A new age of fleet maintenance

Features - Fleet Maintenance

More advanced refuse trucks have come online in the past decade that present new maintenance needs—and a variety of tools to address those needs have come with them.

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December 4, 2019

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For those who perform maintenance on waste fleets, the basics have remained the same for years. Oil, batteries and tires are just a few essential components that require service during preventative maintenance (PM) checks. But over the past decade, refuse trucks have evolved to include new advanced technologies, redefining what a typical PM check entails. Between automated equipment and onboard diagnostic systems, waste trucks have several newer components that techs need to be ready to service to maximize profits and assure the safety of operators.

“The waste industry has evolved over the years with regard to technology,” says Corey Flannagan, a regional director for Eastern Canada at Ontario, Canada-based Joe Johnson Equipment, an infrastructure maintenance company that serves municipalities, contractors, haulers and industrial clients across North America. “The technicians, when they’re doing their inspections, don’t just walk around the truck and change the oil anymore. There are a lot of things they need to understand. As technology changes, it’s becoming more and more important that they’re not just sticking grease into the truck and calling it a day.”

Automation nation

Automation has increasingly “taken the human element out of having to take the trash to the truck,” Flannagan says. These additions might save manpower during the collection process but can add to the maintenance requirements service providers need to be cognizant of.

Arms and tippers that automate trash collection typically make thousands of repetitive motions over the course of a week or sometimes even a day, causing friction that needs to be addressed to avoid prolonged wear and tear.

“Arms can cycle up to 1,500 times a day, and the componentry on those have pins, bushings, sliding components, bearings and grippers that all require grease on a regular basis,” Flannagan says. “Different manufacturers have different tolerances for when these components need to be greased, but ultimately, they need regular lubrication.”

Beyond lubrication, automated joints also need routine checks to assure no movement has occurred among components.

“As things wear out, sometimes these parts can be adjusted to take up the slack,” Flannagan says. “I would say quarterly adjustments of these wear parts, such as tightening the chain, adjusting a hind joint, taking up slack in a pin, are pretty standard procedures. Those types of things need to be done, or at least looked at and inspected, at three- to four-month intervals.”

Following the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance on these items can be enough to maintain appropriate tolerances, which is why these need to be reviewed prior to service.

“Maintenance inspection sheets should be inclusive of tolerances so that the technician knows what is acceptable and what’s not,” he says.

Most automated parts of the truck rely on hydraulics. These systems’ parts, including mountings, lines, hoses, fittings, valves and connections, need to be checked and cleaned regularly to ensure they’re working properly. Doing so will help keep the automated portions of the truck functional for their entire life cycle.

“Most arm manufacturers build in the longevity of the life of the arm to allow it to have a good, long life cycle before it needs any major repair or overhaul. It could be up to two to three years [before they need substantial service],” Flannagan says.

In addition to automated components, Flannagan says that technologies like backup cameras and sensors need to be maintained and recalibrated regularly. These systems should be updated and maintained according to manufacturer recommendations.

CNG versus LNG

Required truck maintenance will also vary based on the type of fuel used. Two of the newer, more prevalent fuel types are compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid natural gas (LNG).

Trucks that use CNG have multiple tanks that may be mounted on various parts of the body, including areas that may be susceptible to impact, making it important to check these areas on a quarterly basis for signs of wear and tear.

“Just like regular diesel truck inspection, CNG is much the same,” Flannagan says. “Tanks need to be inspected [to check] that there’s no rubbing and that the hoses and valves aren’t leaking.”

Flannagan adds that most CNG systems have emergency breakaway valves that prevent operators from driving away with the fueling plug still connected to the truck. Flannagan recommends inspecting these on a monthly basis.

LNG trucks have a similar system, though they only have one tank. But because of the low temperature the fuel is stored at, the system is susceptible to frost, so “the integrity of those tanks needs to be checked frequently,” Flannagan says.

Despite the fuel differences, Flannagan says the difference in maintenance needs between CNG and LNG systems is minimal.

Modern solutions

With new truck features comes new maintenance solutions.

Though additional truck automation creates more lubrication needs, automated solutions now exist to address these challenges. Flannagan says auto greasing systems can be good investments for technicians looking to cut back on time spent lubricating these systems’ various joints.

“[Greasing] needs to happen minimally at least weekly, if not daily, and that’s where an auto-greaser can come in,” Flannagan says.

Onboard telematics systems have also grown increasingly popular in recent years. These systems are able to track various maintenance needs and can inform technicians of recommended intervals for oil changes, hydraulic oil levels and more.

“There are so many applications for [using telematics to service trucks],” Flannagan says, adding that while these tools can help technicians stay on track, service pros still need to understand the fundamentals behind the maintenance. “Telematics is a really good tool, but ultimately it doesn’t do the work for you,” he says.

While these diagnostic tools provide a wealth of information, Flannagan says technicians need to know how to parse out the information that can help them most effectively schedule PM intervals—a skill that will grow in importance for maximizing uptime and minimizing costs as fleets continue to advance.

“You have to know what you’re trying to get out of these systems before you implement them. If you don’t know what that is, it’s just a whole lot of information,” Flannagan says. “If you don’t do anything with that data, it just becomes ones and zeroes.”

The author is the assistant editor for Waste Today and can be reached at tcottom@gie.net.