How to Spec a Trash Truck for Longer Life and Productivity

Photo: EZ-Pack

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of MSW Management.

The cost and the complexity of collection trucks continue to increase. With deteriorating road conditions and higher pressure for performance, budget is no longer the only significant factor in a hauler’s purchase decision. Meeting the demands of an industry known for operating in the most severe conditions, a truck must also improve the efficiency and productivity of the operator, all while providing sufficient return on investment (ROI) to entice a hauler to purchase it.

“There’s no more difficult application out there,” states David Wright, director of sales for Autocar LLC. “It’s all we focus on.”

Because most haulers are going to keep a truck for 10 to 15 years, Wright points out several factors worth consideration. “You have to look at the metrics, the ROI, the operating costs. It’s a large investment.”

“The customer drives the specs,” declares Kevin Watje, CEO of Wayne Engineering.

And Watje has some advice for haulers: Don’t cut corners. “They operate in a severe duty environment. Trying to cut costs by cutting out heavy-duty components provides no rewards. The truck just wears out sooner. Everyone looks at budget, but it’s a case of ‘pay me now or pay me later.'”

Similarly, Wright claims that it’s the municipalities driving the specs. Based on experience, climate, region, and the local geology, they choose options on their trucks to suit the situation. For example, a rural versus urban route might result in the choice of dust covers on brakes for gravel roads. A route that sends a truck to the landfill could influence a hauler to opt for lug-style tires with heavier ply, whereas a truck going only to a transfer station would suffice with a road tire. “Each situation is unique,” he says. “This is not a cookie cutter industry—a front loader doesn’t work everywhere. You have to customize.”

The Right Route
The biggest factor in specifying vehicles for both public and private haulers lies in understanding the routes, region, and equipment available. The goal is to collect trash in the most cost-effective way possible.

“Specifying both the correct chassis and body starts with route auditing,” says Nathan Anderson, vice president of sales for BodyWorks Equipment Inc., the only Heil-certified dealer in southern California.

He believes haulers need to know and understand certain factors in order to purchase the right equipment to deliver the best ROI. First is determining if the correct truck for each route is an automated front loader, automated side loader, rear end loader, or front end loader. Multiple factors determine this choice, such as traffic congestion, both to and from the route and while on the route; type of fuel used—diesel, CNG, or LNG; local weight/height laws and their effect on legal payload and overall laden weight during daily operation; and local support from both chassis and body manufacturers for new sales, parts, and service.

“[It’s] crucial to have dealers [who] understand your business, from building the right vehicles, to keeping them on the road,” says Anderson.

It’s also important to know what kinds of roads your trucks will be traveling on, notes John Davis, vice president at Heil of Texas. Are they congested, tight city streets and alleys, residential neighborhoods, or rural roads far from landfills? “Route optimization requires units to be on the roadways less because there are fewer vehicles running for the same amount of routes,” adds Davis. “This will minimize the impact on infrastructure and help to save our roadways.” It also saves wear-and-tear on the trucks.

What’s the customer’s goal? Wright says it’s important to assess the goal and the application. Is it residential or commercial? Are the trucks automated or manual? Does the hauler pick up everything?

The Purchasing Decision
Clint Serafino, manager/owner of Ace Environmental of SC, LLC, and his father, Steven, redesigned routes in the city of Greer when they bought the company a few years ago. “We worked with GIS to do mapping and plot address points,” explains Clint Serafino. The older downtown area posed several challenges such as overhanging powerlines. “It’s hard to do right-hand routing in a grid system.”

Greer couldn’t be done efficiently with a fully automated truck, so they used rear-load equipment. “You have to route trucks appropriately and put the right equipment on the right job,” says Steven Serafino. “That’s our focus.”

The company, located in upstate South Carolina, runs 18 trucks a day (six residential, five roll-offs, and one roll-off in a separate location) in Anderson, Greenville, and Spartanburg, with two “big city residential contracts,” says Clint Serafino. For their recycling operation, they use a side loader.

They like to keep a new truck about 10 years on average, with a few getting an extended life as spares. Getting the right equipment for the right service requires evaluation and research. “When we bought the company, it used rear loaders with two men on the back,” recalls Steven Serafino. “Now we use automated manual trucks with one man.”

But, he cautions, you can’t buy a rear loader for an automated system. “Review the service. If you have a take-all service, you can’t go strictly automated.”

Ace Environmental is converting to front loaders, but Clint Serafino says it’s an expensive change. “The last one we bought was $400,000.”

He chose a Mack chassis with McNeilus front loader with the Curotto-Can. The Curotto-Can Automated Carry Can has the fastest load time of any automated system on the market and delivers a proven 25–30% productivity advantage over automated side loaders. “The difference is placement of the CNG tank in the tailgate; it’s more accessible for maintenance, much nicer than the top-mount.”

A privately owned CNG filling station in Greer contributed to the decision, although Steven Serafino says that while they save some money on fuel, it added cost to the truck. “It’s a give-and-take situation. CNG causes piston and head problems because it burns hotter.”

He says the trucks lack torque and burn more CNG than diesel. “I’m not sure there’s a benefit because diesel costs dropped, but we don’t have emissions problems.”

