Software and Mechanical Automation Innovations in Trash Collection

Sophisticated software and mechanical automation have led to innovative operations in trash collection.

Credit: EnCORE eMobile

Innovations seem to come at us at all corners, and at an ever-escalating pace—cell phones, new fuel cars, new efficient heating, and appliances that seem to do everything but feed your pets a balanced diet and mow your lawn remotely. The truth is, some gadgets actually do perform those functions. But those are the attention-getters dominating the consumer marketplace. What about technology behind the scenes designed to advance the world of waste collection?

Waste services are clearly a paradox issue: nobody thinks much of it, but if you can’t get rid of it, it quickly takes center stage. Not surprisingly then, the value of innovations in waste management efficiencies could be said to provide society with a far higher benefit by keeping our community fabric neat and clean, when compared to a phone with more pixels per millimeter. From sophisticated software to mechanical innovations, waste removal these days reflects scientific ingenuity that advances the market far beyond “trash collections.”

An Eye on the Future
Cedar Falls, IA-based truck equipment manufacturer Wayne Engineering is clearly an innovative force in the waste collection industry. The company was the first to commercially produce an automated side loader in the waste industry. Wayne Engineering’s CEO Kevin Watje says they’ve continued to be at the leading edge of chassis-mounted solutions.

“We introduced automated collection back in 1978 with our Wayne Curbtender ASL, and our engineering team has developed an impressive menu of new options and enhancements for residential and commercial collections,” he says.

Having an eye always to the future, Watje anticipated the day when alternative energy for refuse vehicles would be more than a futuristic vision. “As the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] enacted emissions regulations, we could see that the diesel trucks were going to become a primary target. And we were right. Trash trucks, with all their stop-and-go duty cycle, had the biggest carbon footprint, and people were starting to seriously talk about alternative energy as far back as 20 years ago—I know we certainly were,” he says.

With EPA’s spotlight on refuse trucks as some of the heaviest polluters, the waste industry responded, first with adoption of liquefied natural gas (LNG)– and compressed natural gas (CNG)–powered vehicles. On the heels of the restrictive EPA emission standards enacted in 2007 and 2010, many new hybrid technologies began emerging such as hydraulic launch assist (HLA), a method of capturing braking energy by compressing hydraulic fluid into a tank. The commercial truck industry has continued to look at new technologies for reducing emissions, as EPA has enacted and announced even more restrictive standards.

Watje recalls the days when diesel trucks belched out black smoke and blackened the paint of vehicles, but that today, while you can hear a diesel truck, you can’t see it coming and going like you used to. “What we’re really looking for today is zero tailpipe emissions, and that translates to one thing, really, which is electric power,” he says. “And with electric, you have no tailpipe. That future is here now at Wayne, as we have launched the first commercially-available, all-electric refuse truck.”

In November, Wayne Engineering introduced its Quantum rear loader integrated with an all-electric BYD chassis to its dealer network at an event in Phoenix, AZ. The 10-cubic-yard rear loader is the first of several electric refuse trucks which Wayne Engineering plans to introduce.

While there have been other prototype electric vehicles for waste collection, they have not had the legal payload capacity you would see in a municipal or commercial trash collection vehicle, nor the duty cycle.

Watje explains the nuances of difference that are critical. “You can’t just take a trash truck, stick on some battery packs, and off you go,” he says, adding, “Electrifying a vocational truck efficiently is a much more complicated process than the technology suited for a one- to two-ton passenger vehicle.”

Being efficient has been a longstanding mission at Wayne Engineering. “When we designed our new all-electric trash vehicles, we worked off the lessons learned from optimizing diesel,” says Watje. “Weight and power usage directly affect the ability to reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency. So, we began identifying ways to eliminate parasitic power demand and reduce weight, without compromising the need for a robust product. That led to the introduction of our power-on-demand hydraulic system [POD]. When used on diesel trucks, we found that our customers were saving four to eight gallons of diesel a day.”

The system only draws horsepower when it was needed, he explains, acting something like an on-demand hot water heater and keeping it at a neutral pumping of hydraulic oil when not picking up trash. “From this innovation, we knew that we needed to create the same on-demand system with electric,” he says. “Furthermore, the refuse collection body needed to weigh less in order to accommodate the weight of the electric bodies and still provide a suitable payload. And finally, we needed to have a power source up to the task that had the kilowatts needed for the rigors of daily demand, because you can’t just charge it up at the corner store.

“There’s been tremendous increases in battery technology,” continues Watje, “and we’re seeing that battery power density is increasing by 10% a year. We have partnered with BYD, a Chinese firm that is the world’s largest producer of electric vehicles, because they are a pioneer in battery technology.”

