Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the March/April 2000 issue of MSW Management.
In an eight-hour workday, a tightly run rolloff truck can haul 80 tons in eight loads, while frontloaders and residential trucks haven’t even hit 20 tons in two loads.
Rolloff operations are also the only activity in the waste business where the cost of entry is relatively inexpensive. Compare the price for a rolloff truck to an automated residential truck or a commercial frontloader. A rolloff truck with reasonable features might average around $160,000, while frontloaders come in around $230,000 and automated residential trucks cost $245,000. Add the price for containers to establish one day’s route—$32,000 for eight 30-yd. rolloff bins, $36,000 for 900 automated carts, and $56,000 for 140 3- or 4-yd. frontload bins—and you begin to see dollar signs.
Rolloff operations are usually not subject to the limitations of franchise agreements and fixed routes. This means that each stop in a rolloff business directly competes with everyone else in the market. Price and service usually are the determining factors. Depending on whether the stop is a permanent account—such as an industrial open-top or commercial compactor or a temporary bin for a construction site—your ability to set down the bin and pick it up when the customer demands determines whether he calls again.
As with every other facet of the refuse business, there are only two pieces to the basic operation: the truck and the container. The decision of what type of each to acquire depends on a variety of factors, including the operating environment, the region where the operation will occur, and the types of materials to be hauled.
There are two primary lifting configurations available: the tilt frame and the hook lift. The majority of rolloff operations utilize the tilt frame consisting of two fixed rails that are elevated by a hydraulic ram. A cable winch attaches to a hook on the container, which is pulled onto the inclined rails. The cable pulls the container up the rails until it reaches the balance point on the rails. The rails are lowered, and the cable pulls the container along the lowered rails until it is fully seated on the truck. In a hook-lift configuration, a fixed boom pivots on an axis located at the rear of the truck chassis. The boom extends out to the rear of the truck through a low-angle hydraulic cylinder. The boom hooks onto the container and pulls it onto the bed of the truck. The concept is similar to when you reach down and hoist a heavy load onto your shoulder.
Tilt frames can be configured either with a fixed tail or an extendable tail. “A fixed tail is all one piece,” describes Ken Hermann, branch manager with McNeilus in Gahanna, OH. “It extends approximately 32 inches behind the end of the frame. When you raise it up, it touches the ground and you pull your containers straight on. The extendable tail will have a 48-inch extendable piece that runs out on a hydraulic cylinder. That extendable piece allows you to get into tighter places and helps you maneuver the container around.”
Extendable-tail trucks are usually found working in environments where limited clearance is a constant factor, says Jamie McManus, vice president of sales with McClain EZ Pack in Galion, OH. “A normal rolloff takes between a 48- and 50-degree dump angle. You can’t take that into some places, such as Rockefeller Center in New York where everything’s underground. With the extendable tail, you cut your loading height to 24 degrees. You don’t have the boom up as high, so you can get the container up on its back. That’s where that really shines.” Operation of the extended-tail trucks requires care. “Most people shy away from them because of the extendable-tail cylinder,” says Hermann. “If you have a driver who isn’t careful, he will bend that cylinder, and it’s a maintenance hassle. I wouldn’t put a driver in one unless he’s a very good driver.”
It’s also important to specify the type of rails to be used in the operation. There are only two types offered on rolloff equipment: outside rails versus inside rails. The rails are the lifting platform on the truck chassis while a set of rails exists on the container. Outside rails are configured so that the rails of the container ride on rollers on the outside of the truck’s rails, while inside rails mean that the container’s rails ride inside of the rails on the truck. “Most new containers are outside,” notes Hermann. Which type of rail is used is often a factor of regional preference. “A lot of your older accounts are still running a bunch of inside rails.” Knowledge of the types of containers or compactors being used, especially if it is an older account, might further dictate the placement of the rails on the truck. Also, it is important to know the spacing of the rails. “You’re going to find them somewhere between 35.5 and 37 inches wide,” adds Hermann.
The best way to purchase rolloff trucks is as a complete package, as opposed to buying the chassis and having the rails added by another vendor, suggests McManus. “When the customer specifies the truck and brings it to me, we have a hard time because they don’t know the clearances,” he states. “A lot of times it comes in and it’ll take an extra 30 hours mounting [the rails on] that truck because they got air tanks draped in the areas where the hoist is. That’s the biggest problem. We’re very big into the truck package program. The customer says, ‘I need a truck tomorrow.’ We bring the trucks into our specs with the proper front ends and rear ends and make sure the frame rail is strong enough to handle the product we’re putting on the back.”
The trucks can be equipped with such extra features as additional rear axles and automated tarp covers. “In a truck application, a pusher axle is the add-on axle ahead of the tandems,” explains Hermann. “A tag axle is an axle added behind your rear tandem.” The use of tag or pusher axles is dependent on the weight and bridge laws in the state where the truck will be operating. “I’d say 60 percent of our products going out have a lift axle of some sort,” says McManus. Observes Hermann, “In Michigan, for each axle you put on, you can haul another 13,000 pounds.”
