Cheryl McMullen, Freelance writer

May 27, 2015

9 Min Read
Serving the Evolving Technology Needs of Waste, Recycling

When Martin Demers, CEO of FleetMind Solutions Inc., first attended WasteExpo eight years ago, the industry was just being introduced to onboard technology and its uses in fleet management.

 “Our company was being looked at a little bit like an oddball. People were asking us, ‘What exactly is an on-board computer?’” he says. They would ask, “What do you guys do? Why do you guys do this? Why would I need this?’”

Today, Demers sees a wiser, savvier industry.

Waste and recycling haulers started realizing they could leverage technology like Fleetmind’s to improve productivity, customer satisfaction and overall operation.

“So over time, people stopped asking us what it is we’re doing, and started asking us, ‘Well can you do this also? Have you thought of this? What’s new this year or what have you added that I can leverage again to make our company better?’” he says.

Now it’s less about haulers and municipalities deciding if they need technology to stay competitive and more about where to focus that technology.

Waste360 talked with Demers about the role this technology now plays in the waste and recycling industry and how his company is using its expertise to enhance service, costs and safety.

Demers will join Tony Romano, from Sonrai Systems Inc., Erine Romaine, from the Solid Waste Management Dept. of the City of Mesa, Ariz., and Chad Grecsek, assistant director of environmental services with the City of Deerfield Beach, Fla. on the “Tracking Garbage” panel moderated by Rubicon Global’s Jason Knowles at WasteExpo next week. The session will take place at 9:00 AM on Monday.
Waste360: How have your company’s offerings evolved?

Demers: Originally we were focusing on the onboard computers—so providing a link between the vehicle and the back-office system for billing, dispatch and tracking. Over time, we added features and functions on the software side to generate reports, to allow people to do service verification to be able to maximize their revenues and their profits.

Waste360: What is your expectation of those attending your panel discussion at WasteExpo and what can they expect from the panel?

Demers: I think now they will have more refined questions, they have more refined concerns. Some will be looking at how they can better track their assets. Some will be looking at how they can improve how they’re measuring their service, their overages and their extras. Others will be more interested in their costs and maintenance, and others tracking and looking at how I can improve the safety of my fleet.

In our presentation, I’ll be sharing the stage with one of our customers—the city of Mesa, Ariz. They already had some level of technology, but they were using technology to track their customers and so on but tracking for the trucks—just the truck’s position. To improve on their productivity, they wanted to have an onboard computer, and a dispatch system that would allow them to better manage their operations in real time in response to their customers, because they not only do residential, but they also do roll-off and commercial front-load service, where they’re competing with private haulers.

Waste360: You’ll be using the tag “Smarter Tracking.” What does that mean to you?

Demers: What we’re talking about really is it’s more than tracking garbage. Smart trucks track everything…. We’re tracking assets—the containers, who owns the container, where is the container located, who is the container rented to, tracking the delivery of these containers. So if you use RFID [Radio Infrared Identification], for example, the biggest challenge is making sure the database that links the customer and the container or the cart are always up to date. Because RFID technology is great, you know. You lift the cart. You read the RFID tag, and you match that tag in your database to a person. When you do repairs, and you do cart deliveries or swaps—because somebody wants a 60-gallon can instead of a 90-gallon can—if you don’t keep track of all of those transactions and get your database up to date, you’re reading 100 percent of the RFID tags, but your database gets quickly out of skew.

We’ve had customers in the past for example, that after a year, 20 percent of their database was wrong. So that means that one out of five reads you were matching to the wrong person. So what I tell people now is if you’re going to use RFID, for residential, for example, you need military discipline.

Waste360: Can you give us an example?

Demers: For instance, Boise, Idaho, started out seven years ago deploying RFID carts and over the first year they redistributed or swapped out 30 percent of the carts but didn’t keep up with the inventory. And after a year they gave up on the use of RFID. So we are still reading the tags today but we’re not correlating them to anything.

Waste360: So what is happening then?

Demers: Instead, they’ve decided that every time that a can is not out, they take a picture either using the curb camera or the hopper camera and take a broad-angled picture of the house with cart not on the sidewalk. We overlay the name of the customer, the GPS position and the time of day.

