How today's waste companies are embracing tomorrow's fleet technologies

How today's waste companies are embracing tomorrow's fleet technologies

Waste management companies have embraced new fleet technologies to transform their operations, improve safety and boost revenues.

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October 7, 2019

Hauler trucks and the professionals who operate them are the lifeblood of municipal waste collection. Although these trucks require a substantial investment, a variety of new software-enabled tools are coming online to help provide a higher ROI for waste management companies who know how to leverage these solutions.

Waste Today spoke with Harland Chadbourne, purchasing director for Longwood, Florida-based Waste Pro; Jason Leck, vice president and owner of Ivyland, Pennsylvania-based Leck Waste Services; and John Morris, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Houston-based Waste Management, about new fleet solutions they’re adopting and how they’re utilizing these offerings to improve their companies’ waste collection.

A pro’s approach

The array of fleet management solutions that have hit the market over the last decade have had an ever-growing impact on haulers’ operations, improving everything from navigation to maintenance. While Chadbourne says Waste Pro has seen a number of benefits from implementing onboard technologies, improved safety is the most important.

“The onboard safety equipment with the cameras and recording devices [has been the most impactful development I’ve seen]—it’s about behavior-based safety,” Chadbourne says. “Those have been some of the best devices to identify ways to improve coaching drivers and reduce risky behavior. That’s the predominant reason that we purchase that equipment, but there are also some side benefits, too, including GPS tracking and route support and optimization for the driver.”

While these solutions aren’t necessarily new to market, Chadbourne says the ways these tools can be integrated together is becoming more seamless, which allows for easier driver adoption.

“What I see happening is the blending of the onboard safety technology, the blending of the GPS, the routing technology—all that’s starting to come together and converge to potentially be more simplistic and easier to use over time. … We want to have as minimal driver interaction as possible. We really don’t even want our drivers to think that there are systems on board. Whenever we look at new technology, we try to eliminate any driver participation so that they don’t have to be bothered with it so they can just focus on their routes and the work at hand,” he says.

Chadbourne says the ability to monitor what’s going on with the company’s fleet of roughly 3,000 trucks at any time has been pivotal for lessening the burden on the driver. Features such as service verification through automatic data retrieval, image capture and route tracking allow managers to take inventory of collection operations without the driver having to do extra work.

This not only makes the job of the driver easier, Chadbourne says, but also results in better service for the customer.

“We really want to be more in tune with service certification and automating that for our customers,” he says. “And with these solutions that allow for service verification, we can sit there in the office and help a customer that may have a question or concern related to if their container was picked up. We can now know with certainty who is getting serviced and when, and we can even provide a photograph.”

Beyond video and fleet monitoring software, Chadbourne says that front-load scales have become instrumental in the company’s operations.

“Another thing that is of great importance is being able to utilize scales to right-size containers and make sure that you’re sizing containers so you’re not over-billing or under-billing a customer,” Chadbourne says. “I think for all companies in the waste industry, we want to be able to measure containers in a more accurate way. At Waste Pro, that’s definitely got some senior leadership attention in the last few years, and we’ve made quite an effort to embrace it more.”

With myriad onboard systems available, Chadbourne believes consolidation amongst vendors could be inevitable. As competitors merge and evolve their service offerings, he says the result could be a more integrated range of software and hardware options for waste companies.

He also sees hauler truck manufacturers becoming more involved with installing these types of systems at the factory, which could lead to better system integration rather than relying on installation at an aftermarket shop.

Chadbourne says Waste Pro is eager to identify and embrace new fleet solutions for its trucks, and a measured approach to adoption is critical.

“In this industry, we’ve all taken and drank the Kool-Aid and thought that all these devices were going to provide miracles for us. And the answer is they sometimes do and sometimes don’t,” Chadbourne says. “The problem with any new technology is that you have to test it out, right? So, you put it on your truck and you see how it goes. It’s just like anything—if you’ve got a fleet of a hundred trucks, you just might test something new out on one or two and you see how it goes. But it also doesn’t hurt to check references. I’ve been in procurement for many years, and if somebody says a device works wonders, I’ll ask for three or four references, call them, and they’re usually glad to tell you whether the piece of hardware or equipment is doing what was promised or not.

“It’s an exciting time, I think,” he continues. “And I’m not being a skeptic about it. I’m open-minded. If someone has a better mouse trap, if it helps my company, that’s really the trick, right? If it’s going to save money, it’s going to reduce your costs, and it’s going to help the environment, or whatever benefit there might be, you have to be willing to look at it.”

Data-driven decision-making

Leck Waste Services, which employs a staff of 65, operates 52 trucks daily. Like Waste Pro, Leck says that passive data collection has been one of the biggest benefits of embracing some of the new fleet offerings.

Leck says the company utilizes an array of technology, including front-load scale systems that automatically analyze and track loads, video, routing and telematics systems to make the job of the driver easier.

“If I was going to point to one thing and say what’s the most important in terms of vehicle technology, I think it would basically be any kind of passive data collection that doesn’t require driver interaction and allows management input without the driver having to do anything,” Leck says. “That’s the key, because usually when you start adding more technology into the truck, you’re also requiring additional training for the employees and the drivers.”

Leck says these systems not only make it easier on the driver, but also allow for improvements in safety, operational efficiency and vehicle maintenance. He says the data generated from the company’s trucks is routed to different management personnel so that they can take the appropriate actions when deemed necessary.

“When something happens out on the road, the safety manager can be notified that a coachable action has occurred,” Leck says. “He’s getting that information in live time and can either live feed into the vehicle and look at what the driver’s doing, or, if it’s a situation where at the end of the day you need to sit down with the driver, the manager can coach up the driver and show them the video of what happened and use that as a learning experience.