He adds that the chemistry of their batteries are iron phosphate-based: “We call them ‘soap and rust’, and while the lithium ion [Li-Ion] has better power density, it has issues with combustion and is much more dependent on rare earth source material.”

After over five years of evaluating electric vehicle platforms, Wayne Engineering believes it has found the ideal partner for its trucks in BYD. Their class 6 chassis features a high-power, 160-kW onboard battery—double the power of most electric trucks, which are typically fitted with 70- to 80-kW sources.

“A lot of science has gone into making this work for us. We have a great truck body, and this truck is not a prototype, but the real deal,” says Watje. He describes the chassis configuration as, “a purpose built all-electric chassis with a battery that is integrated with the chassis frame rail design.

“It’s well protected and sealed from the elements, and the connections are self sealing,” he adds. “So if there’s water, no one will get shocked. Plus, the unit features a crash rail for additional protection.”

The design BYD engineered provides variable levels of regenerative braking, which is ideally suited for the stop-and-go routes used by waste haulers. Regenerative braking reduces brake wear and increase battery range as it goes through its duty cycle. BYD and Wayne Engineering anticipate an 85- to 100-mile range on its all-electric Quantum rear loader, along with 250 cycles of its packing mechanism.

“We’ve come a long way from being the first to commercially manufacture an automated trash truck, to being the first to launch an all-electric, zero-emissions refuse truck,” he says. “The only downside now is you won’t hear the distinctive rumbling approach of a diesel garbage truck to remind you to take your trash out, because, after all, the other benefit of a 6 a.m. electric trash pickup is how quiet we will be!”

Credit: ROTO PAC ROTO PAC Automated Side Loader

Credit: ROTO PAC
ROTO PAC Automated Side Loader

No More “Where Are You?”
Few words are more disconcerting to the efficiency of waste collection than the phrase “there’s just a few extra bags, so will you take those?”

And, according to Scott Fisher, spokesperson from EnCORE—a financial and operational software division of Jacksonville, FL-based CORE Computing Systems, Inc., (CCS)—they have just the right program to streamline the discrepancies of solid waste operations. “We saw two of the biggest challenges for solid waste haulers. First, they relied on an operational software to manage their pickups, but then they had to manually transpose the operation to the financial accounts. We saw this as inefficient and developed a ‘pay-as-you-throw’ software that now reduces the massive paperwork, assists the drivers and crew, and marries all of the operations of dispatch, routing, collection and costs, and container tracking. In essence, the process is wirelessly managed from the minute drivers set foot in the cab, through the pickup and routing, and the end-of-day dropoff, to recycling, landfill, or wherever.”

Explaining that the first programs five years ago were tablet-based, these “consumer tablets took a real beating and needed constant recharging as they had to run all shifts, so the connections were always getting broken,” he adds.

EnCORE customer Neil Parsons, Systems Administrator, talks about the benefits: one being “no more pen and paper for Granger Trash and Recycling Services of Lansing, Michigan.”

He continues, “The beauty of this system is you don’t need a new truck to install this technology. It can go into any operation and really streamlines our day from start to finish.”

Parsons says the driver signs into their tablet and finds their daily route presented, or, “if you’re working a rolloff, then the work orders are assigned by our dispatcher to that tablet, so you follow that work order.

“Before EnCORE, we had to print out hundreds of sheets of paper every day;

the drivers had to go through them, and then sort the route, check it off, and make notes if there was a problem or more trash was on a particular stop. All this had to be then verified at the office, and it was a tedious process.”

Now the routing is electronically connected to the home office in real time, “so we can see where every driver is at any time, and if a driver says ‘hey I need to change my route,’ it’s all geocoded, so the route supervisor can say ‘OK, go ahead’,” says Parsons.

Another benefit of this connectivity is that, “You can see at a glance if someone is broken down, and can quickly assign a truck to that route or get the appropriate repairs. The dashboard feature can tell a driver how far he is into the route and how long service routes are taking. This feature is a benefit in that we can, and do, collect data, so we have historical information which helps in routing, and also helps to talk with municipalities about service.”

The onboard scale feature of the software is huge benefit as well, Parsons says. If a customer is paying for a specific service but the collection amount turns out to be more, the load is weighed and recorded.

“This technology is great in that it also allows for documenting additional charges, and the on-board camera can record the actual trash onsite. Now, we have the irrefutable evidence of the pickup, time of day, weight, and so forth. Before, we had to write it down and process it into the office, and it didn’t always make it that far, so we had a losing revenue stream.”

Plus, he explains, it’s a benefit from a customer service perspective. If someone calls and says their pickup was missed, the operations office can see where the truck is and can inform them that the driver is a few blocks away and can be there in a specific timeframe.

“While we have all sorts of customers, public and private, municipalities really like the dashboard feature, because they can log onto it and also see live data of what is going on with pickup at any given time.”

