "on the go" and stop as many times per day as possible to provide crew efficiency.

* Front Loaders. Used most often in commercial collection, these trucks are usually installed on low cab forward (LCF) chassis with one- or two-person crews.

* Roll-Offs/Tilt Frames. Primarily used for industrial pick-ups such as construction or destruction sites, these vehicles do not have the capability to compact wastes nor do they require a special LCF chassis.

* Transfer Trailers. Increasingly distant landfill sites and recent landfill regulations have led to a growing interest in transfer stations, where trailers travel 50 to 100 miles from the station to the disposal point. To handle more payloads, better compaction is required to produce lower empty weight bodies.

Sellers Know Best No piece of equipment is guaranteed to serve a hauler's needs forever. Rear loaders, for example, are being replaced with front loaders which require only one driver for residential pickups and feature walk-in cabs for standing drivers, according to Bill Amick of Amick Equipment Co., Lexington, S.C., a Pak-Mor distributor. In both cases, drivers place wastes into high-compaction bodies.

More side loading, fully automatic bodies (20- to 31-yards) are being purchased to serve large municipalities' residential collection routes, said Amick. The advantage of these vehicles, he said, is that one person can service the route. However, a disadvantage is that the cart's position on the street affects the truck's efficiency. Also, wires and trees can be a hazard. According to Amick, most small municipalities manually load trash into the rear of the body.

"Previously, rear loader bodies were long-lasting and heavy. Side loaders' bodies, however, are lighter and use high-strength tensile steels," Amick said.

The collection part of our industry has undergone a huge transformation in the past 20 years, according to Ed Shuey, marketing district manager for Labrie Equipment, Quebec. "The demands from the customer have increased. Bulk and recyclables collection are required in most areas now, for example. Today's haulers are looking for a miracle vehicle."

Some companies are restricted by their city's topography and cannot automate. Chicago-based National Waste Services, for example, would like to evaluate automatic equipment, according to National Waste's Fleet Maintenance Supervisor Roy Svehla. "Most of our accounts are downtown so we are forced to stick to rear loaders. The work environment includes tight alleys and overhead wires where there is no overhead clearance," Svehla said.

As haulers expand their service to include recyclables, green wastes and yard debris, recycling collection vehicles have come of age.

"There's a trend towards multi-purpose vehicles that pick up recyclables, garbage and yard wastes," said Clark Bushman of Detroit-based Bell Equipment, a Wayne Engineering distributor. Don Link of Link Environmental Equipment Inc., a Winamac, Ind., distributor of Gal-breath equipment, echoes the belief that haulers are continually looking for more productive equipment.

"Trash haulers are moving away from rear loaders to front or side loaders to change from two- to one-man operations. This means more homes for less dollars and it minimizes the cost per home, with more waste in the truck," he noted.

Business is good now, according to Link, but he feels next year will be back to normal. Shuey agrees. "Many manufacturers are reporting that backlog has increased and delivery is 90 to 120 days."

"Michigan has increased its enforcement of weight laws," said Bushman. "This has given us a new 'sideline' ... adding tag axles on rear loaders or, in essence, making them quad axles. The cost of two overweight tickets will pay for a retrofit or conversion, which keeps a vehicle out of service for about a week."

Regional landfills have become a viable disposal method which can greatly reduce a hauler's costs. To make the long haul worthwhile, the carrying capacity of transfer trailers must be increased by as much as 20 percent, according to Steve Zuidema of Chicago-based Stepp Equipment Co., a distributor of East Manufacturing Corp. trailers. Trailers that are 48 feet long and 102 inches wide and 13 feet, four or six inches high will increase capacity, he said.

Zuidema also pointed to a trend in safety-related items. For example, roll-off trailers are being speced with automatic hydraulic tarping systems so operators don't have to climb on loads. In addition, managers are reportedly installing more rear view cameras.

Years ago, waste haulers speced one-size-fits-all residential refuse trucks, noted a representative from Volvo GM Heavy Truck Corp. in Greensboro, N.C. It used to be that one worker would drive a rear loader, with an axle configuration that stressed premium on power and container size, while two workers hung off the truck's back to collect everything from yard wastes to daily newspapers. In the end, it was all transported to the local landfill.

Now, says Volvo, economic pressures as well as ecological and political forces influence the design of a refuse truck. Also, public support of recycling and other waste reduction strategies have created a demand for lighter GVW vehicles, each designed for a particular application. As a result, three or four specialized trucks must make regular rounds through a residential area.

To meet these changing conditions, suppliers have created many different truck configurations. For example, recycling side loaders are now equipped with adjustable body compartments for different types and proportions of recyclables.

Straight From Users At a recent trade show, fleet managers reinforced the belief that operations are going through a transitional period that is far from over.

For example, a Southeastern city recently switched to weekly residential service by converting its operation from a three-person crew on manual rear loaders with added container attachments to a front loader system with power-lift carttippers. The city is making another switch to an automated collection system which will feature one-person side loader trucks with robotic arms and radio frequency identification-tagged carts. It intends to reduce its labor costs, worker compensation claims and the amount of premiums paid.

Similar results were obtained when a Northern municipality changed from a two-person crew, loading plastic bags into side loader bins twice a week, to an automated system, which collected refuse and recyclable materials weekly. More specifically, the city noted increased productivity as well as reduced employee turnover rates. In addition, the trucks have greater storage capacity which make routes and the haul to the landfill more efficient.

Today, the municipality operates five, one-person routes as opposed to the six or seven, two-person routes which used to serve the city's 5,000 residences each day.

Operations on the nation's West Coast also are changing. For example, one city is gradually replacing its 20-yard rear load vehicles with new, automated side loader trucks. To date, the city has reported a savings of approximately $95,000 per automated route.

Through the years, hauling equipment has dramatically changed. Although no one can determine what the future holds for tomorrow's fleet managers, one thing is certain: change is good.