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Cost-cutting through the introduction of automation is the leading trend in the refuse vehicle market, according to manufacturers and users. A slew of issues, including rising diesel costs and emissions regulations, are causing firms to pay extra attention to the bottom line and new designs in refuse bodies are answering the call.
Daniel Osborne, general manager of Amick Equipment, agrees that automation is the primary trend. In refuse bodies, automation generally means using a hydraulically operated arm to pick up and dump bins and containers. One way automation helps is reducing labor costs. “The driver controls the arm and drives the truck, eliminating the additional helpers normally found on the truck,” Osborne said.
Automation also helps reduce outlays for workman’s compensation and other safety-related expense. With automated refuse bodies, the driver rarely leaves the truck, Osborne notes. “It keeps the operator in a safe, climate controlled cab where he can comfortably run the collection route,” he says.
Other popular trends in refuse bodies include split units or two compartment bodies. “This design allows you to pick up garbage and recycling with the same truck and keep it separate,” Osborne said.
Amick tries to design products with a long lifespan – automation cycles last five to eight years, front loaders six to nine years and recycling vehicles eight to 10 years – because of their design.
Amick’s Labrie product line seeks to simplify the automation process by its design, Osborne said. Its approach includes fewer moving parts, fewer wear items, extensive field testing and an ISO-9001-certified manufacturing facility, Osborne said. Simplification cuts maintenance costs, Osborne says. “Maintenance is the second most important part to any equipment’s life span,” he notes. “The introduction of newer lube systems, proper operator and service training and scheduled maintenance at a factory service centers all help improve the life cycle.”
Another way refuse body makers are helping cut costs is to design products that function with the truck engine at idle speed. “Thus, operators don’t have to expend fuel to lift a payload or compact their load,” notes Jeffry Swertfeger, director of marketing and communications at McNeilus Companies. McNeilus’ Street Force line is a new line of designs that can operate at engine idle for reduced maintenance, less fuel consumption and lower noise levels.
Another approach to cost savings is to design refuse vehicles that allow for maximum legal payload. This is complicated by geographical variations in payload limits. Different regions of the country have different regulations regarding axle weight, so many manufacturers build products specially for regional markets. At McNeilus, for example, their Atlantic Front Loader is designed for heavier duty, and their Pacific Front Loader is designed for the lighter duty West Coast market.
Wherever their equipment will be used, refuse body manufacturers have to exercise caution when downsizing body weight. “Obviously, there is a risk for any manufacturer in building a body too light, as you run the risk of blowing it apart with higher compaction forces than the body can withstand,” Swertfeger notes.
Despite the automation trend, the workhorses of the industry continue to be rear loaders. These are the traditional garbage trucks that require men to toss materials into the loader from the rear. The conventional types of refuse vehicles also include the front loaders, which are mostly used for apartments and restaurants.
The automated side loader is best for denser environments such as residential neighborhoods because the operator stays in the cab and the vehicle only requires one operator, Swertfeger noted. McNeilus’s AutoReach is an automated side loading unit that can service 150 homes an hour while allowing the driver to remain inside the cab, Swertfeger said. “In addition to reaching straight out to pick up a can, the AutoReach can also swing its arm to the left or right, which allows the operator to grab multiple cans before he has to move the truck,” he said.
Republic Services, a national material collection and transfer company based in Ft. Lauderdale, mostly uses side-load vehicles in which recycling compartments are on one side of the truck, like a saddle, says William Soffera, regional operations manager. Compartments are usually side by side, near where the driver would exit the truck when driving from the right side. Rigid commodities usually go in the back, and all else is disposed in the front. If a certain compartment fills up, the driver pulls a hydraulic lever and the compartments swing to the top of the truck and are dumped inside of the truck but still remain in different compartments, he explained.
Over the last 15 years curbside recycling has undergone a lot of changes, according to Soffera. But it the vehicles have not changed as much as the way items are picked up and the materials that are being picked up, he said. For instance, Republic Services now uses truck bodies such as the Heil Recycle 2000, a two-sort vehicle. Prior to this, vehicles would often sort at the curb into trucks with vertical walls to divide the compartments, which required the operator to sort recyclable items at the curb. But vehicles like the Heil 2000 have just two horizontal compartments, he noted. “Ergonomics was the primary reason for the shift,” Soffera said. “The curbside sorting created a number of workman compensation issues.”
While many changes have focused on refuse bodies, other changes are affecting cabs. Companies like Republic Services are now buying trucks such as the Mack LE with a low-entry chassis because it eliminates driver’s side blind spots and there are less on-site injuries associated with the design. “With the low entry, you have a much better view so the driver can see from the right hand side,” Soffera said. He added, “Methodologies changed because municipalities change what they want you to pick-up, so we tried to purchase vehicles that could handle the shifting tides no matter which way the pendulum swings.”