Placement of the tank is an important aspect of routing. Steven Serafino once worked for another company that bought 46 front loader CNG Curotto vehicles without paying particular attention to their routes. “They worked in a subdivision that had underground powerlines, so they thought they were OK.”

Unfortunately, they didn’t take into account low-hanging branches. “They hit a branch,” he continues. “It punctured and creased the tank on top of the truck. It was an expensive repair.”

Locating the tank at the rear of the truck avoids those mishaps. Moving the weight to the rear also helps keep the truck from becoming overweight. “Wheelbase is a big factor,” says Steven Serafino.

So are the distance to the landfill, the type of roads trucks are on, and payload. Because Ace Environmental operates a transfer station in city, Clint says 20 miles a day is “a lot” of mileage for their trucks. “We have no highway travel, so we want to haul as heavy a load as possible.”

McNeilus builds custom trucks to address specific customer needs, with standard features and options designed to meet the demands of severe duty applications. Clint Serafino likes the standup arrangement, which allows the driver to get in and out easily. “They’re productive, efficient, and provide a good ROI.”

Steven Serafino, however, points out that things like “hills and electric brakes add to the cost.” He also believes that being open and objective leads a hauler to the right numbers. “We listen to input from the dealer, but we make our own decisions about what’s best for our business.”

That decision begins with a trip to Waste Expo, because “it’s important to see what everyone has,” he says, adding that “for decades, there’s been no consensus as to the best equipment and manufacturer support.”

Clint Serafino believes it all comes down to personal preference. “They all have the same basic features. Brand loyalty comes down to service.” In the end, haulers buy for different reasons.

Weighing In
“Things are changing,” observes Wright. “Haulers are required to haul legal payloads.”

The large national haulers are becoming more cognizant of road and bridge laws and are adjusting their equipment purchases, Davis explains.

The Federal Bridge Gross Weight Formula, also known as Bridge Formula B or the Federal Bridge Formula, is a mathematical formula used by the Department of Transportation to determine the maximum gross weight for a commercial motor vehicle, based on axle number and spacing. Part of federal weight and size regulations for interstate commercial traffic, the formula is intended to prevent heavy vehicles from damaging roads and bridges.

The August 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis attracted attention to the matter of truck weight and its impact on bridges. That year, federal estimates indicated that truck traffic had increased 216% since 1970, just prior to an increase in the federal gross weight limit for trucks. Research has proven that increased truck traffic shortens the life of bridges, with National Pavement Cost Model estimates suggesting that a single 80,000-pound truck does as much damage to a road as 750 cars. Approximately 1,500 bridges collapsed between 1966 and 2007.

Penalties for violating weight limits vary from state to state, but fines can range from a schedule to a per-pound basis to a percentage basis. Some states, like Florida, require any vehicle exceeding the limit by more than 6,000 pounds to unload until it’s in compliance. Florida also allows the driver to shift the load to other axles in order to comply with axle weight limits.

Because of the focus on payload, it is extremely important that haulers are not hauling unnecessary steel on the chassis or body. “The goal is to haul trash,” says Wright, who sees the Federal Bridge Law as creating commonality in truck specs.

Focusing on hauling legal payloads impacts the chassis and body, not just the lighter components. “You want as strong or stronger components,” continues Wright. “Heavier payloads require sturdy trucks.” Design and materials have concentrated on saving weight, using aluminum in some areas, but he points out that strength cannot be sacrifices in the cab, frame, or backbone, so steel is still used in those areas.

It’s a balancing act to carry as much payload as possible without sacrificing vehicle longevity or reliability. The changing demand is forcing manufacturers to adapt and create equipment that is weight- and load-sensitive, Davis states, citing as an example the Heil Freedom Sierra Residential and Commercial front loaders. “We regulate payloads with a scale system to run the legal weight limit.”

Weight considerations so the truck can carry the maximum legal loads have become a focal point, but there are several ways to save weight. Watje refers to a new spec being considered by many haulers: super single tires all around instead of dual. On a tandem setup, 40,000 pounds rear weight is typical. A hauler can save 700 pounds with aluminum wheels. He suggests putting them on the front, which most people don’t do because they worry about turning.

“The rear wheels are fixed, so when you turn the front, you scrub the tires,” explains Watje. “You go forward until you get enough grip. With singles, you have more rubber to grip and turn.”

The Keys to a Long-Term Commitment
ROI is one of the metrics used in purchasing decisions. It’s also the aspect of ownership that the hauler has the most control over. “Keeping equipment operating for ‘X-many’ years has multiple factors,” begins Anderson. Haulers need to purchase equipment that meets the overall need of the operation and is flexible throughout the entire operation. They also need trained operators and mechanics to ensure that the equipment is operated and maintained properly.

Drivers are a key to the longevity of the machines, Wright agrees. But many drivers are production-oriented; they want to finish fast. “You want to be productive, but also respectful of your tool. If you aren’t, it results in more service intervals and higher maintenance costs. People matter. It’s a big challenge to find a good operator.”