Protecting Sensitive Equipment
But, as Parsons says, drivers are notorious for being hard on equipment, so devising tablet protectors and ensuring recharging cables was key. “A consumer grade tablet can’t run eight to ten hours a day without shutting down the batteries, and you also don’t realize how much vibration the trucks experience, which is passed on to those units. We were going through cigarette lighter chargers like crazy, so then we used the newer technology of new magnetic adaptors with phones.

“Well, I thought I had really solved the problem, when we suddenly realized the magnetic components were attracting all sorts of metal filings! You can’t really imagine that in the trash truck how many pieces of small metal found their way stuck to this unit, so that was out,” says Parsons.

The next step was to get a RAM mount in the cab and an Intelliskin protective cover for the tablets. “This way there is a built-in contact point so a micro-USB connection solves the problem, and there are no connection prongs. And also, it’s designed with multiple ports. I have embraced the tempered glass options for the front of the screens as another protective insurance.”

While some drivers were pretty easily convinced to use the new technology, “especially the younger guys who were used to technology,” some of the older guys had to be convinced, he says.

“But, what we said to them was: ‘Look this is a benefit to you, because it’s less work on your part; and, this has got your back if someone says you’re going too fast and you didn’t complete a job—we’ve got the proof that protects you in these events.'”

Home Heating From Potato Peels
In waste pickup, there are probably fewer aggravations more taxing than equipment failures, jammed blades, or hydraulic mishaps. And when it comes to certain types of trash collections, “some trash is more high risk to vehicles than others,” says Phil Allen, Vice President of New Way Trucks, of Scranton, IA.

“We’re the third-largest manufacturer of conventional waste vehicles with rear loaders, side loaders, front loaders, and automated arms. But in all my years in this business, nothing compares to this new venture we’ve just begun,” says Allen.

Credit: Wayne Engineering Wayne Engineering All Electric Quantum Rear Loader

Credit: Wayne Engineering
Wayne Engineering All Electric Quantum Rear Loader

The company recently partnered with innovative Canadian firm, Ginove Inc. of Quebec, Canada, whose collection body patented device revolutionizes trash collection, particularly for organic waste. Allen says this is a huge segment of the market, that until now presented problems to the waste handling equipment.

The new device from Ginove is called ROTO PAC and is a 24-inch-diameter automatic auger that makes short, and clean, work of organic waste. Allen says New Way then partnered with Ginove to undertake the distribution of the ROTO PAC in the United States, adding this to their broad product mix.

“There are several advantages to this system. One of the problems when you pick up organic waste is that, in a conventional packing blade, food waste and organic yard waste can leak; it gets behind the blade, and the sludge gums it up. It’s also very hard to clean.”

Allen explains that the ROTO PAC auger also exceeds conventional packing capacity of the vehicle as most trucks pack 700–800 pounds per cubic yard, but the ROTO PAC will pack 1,000–1,400 pounds per cubic yard. “It might seem that since it can take on more payload that there would be a weight issue, and trucks, of course, have to be compliant with weight regulations. But, in fact, due to its unique design, there is no packing blade, so the vehicle then becomes about 3,000 pounds less in overall weight, compared to other sideloaders.”

So, not only does it handle more, he adds, “there is no dual hoist mechanism on the body. The arm that picks up the trash bucket can retract and extend out to 12 feet, and it’s all very smooth dumping it into the hopper. The other benefit is there are no cylinders, rollers, or tracks, and the maintenance, cleaning, wear, and tear on those moving parts simply doesn’t exist with ROTO PAC.”

With the load and efficiency in pickup increased, Allen says you can do more homes in a day than typical sideloaders.

Plus, this is perfect for cities with narrow streets and allows whose trash pickup—both commercial and residential—is challenged by big trucks that can’t get where they need to be without blocking roads and/or holding up traffic, he says. “Our truck design has a wheelbase 20 to 24 inches shorter than a conventional truck, so it’s more maneuverable. You only need a single operator; the pickup is joystick-operated so you can control it, and the arm extension flexibility allows you to reach further back or close into your load.

ROTO PAC innovator, Christian Lapointe of Ginove corporate offices in Quebec says that he and Ginove vice president of operations, Michel Fillion, P. Eng., “have been in this business for 26 years. And we’re still innovating—particularly as there has been a big push across Canada to ban organics and food waste out of the wastestream.”

But, the ROTO PAC took multiple incarnations to get it “just right”, explains Lapointe. “When we started, we knew that developing a niche product specific for food and organics had to be different than the current technology. It had to be incorporated into a container that was leak-proof, and it had to have the ability to churn the waste efficiently.”

After creating a prototype and “13 iterations later, the auger concept now delivers 30% compaction, and we can handle an extraordinary payload and weight density in the organics without any spillage. Standard compaction is a function of back-and-forth motion and crushing, but what we do is mixing and shredding, which is very efficient,” says Lapointe.