Automated tarp covers are another feature that is gaining in popularity on rolloff trucks. “It’s being mandated by local and federal laws that all loads have to be covered,” states Hermann. There is also the added benefit of safety through the use of automated tarp covers. “You have a guy crawling along the side of a wet container up on a truck, spreading the tarp on it,” he says. “Or he could sit there and operate a lever and keep himself out of a workers’ comp case. It’s a much safer operation. Everybody would like to have the automated, but when they look at the 9,000-dollar price tag, they think, ‘Well, we could live with the semiautomated.’ You get what you pay for.”
The container is the other part of the hardware for a successful rolloff operation. Rolloff containers are available in two basic styles—tub or box—and in sizes ranging from 10 to 50 yd.3
The selection of the style of a container is as much a function of the region where the rolloff system operates as it is the preference of the individual company. “The rectangular container has been around for as long as I’ve been in the industry,” remarks Danny James, vice president of sales and marketing for Bes-Pac in Easley, SC. “The tub-style container came into the marketplace some years after the rectangular. As its name implies, the sides are vertical, and then we break the sides in so that it has a bottom half of an octagon. The container doesn’t have any 90-degree areas at the floor and wall area, so it dumps a little bit cleaner. You don’t have the buildup of trash and so forth in the corners. The other thing about tubs is they’re nestable. There are still a lot of haulers who prefer the rectangular boxes simply because they’ve been around for a long time and that’s what they’re used to. I think the tub box is just as strong as the rectangular box. Long term, I think the maintenance cost on a tub box is less than it is on a rectangular box.”
Deciding which container to purchase requires an understanding of the environment in which the container will be used. “You need to know what type of stuff you’re hauling,” says Bob LaMora, manager of technical services with Accurate Industries in Murial, NJ. “Standard-duty cans are good for certain applications but not for others. You need to know if it’s dry or wet waste to know whether to have gaskets in the door or not. You need to know how the containers are going to be loaded so you can design the tops of them to take the type of abuse they might be going through.”
In general, the use of the container will also dictate the volume of the container. The volume of a rolloff container is measured in cubic yards. In most cases, 10- or 20-yd. rolloff containers are used for more dense materials, such as concrete, asphalt, and brick generated during construction and demolition (C&D) activities. The most common general-service containers are in the 30- to 40-yd.-capacity range and are used for general C&D waste composed of mostly wood or drywall or for bulky commercial or industrial refuse. Larger-capacity containers are for bulky, lower-density items, such as tires or tree and brush trimmings.
When specifying a rolloff container, other special features may come into play. “They would have to determine what hitch they need, whether it’s a cable-pull or hook-lift system,” states Larry Miller, division manager for Geneva Products in Valley City, ND. “Some have special applications they meet and might need a top-hinge door. The most popular is the side-hinge door that opens to the driver’s right. There are other applications like barnyard doors where two doors open out, one to each side. We have certain applications, such as refuse from a plant where they squeeze oil out of corn or sunflowers and there’s juice in it. We have to seal the welds, as well as the doors, and make them watertight.”
With proper maintenance, a rolloff container can last for 15-20 years, although the industry standard is five to 10 years. Moisture and abuse are the two things that can quickly destroy a container. “If there’s an area where there’s a lot of rain and it’s always wet inside, after a few years the bottoms tend to start rusting,” explains Miller. “Then they usually clean it up and replate the bottom, and they’re ready to go again. Generally there’s not too much damage to the sides other than maybe some dents or scrapes.”
Richard Frade, general manager of AAA Recycling Sales and Services in New Bedford, MA, recommends a regiment of proper maintenance. “The biggest thing with containers is keeping a good paint job on them,” he states. “We do a couple of other things with the rectangular cans. Ventilation in the vertical tubes is really important, so we keep the vent hole on the bottom open and clean. We put a larger vent hole underneath the floor plate for the vertical tube to allow all of the silt to drop out. I have some rolloff containers out there that are 30 years old. In fact, I don’t think I have ever scrapped a container.”
The key to successful rolloff-equipment selection is to look at the entire package and select components that maximize their usefulness within the working environment. “The thing I try to do when selling equipment to other companies is to understand what they’re hauling,” states Frade. “What is the majority of the material they’re hauling? If it’s all light material, then you go with one spec container or truck. But if it’s all heavy material, I try to get them involved in a truck that’s suitable for the type of hauling they’re doing. Most people get hung up on price instead of really understanding what their needs are. The cheapest price isn’t the best. As far as trucks go, I look at the dealer support in the area. What kind of service they have and what kind of parts inventory they have. Sometimes if you’re looking at a truck and it’s 2,000 or 3,000 dollars cheaper, it might not be the best thing if you don’t have any dealer support or parts inventory. If the truck goes down and it’s sitting in the shop for a week, it’s costing you money. What I urge people to do is take a better look at what they’re doing and what their needs are and try to develop specs that suit their needs.”