So if the customer calls to complain that their cart hasn’t been picked up, they can email them a picture of their driveway with no cart in it and ask them to pay if they want the cart to be picked up. The reason for that is in the contract, Republic needs to pick up every single container and the city pays for that. The city wants to turn the onus on the residents and if the residents don’t put out their carts, then they can tell them if you want the cart to be picked up then you pay for it, instead of the city paying Republic and not getting anything in return.

Waste360: What types of services?

Demers: One challenge is, if you’re going down the street and there’s one garbage can, one recycling can and one composting can, and they all have RFID tags, by being intelligent about how you use the RFID prefixes, you can make it easier so when you’re driving down the street you can be sure, you can pick up just the can you are lifting on the garbage route. So identifying the service is another use.

Some of our customers are now using RFID more for their roll-off bins and Front-load bins. For front-load bins, sometimes you get to a shopping center and people have changed service providers but still have the bin from the previous guy and so you have a series of bins and it’s hard to figure out which one is the Chinese restaurant bin that you’re supposed to pick up if they all look the same. So you can make sure you are making the right lift and not lifting somebody else’s bin for free and then your customer calls to complain you’re not making the lift.

Waste360: What about tracking revenue?

Demers: You want to make sure that you are able to measure the service that you are providing to each customer so that you can bill appropriately. Even in residential—it’s more common in roll-off bin and front load—but even in residential there are some municipalities that will charge for extras. So you‘re allowed one bag. If you have two bags, it’s $5 for the second bag. So again, if you have a system that can document those extras by allowing the driver to identify for that customer, “I did an extra lift or I picked up an extra bag and here’s a picture of the two bags instead of one,” then you can generate extra revenue, because you’re measuring the extra services that you’re providing. For front-load, same thing.

Waste360: Why is that important for this industry?

Demers: In the tracking revenue portion of tracking garbage, it’s really about making sure you can track every service event but more than that making sure you can track every extra service and every overage of services so that you can bill for that as well. And in some cases that pays for deploying the technology.

The other side of tracking the revenue is tracking the cost, obviously. So you want to be able to measure the time the driver spends on the route, the time the driver spends at every customer, the fuel that’s being consumed, the disposal costs, the maintenance costs.

Waste360: You mentioned this is useful not just in residential, but with roll-offs and front-loaders as well. How?

Demers: One of the things we built into our products is to be able to correlate the lifts and the weights and being able to do analysis to measure the disposal costs per customer and correlate that with the revenues. And for one of our customers in Ontario, we were able to identify with one month’s worth of data on a fleet of 15 trucks in one of their divisions, we identified for them 300 customers that were costing them $300,000 per year. So, they were paying $300,000 more in disposal costs than the revenues they were getting from these customers. So just by allowing them to go to their competitor, they would make $300,000 more profit. Or you renegotiate the price for these customers so that you make an appropriate amount of profit. So by being able to measure consistently over a one month period where you’ve serviced that customer four, six, eight times, you can get an average and be able to measure, based on the disposal costs for these customers, if you’re making money or not.

Waste360: So the industry is using technology to track revenue, to track costs, and to track service. Is there anything else it’s being used to track?

Demers: The thing that is coming up more and more as a consideration now is tracking safety. There are states in the U.S. where there are law firms specialized in suing garbage companies for accidents. They have teams of people focusing on that. So people have become very conscience of this and are now asking for technology to do continuous video recording for safety—video surveillance, accident detection, and generating alarms based on speed and based on other conditions.

It’s also being able to properly document electronically their pre-trip and post-trip inspections and being able to track the work the mechanics have done to fix any issues with the vehicles.

With the U.S. regulations now, there’s also focus on hours of service. In the past not all vehicles in all fleets were subject to rules about hours of service. But more and more, the governments are asking to track hours of service, again, for safety concerns. So garbage trucks don’t necessarily travel very far but in some cases the drivers work more than 12 hours, which is the limit.

About the Author(s)

Cheryl McMullen

Freelance writer, Waste360

Cheryl McMullen is a freelance journalist from Akron, Ohio, covering solid waste collection and transfer for Waste360.

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