He stresses that the auger can only be operated from inside the cab, “so it will not engage at all, unless the driver/operator is physically using the joystick inside. There’s no automation and is virtually accident-free with this design.”

Once the trash bucket is loaded into the receiving box, it begins its process of churning the waste. With welded seams, it is leakproof and the material collected, “literally hundreds of gallons at a time,” is then conveyed to the holding area in the rear of the truck.

And, there is one more benefit that organic composting facilities are happy with. “Because of the rotational action of the auger, it performs a shredding, not crushing, action, so it will open most film trash bags. This means that everything is loose and can be processed without a debagging recycling operation.”

Lapointe says that now, after perfecting the system two years ago, applying for worldwide patent, and partnering with New Way to incorporate the auger in a newly designed waste truck to now launching, they are going global.

“We’ve visited with manufacturers in Scandinavia, France, Germany, and Italy, and we will eventually be exhibiting at the largest European waste industry trade show next year.”

Still Simple, Still Safe
While cloud-based, real-time technology has its place, there are some low-tech innovations, particularly in personal safety and risk reduction, that do one thing so well you can’t really improve on them. Think of the world without handrails, potholders, sunglasses, and Wheel-Checks. Yes, Wheel-Checks, the bright yellow arrow pointers attached to truck lug nuts that are a first alert system to warn of loose and dangerous nuts.

This clever device first launched almost two decades ago, but today still remains the leading device for major North American transport companies that provides a fast visual alert, indicating a wheel lug nut is loose. And the company’s continuously updated Web-based news service reporting incidents of flyaway wheels injuring pedestrians or motorists is compelling evidence in the cautionary “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” mantra.

In this case, the ounce comes in the shape of bright yellow plastic wheel indicators, created by innovator John Cox, who founded Wheel Checks in 1997. Spokesperson Stefni Walters says they’ve been manufactured for almost 20 years in Montreal, Quebec.

She says that when one of the yellow arrow indicators attached to wheel nuts changes its position, this provides drivers and fleet owners an immediate alert the nut is loose. “This is a huge safety concern, and busy operators may not always check the torque on each wheel, but with this device a simple visual inspection alerts you to a loose nut.”

Walters explains that these brightly colored plastic arrow indicators are set on the nuts in a uniform pattern, and any deviation in the configuration is a flag to a change in torque. The biggest cause of loosening, she explains, is the extreme amount of vibrations these big trucks experience, along with temperature changes and fatigue from joint slip.

Two other Wheel-Checks assist fleets in early problem detection. Walters says their heat sensitive device reacts “if there is any binding on a brake, or a seized bearing, since the heat which is transferred through the stud, the nut melts and becomes deformed. This tells the operator that immediate maintenance is necessary.”

She adds that Wheel-Checks must be visually observed prior to any truck leaving for the road, and on their return. “There’s no price on the time it takes to ensure safety, and these devices make it clear if your trucks are road-worthy.”

At Charlotte, NC-based All Points Waste Services, owner Sam Locklear says the company has a combined experience record of more than a half-century in the waste and recycling industry. Today they offer waste services to 30 counties throughout North and South Carolina, catering to special hauling and handling for residential, commercial, and industrial waste.

Locklear agrees with Cox and Walters that safety is paramount. “We have 65 trucks with ten wheels to a truck, that is a lot of wheels. This amounts to 650 wheel positions, and that’s a huge number of wheel nuts to look after—every day. Ideally, the drivers should check these, but the reality is it’s probably not going to happen. With Wheel-Checks, all you need to do is walk around your truck and inspect visually. If there’s any problem, the bright yellow-pointed indicators change their direction on the nut, so there is a clear and obvious discrepancy.”

He adds that they stress the importance of safety with the employees. “We’ve educated our people to use these, as it takes all the guesswork out of wheel tightening issues. These trucks are starting and stopping hundreds of times every day—five, six days a week—with vibrations, hitting potholes, and changing wheel positions; this all requires constant vigilance on torque.”

Before they were using Wheel-Checks, Locklear says, there would be different people doing the tightening, and no assurance to guarantee uniformity. “It’s difficult to ensure consistency. Now we put these on, and they are all pointing toward the wheel stud in a clockwise position. It’s an easy visual inspection post-trip to see if there is any change. The second benefit is that they are heat-sensitive and these guys are hard on the brakes, so when the indicator melts we can do immediate brake inspection.”

“The Wheel-Checks principle is simple, but what could be better than a simple-but-effective device that helps keep our trucks on the road and our drivers, as well as the public, safe from loose wheels and unexpected breakdowns. When we started using Wheel-Checks, all our wheel troubles went away.”  MSW_bug_web

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