The Serafinos recognized that they need the most skilled employees driving the trucks. “It’s hard to take a residential driver and put him in a skilled position without training,” concedes Clint Serafino. That’s why we train and pay more.”

A supportive local dealer who understands the industry as well as the product can contribute to a truck’s productive life by developing parts and service programs tailored to the individual haulers from both operations and maintenance perspectives, for example.

This is a process for which a checklist can be created, but it is not “cookie cutter.” Due to the varying dynamics between all of the haulers, the creation of the checklists should be done on a one-by-one basis with the local dealers and the haulers. This is the best way to ensure that all facets of the haulers business model have been taken into account in order to accomplish the goals of the hauler.

Another key component is preventative maintenance as opposed to condition-based maintenance. According to Anderson, identifying and replacing wear-prone components on vehicles—both chassis and body—during scheduled PMs helps to prolong the premature failure of the larger, more expensive components, and at the same time helps to prolong the overall life of the equipment.

Preventative maintenance is critical, Davis affirms. “A good, consistent maintenance program helps ensure the unit will provide years of service.” Heil offers preventative maintenance kits that contribute to a truck’s longevity and has trained technicians that can come to the hauler.

Even the equipment itself can be one of the keys to a long, productive life. New technology in the automated front loader segment is greatly reducing the number of potential failure modes in equipment by eliminating proximity switches, valves, and cylinders, and relocating hydraulic components, Davis says. Improved hydraulic routings and moving the main valve to the front of front loaders to decrease heat and improve accessibility have contributed to longer equipment life.

Even disc brakes can add to longevity and lengthen service intervals, Wright says. “Spec’ing a truck requires a balance. You may be able to attain low maintenance costs, but upfront costs are higher than ever.” Nevertheless, he says, a smart truck saves money.

Despite technological advances, the industry hasn’t changed a lot, Steven Serafino deems, although “It’s a little quicker now.” He remembers when most garbage trucks were component trucks, using different suspensions, engines, and other parts. “When Mack designed the engine and transmission to work together, it changed the industry. But now they’ve gone away from that, and we’re back to component trucks.”

One of the components experiencing popularity recently is the air ride suspension because it provides a more comfortable ride for the driver. “It’s for transfer station applications,” says Wright.

Another component some haulers opt for is a transmission retarder to “‘soften’ the slow-down process,” continues Wright. “You just program and set it. When you release the throttle, the retarder engages 50% brake capacity.” Using it reduces stress on the vehicle and saves brake life.

No one complains about too much horsepower, Watje assesses. Sufficient horsepower can make the difference between efficiency and function. “If you’re in the minimum horsepower spec, it automatically puts you into the marginal range; if you add anything, now you’re below the range,” he says.

Not only is he big on horsepower, but Watje also advises haulers to go big on brakes. “Get the biggest brakes you can.”

In the “old days,” he says, Telma brakes were popular. These magnetic brakes that went around the drive shaft fell out of fashion because they created too much heat and were too heavy, adding as much as 700–800 pounds to the truck’s weight. “Since the 2010 emissions regulations, we don’t use them anymore,” says Watje. “Now we use primary brakes.”

Technology of the Future
Emissions is still the biggest thing on the horizon, Wright foresees. “Natural gas and diesel are not going away, so cleaner emissions will continue to be a large obstacle.”

However, he predicts that emissions systems will be simpler and more streamlined. “There will be improvements in the process. Real estate is a premium; drivers don’t need clutter. It needs to be organized.”

Some customers enjoy new stuff—being on the cutting edge. But whether they like it or not, the reality is that change is coming, particularly in the areas of electronics and technology. “There are changes coming,” prophesies Wright. Changes like driverless technology. Telematics enable onboard communication with the central office and “see” stop signs, so if the operator doesn’t slow down, it can slow the truck for him. “It’s in tractors now, but it’s coming to our industry.”

It plays to the difference between drivers and operators. Operators know the machine’s limits and character; drivers just drive, Wright says. “We will see more drivers and fewer operators.”

Currently, there is a shortage of both. Because of this shortage, he says the manufacturers have to instill more safety in the technology to pick up where operator left off. “You’ll see integration of driverless technology: driver logs, biometric ID, cameras in the cab…New York City puts on a lot of crazy stuff, like a light for the battery to make it easy to see if the battery is turned off,” he says.

Final Considerations

It’s important to understand the application when specifying a truck. Keep in mind weight laws, whether the route is residential or commercial, if you need a manual or automatic loader. “For municipalities, the key is to wrap their specs around a unit that will fit their application,” says Davis.

He thinks haulers should focus on operator safety, efficiency, and productivity, with the flexibility to run multiple routes. “Adding the flexibility of an AFL means operating costs are reduced because you can run the same amount of routes with fewer types of trucks. The Heil Odyssey [is the] safest, most productive, and the most efficient automated collection vehicle.” An automated front loader, typically used for commercial applications, can be adapted for residential routes when coupled with the Curotto Can, he points out.

Know the application and buy accordingly. Ultimately, Steven Serafino concludes, it comes down to whether you want to be a trash collection company that hauls trash efficiently, or a maintenance company with the wrong trucks that hauls trash. “Better trucks affect your bottom line.” MSW_bug_web


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