November 1, 2007
Maybe you're considering taking on a fully automated residential route, but only have a fleet of front loaders. Or, perhaps you're bidding on a residential and commercial contract 50 miles away and have been dreading the thought of having to send two vehicles to do the job.
Devices offered by Romeoville, Ill.-based Perkins Manufacturing and Sonoma, Calif.-based The Curotto Can allow haulers to convert their commercial front loaders for use in fully automated residential collection.
The products attach to the head of a front loader and feature a collection can and a set of grabber arms. The arms lift residential carts and dump the waste into the open top of the collection can. When the can fills up, its contents are dumped into the truck itself, just as the waste from a commercial bin would be.
Although the devices aren't the right fit for everyone, they can permit haulers to use their trucks more efficiently, reduce contamination of recyclables and cut down on workers' compensation claims.
Tonnage and Efficiency
Henry County, Ga., was the eighth-fastest-growing county in the country from 2000 to 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It's also one of the five counties that make up CLM Sanitation's service area south of Atlanta. Needless to say, with 70 to 80 percent market share in the area, CLM has to service very dense routes.
For a while, the company used rear loaders, which could hold 16 tons of waste, for its residential routes, says Jason Becker, the company's CEO. But with an increasing subscriber base, it needed to improve efficiency. So, in December 2005, CLM Sanitation purchased an automated side-loader collection vehicle. Becker says that while they had no technical problems with the vehicle, it was only able to collect 12 tons before it had to be driven to a nearby landfill for dumping.
“When we changed from rear-load to side-load trucks, we had to cut the routes by 150 stops on average,” Becker says. “That was a struggle with the tight routes. The guy could pick it up, but couldn't hold it.”
So, in July 2007, Becker bought a Curotto Can. By attaching the product to a front loader, Becker was able to automate the routes while keeping tonnage up. He increased the amount of waste the driver could pick up before heading to a landfill to 16 tons without having to make any changes to the residential routes, aside from making them right-hand drive. CLM Sanitation now uses the device on six of its 40 routes.
“In today's industry, you have to use every advantage you can get through technology to keep your price point relevant in your market,” Becker says. For now, the company is only servicing residential accounts, but using the device, which can detach from a front loader in minutes, gives it the option of breaking into commercial accounts.
For Brad Brown, division manager for Allied Waste Services of Bullhead City, Ariz., the ability to collect residential and commercial waste with one truck has been a big draw of The Curotto Can and Perkins Manufacturing's Perkins Automated Container — also known as the PAC 1.0 — released in early 2007.
“I can't say one's better than the other,” says Brown of The Curotto Can and the PAC. “The drivers like different aspects of each one.”
Brown has one residential and commercial route that is 20 miles from his main service area. Rather than sending two trucks, he deploys a front loader equipped with either a Curotto Can or a PAC. The driver picks up waste from the 150 to 200 residential stops then detaches the device to service the approximately 100 commercial stops. Brown also is getting ready to start a job 60 miles away that includes 300 homes, as well as commercial stops.
Brown keeps a Curotto Can as a spare in case one of his other automated vehicles is out of service. “You don't want to have a $250,000 truck sitting around not doing anything,” he says.
Brown adds that he would consider using front loaders with fully automated attachments for the majority of his operations except for one main problem in his area: wind, which can blow the waste onto the streets before it reaches the hopper. “I'll probably always have a front loader with one of these types of containers because of areas that are spread out and have both residential and commercial stops,” he says. “But for contracted areas in the city limits, we'll go with an automated side loader because of the wind. Otherwise, we would look at the other system full time.”
Driving the Point Home
Jim Cowhey, president and CEO of Park Ridge, Ill.-based Land and Lakes, also has experimented using the PAC on mixed residential and commercial routes. So far, he has purchased four of the devices and says that a 10 to 20 percent increase in productivity has been the main benefit since drivers can service more homes in the same shift. But, Cowhey also was looking to reduce driver injuries caused by lifting, and he says he's seen a decrease in worker's compensation claims from drivers.
Cowhey says that overall, the PAC has taken the drivers a little getting used to. “But, once they do, it's less labor intensive for them,” he adds. For the driver, it's mostly a matter of becoming proficient at operating the joystick to pick up the can with the arm. “The younger drivers — the ones good at playing video games — pick it up quickly,” he says. For those on both ends of the hand-eye-coordination spectrum, Perkins has sent engineers to train the drivers. “It usually takes the drivers a day or two to pick it up,” Cowhey adds.
Rob Hutzler, who manages a waste disposal operation in southwest California, also has noticed that having a fully automated attachment on the front of the vehicle is better for driver ergonomics. Rather than having to turn around to see what material is being dumped, it happens in front of the driver. He says this is particularly helpful when collecting recyclables because the driver can get out of the cab and take any contaminants out of the container before dumping it in the hopper.
The Right Fit?
Of course, this doesn't mean that front-load vehicles with fully automated attachments are suitable for every fleet. Aside from their issues with heavy wind, the devices also can be hard on a vehicle's front-end components because of their weight, Brown of Allied says. And, if a route isn't already automated, haulers sometimes have to convince towns to switch. Cowhey, for instance, says he plans to purchase more of the devices once the towns his company has been in discussions with agree to convert to automated systems.
The purchase also needs to make sense financially. “Each company needs to look at their balance sheet,” Becker says. For instance, he was already purchasing 32-yard rear-load trucks at $180,000 each and then went to automated side loaders at $225,000 apiece. To switch to a front loader equipped with a Curotto Can was $245,000 per truck. “For us, it wasn't that much of an increase. But for a hauler buying a 20-yarder at $100,000 that would be a major purchase.”
Fully automated attachments, though, are another piece of technology that could make sense for some haulers. “Whether it's tires, brakes or anything else, if you aren't taking advantage of every opportunity that comes along you're going to be left behind,” Becker says.
Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a contributing writer based in Laguna Beach, Calif. She is the former managing editor of Waste Age.