"For a long time, I think the industry’s motto kind of was centered around, ‘Is a route profitable?’” –Jason Leck, VP and owner, Leck Waste Services

“But that’s just one aspect. When you start talking operationally, your fleet or operation superior can use collection data to right-size containers, and your customer service team can contact customers to make sure they’re being serviced on the right amount or volume per pickup. Then, on the telematics side, when that comes in, it goes right to our fleet manager to be more proactive with preventative maintenance so that we have better vehicle uptime.”

While the sheer volume of data the company’s trucks generate can be overwhelming, Leck says that it allows for better and quicker decision-making.

“The information coming in definitely adds to the workload, but I think what it does on the back end is it releases [our personnel] to be able to do what they need to do because they’re not responding in a reactive way,” he says.

Leck’s reliance on new technologies isn’t just reserved for onboard systems. The company gives all of its drivers smartphones to improve interaction. Additionally, he notes that the entire company has embraced the use of the Slack app to share information seamlessly, which aids in communication. Leck says the company also uses the software platform GoCanvas to create customized apps to collect data on everything from pre-trip inspections to potential new customers that drivers may identify on their existing route.

At the end of the day, Leck says the suite of technology the company employs can be leveraged to meet the company’s goal of ensuring that “every customer is profitable.” They do this by tracking the time spent at each location, carefully measuring each container, and analyzing the results to determine how the company can become more efficient.

“For a long time, I think the industry’s motto kind of was centered around, ‘Is a route profitable?’” Leck says. “And we said, ‘We don’t want to know if a route is profitable. We want to know if every customer we pick up is profitable.’ So how do we [utilize our technology] to that finite level? That’s where integrating scales, integrating photos and every other data point available comes into play.”

Waste well-managed

Morris says that while Waste Management employs a range of new fleet technologies, improved automation is one of the central functions the company has advocated for.

“We evaluate and explore [a number of solutions], including utilizing automated side-load trucks, thereby protecting our employees within the collection vehicle,” Morris says. “Sadly, the majority of the industry’s employee fatalities occur outside of the truck. Given the national issue of distracted driving, we all have the responsibility to drive free of distractions. As an industry leader with safety at the forefront of our business operations, the nationwide epidemic of distracted driving is deeply disturbing. The steps we’re taking to move toward an automated fleet will continue to drive safety performance as well as gains in efficiency and employee retention.”

As the company has moved towards more onboard fleet management solutions, Morris says the data derived from Waste Management’s trucks has helped the company save money as well as improve efficiencies.

“We made investments about six years ago in onboard cameras to assist coaching for peak performance with our drivers,” Morris says. “Our collection trucks are equipped with technology, including onboard routing and digital recording devices, and we have onboard computers in all our routed vehicles. We’re running our routes about 85 percent efficiently today. If we could get to 95 percent, like a FedEx or UPS, that would mean about $150 million in savings. We expect we could get half of that savings—about $75 million—in the next two to three years.”

According to Morris, more efficient routing is not just important in terms of cost savings—it also helps the company protect the environment and better serve its customers.

“Efficient logistics are an effective way to reduce fleet emissions,” he says. “The logic is simple: A more efficient route means fewer miles traveled, and that translates into reduced fuel consumption and associated emissions. Since 2017, Waste Management’s fleet has reduced miles driven by 2 percent, which equates to approximately 8.9 million fewer miles a year traveled. Optimizing routes not only reduces our environmental impact, but also increases the quality of service. As we’ve driven fewer miles, we’ve improved the number of stops missed for both commercial and residential customers.”

In addition to routing improvements, he says telematics is playing a major role in improving the company’s predictive maintenance strategy.

Waste Management’s Service Delivery Optimization (SDO) initiative is the foundation of the company’s fleet maintenance program, according to Morris. SDO is an effort to help the company build a world-class logistics program by measuring things like safety, quality of service, driver efficiency, labor cost per unit and truck downtime. Part of this initiative is what the company calls its M100 program. According to Morris, the M100 program provides the company’s front-line supervisors a view of each of their routes throughout the day. As a result, they can work to remove elements of a driver’s day that are costing the company efficiency. This initiative is being rolled out to both the company’s industrial and residential lines of business. Morris notes that the M100 program generated a $3 million improvement in labor costs in Q1 2019 compared to Q1 2018 in the commercial line of the company’s business.

An offshoot of the SDO program, the Maintenance Service Delivery Optimization (MSDO) initiative, is centered on reducing downtime and improving costs. Morris says that certified sites have been able to improve maintenance cost per unit by 6 percent on a year-over-year basis through the implementation of the program.

As Waste Management looks to the future, Morris says the company hopes to continue to see improvements in active safety technologies, continued automation and better system integration to help keep drivers safe and entice the next generation of waste professionals to enter the industry.

“We would hope to see the streamlining or integration of technology that advances directly into the fleet, allowing drivers to focus on the job at hand versus also having to manage the technology equipment in the fleet. … We’d also like to see the integration of active safety features for collection vehicles like you find on passenger vehicles—for example, lane change detection, following distance, auto braking/collision avoidance, etc.,” Morris says. “Having those features on commercial collection vehicles would be game-changing and assist the entire industry with its safety mandate. The automation technology applied to the fleet helps keeps our drivers safer and also attracts a new talent workforce, which can help address potential driver shortages.”

This article originally ran in the September issue of Waste Today. The author is the editor for Waste Today magazine and can be contacted at aredling@gie.net.