Over the last five to 10 years, an influx of new technology solutions has changed how waste management companies handle collections, interact with customers, train drivers and track vehicle performance.
At Waste Today’s Corporate Growth Conference, which took place Nov. 18-19 in Chicago, a panel of waste industry executives discussed how they evaluate and implement these new technologies to drive results in a session titled, “Executive Perspectives: An Insider’s Look.” Led by moderator Michael Hoffman, managing director at Stifel, the panel consisted of Leck Waste Services President and Owner Jason Leck and WB Waste Solutions Joint Partner Michael Magee.
Both Leck and Magee say their companies utilize a range of solutions, including roughly eight cameras per hauler truck to constantly monitor in and around the vehicle; onboard scales for assessing container weights; and in-cab fleet management software that allows for things like GPS, image capture and route tracking optimization.
Although the initial investment in these types of solutions can be substantial, Leck says the payoff from a safety perspective is instantaneous.
“When you look at whatever the technology is that you’re investing in, whether it be safety cameras, recordable devices or something else, the ROI in terms of safety that comes back for the cost of implementing it is drastic,” he says.
Leck says that because of the tech solutions he has outfitted his trucks with, specifically the onboard cameras, the company has been able to document with indisputable proof that it wasn’t liable for several accidents. This video evidence has more than paid for the equipment in the form of reduced claims, he says.
He also says that because Leck Waste is in an insurance captive where the company has to show that it is a best-in-class operator, being able to enhance the company’s safety operations has led to lower premiums.
Magee says that beyond collections, WB Waste’s investment in technology has been instrumental in helping improve safety and operational efficiency at the company’s transfer stations and landfill. “When we look at our transfer stations or our landfill, there are a lot of transactions that happen throughout the day. Everything is weight-sensitive and the camera systems that we put in place not only help us with our safety, but help us keep track of where the dollars are going,” he says. “We can look at the loads and see what's in them. We see how the load is dumped, we can watch where all the spotters are, where all the operators are, and we have recordings of that stuff for safety purposes. So, not only can we measure and account for all the incoming material, but these systems help from a safety perspective as well.”
Leck and Magee say that the functionality of these systems allows the companies to monitor trucks and drivers anywhere from a phone or computer, which leads to greater transparency. According to Leck, better oversight also equates to improved coaching opportunities.
“We brought in technologies like 3rd Eye, and we use their coaching feature that's built into their software to train our drivers better. But none of that technology even existed three or four years ago,” Leck says. “One of the things that implementing the safety software has allowed us to do is proactively coach our drivers. We had 350 coachable events the first month we adopted this software. So, we hired a full-time safety manager [who’s in charge of] doing daily coaching events. It has really driven down our exposure.”
Magee says that this type of oversight was originally met with some pushback from WB Waste’s drivers, but that quickly dissipated once they understood that these systems were ultimately for their benefit.
“This technology was first met with resistance from the drivers. They thought of it as a ‘Big Brother’ situation,” Magee says. “But when you walk them through the process and you come to them as a coach and a teacher and not as a disciplinarian, I think it's more easily received. We have a lot of veteran drivers who have been with us a long time, and even they have embraced the reality [that this technology is here to stay] and they understand that it's making them safer and making their jobs easier.”
Beyond better safety and driver accountability, Leck says that integrating the company’s Air-Weigh onboard scales with its 3rd Eye in-cab technology has helped with how the company prices its commercial customers.
“Our scales and software are able to give us weights on every single lift,” Leck says. “Now, we're able to right size and price customers properly. We originally thought it was going to take about a year and a half to see the ROI for these systems [and because we could transform our pricing strategy], it cut it down to almost three months.
“One of the things that we were able to do successfully was have salespeople go back into our accounts and have educated conversations with our customers because of the data. Now, they can go to the customer and say, ‘Listen, we're in business to make money just like you are. We can't afford to pick up your trash for free.’ Now, our pricing model dictates that disposal cannot be more than 50 percent of our monthly bill to the customer [or we’re losing money on the account].”
Magee says that being able to verify the contents of a customer’s load has also helped WB Waste improve its pricing strategy.
He says that when contamination like mattresses or propane tanks end up in a load, WB Waste is able to provide visual documentation, eliminating the type of “he said, she said” back-and-forth that was the norm before the company outfitted its trucks with cameras.
“Our customers use to swear on a stack of Bibles that they never had contamination in their truck and that they weren’t going to pay for it,” Magee says. “Now having a record of what’s in a container or load, you can show them the tape and that's the end of the story.”
Leck says that his company transfers all collection data, including documentation on locked or overfilled containers, to the back office CRM. This allows for quicker and more detailed invoicing, and ultimately, faster payments from customers.
Maintenance and tracking insights
Waste companies are required to make substantial investments in purchasing and maintaining fleet vehicles. According to Leck, new telematics solutions have allowed the company to take the guesswork out of preventative maintenance to help save money and increase uptime.
“We just realized that we couldn’t manage what we couldn't measure,” he says. “You can service a vehicle based on hours or miles driven, and that's great, but we wanted to get down to servicing our vehicles based on the packing cycle because there were some front load vehicles, for instance, that had shorter hours and fewer miles run, but may have seen upwards of 1,000 packing cycles in a day. … “Now, we're studying what the cylinder cycles have been over the course of three to four years so we can better predict when a cylinder or a pump is going to need to be repaired.”
Magee says that telematics have been especially impactful in tracking the company’s long-haul trucks and managing drivers’ hours.
“One of the biggest things [we’ve seen with telematics] is with the electronic log,” Magee says. “You can't cheat the system anymore. The hours are what they are when it comes to on the road time versus off road time. I think that helps with safety because we know the drivers aren't pushing themselves too hard. They have to stay within the guidelines of the law. In the past, you had to worry about drivers wanting to make a few extra bucks, wanting to work a few more hours and run that last load. But the electronic log doesn’t allow for that. That keeps everybody in check in terms of safety.”
The evolving truck
As much as technology has changed the business of waste management over the last decade, there hasn’t been substantial innovation in terms of vehicle design.
Leck says that this is poised to change as more aftermarket systems continue to compete for space in the vehicle.
“A huge challenge at this point is that multiple systems are fighting for limited space in the cab,” he says. “I think that there has to be some conversations at a manufacturing level where there's a standard that's put in place that basically allows for some type of touchscreen tablet that can be utilized across multiple systems. … I think [truck manufacturers have to] blow it up [when it comes to how trucks are designed] because most cabs were designed 20 or 30 years ago and then have been slightly retrofitted, but they've never really looked at [the industry’s needs] from a technology standpoint with everything that's going into a truck these days.”