Helping RCV operators save time and money

Written by: RWW | Published:

Hefty insurance premiums and rising fuel costs are encouraging waste collection fleets to use new logistics technology. David Burrows, freelance writer, looks at present innovation and takes a peak at the future.

Like all local authorities Northumberland County Council is under pressure to divert more of its residents’ waste from landfill and improve green waste recycling. Its challenge in the past was amplified when it became a unitary authority - in came the varied and archaic garden waste services of six former district councils. Fuel costs were sky high. Something had to be done, so the council turned to technology. Specifically, mapping data.

By taking away the former district council boundaries that determined most of the old routes, and using Ordnance Survey’s mapping data in conjunction with route optimisation software, the council has ensured that garden waste collection vehicles use the most efficient routes possible. Central to the process was
OS MasterMap Integrated Transport NetworkTM (ITN) Layer, which is supplied free at the point of use to all local authorities under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), and includes road routing information such as turn restrictions and no-entry instructions.

This meant no more journeys down a dark alley for Northumberland’s waste drivers.

The result? Optimised vehicles routes saving £200k a year; 1,700 fewer miles travelled cutting over nine tonnes of carbon dioxide and a greater take-up of the garden waste service and improved recycling levels.

New software

It’s a great story, but Northumberland isn’t the exception. Other councils and their waste collection contractors see logistics as an area where financial and environmental savings can be made. But it doesn’t always come cheap. Patrick Scott is director at Integrated Skills, which has worked with councils like Northumberland.

“When it comes to waste collection, routing presents a particular challenge,” he says. “A typical operation will serve tens of thousands of properties, week in, week out, and specialist software is needed to balance workloads and optimise routes across very large datasets. This comes at a price, but the efficiency savings are potentially huge.”

As a supplier of waste collection routing software (RouteSmart), Scott says the onus is on companies like his to help local authorities understand that time, money and resources invested up front in planning and implementing optimised routes is an essential part of delivering more efficient services and reducing environmental impacts.

Peter Mitchell is chief technology officer at another software provider, Fleetmatics.

Currently installed in 417,000 vehicles worldwide, the system uses GPS vehicle tracking to allow fleet managers to see where their vehicles are and provide an insight into what’s going on. “Reports have shown that poor driving, excessive idling of vehicle’s engines and inefficient routing and dispatch are responsible for a huge amount of wasted fuel,” Mitchell explains.

“Leaving a vehicle idling for one minute while making a single delivery or pick-up doesn’t seem very long, but consider a van that makes 50 such stops per day and you’re looking at 50 minutes of idling. If you have a total fleet of 10 vehicles, that’s eight hours and 20 minutes per day and over a month - say 22 days - that’s over seven 24-hour days of idling time. If you then consider that one hour of idle time is the equivalent to approximately 3.7 litres of fuel, with the national average price of fuel now reaching £1.38 per litre, you’re talking about £935 a month being wasted in fuel just due to idling alone.”

Waste collection firm Victory Group and Irish recycling business Wilton Waste Recycling are among the Fleetmatics aficionados.

Transport manager at Wilton, Glen Ross, estimates that in the past couple of months fuel costs have been cut 4.5%, saving just over £4,000, and that’s just through reducing idling time and improving driving style.

Indeed, the ‘Driving style’ reporting feature on the Fleetmatics system is able to capture data on hard braking, quick starts and hard cornering, with sensors calibrated to the vehicle class. This allows fleet managers to measure, manage and help reduce aggressive driving styles. In addition, this function allows users to set acceptable threshold limits for work hours, engine idle times, and mileage.

Whenever these thresholds are breached, fleet managers are instantly alerted in real time and also have them flagged in the system for later reporting.

Big brother

It’s a bit Big Brother, but Alessandro Maccioni, MD at Victory, is also convinced.

“We’re able to see exactly how long a driver has taken to do a particular job, and offer them an alternative route in heavy traffic situations,” he says. “Being able to communicate with our drivers on the road without having to call them on their mobile phones avoids putting them at risk.”

And there is another level to the software that many fleet managers will undoubtedly be interested in. “We also offer benchmark statistics, which can be used by businesses to compare their results to other similar businesses,” says Mitchell.

Spurred by the prospect of hefty rises in insurance premiums, Iron Mountain is another waste company that’s embraced technology. The company has a fleet of 300 trucks and vans, with 360 drivers; it handles the shredding and the recycling of secure materials. The ‘GreenRoad’ system now in place gives drivers instant feedback using traffic light LEDs on the dashboard that warn of risky manoeuvres such as cornering and braking. More detailed analysis and recommendations are available for drivers and depot managers on smartphone apps and a secure web site. The result? Reported road incidents have been cut by 71% and the cost of claims by 43% in just two years. The fuel bill and carbon emissions have also fallen by 14%, as have the insurance premiums - by 14%, 8% and 9% in the last three years.

Rory Morgan is national logistics general manager. He says he’s often quizzed about how he not only convinced drivers of the benefits, but also achieved a substantial cultural change from top to bottom. “There was no magic,” he admits. “We simply [ran] a thorough campaign to engage staff, [had] a stringent driver-training programme and [offered] incentives to reward better driving.”

Big data

In the next few years, experts expect to see developments in route optimisation increasingly focused on communicating information to the driver, via in-cab navigation and performance monitoring.

But technology could take things even further. The so-called ‘Internet of things’ (the idea that more and more products are connected to the Internet) and ‘big data’ (the flush of information that has arrived with the Internet, social media and the like) is expected to move us closer still to the scenarios played out in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report.

In that futuristic blockbuster, crimes were predicted and then prevented before they took place; in the case of waste logistics the focus is perhaps less controversial.

“The ‘Internet of things’ represents a powerful opportunity in vehicle maintenance,” says Mark Morley, a director at logistics company GXS. “It could enable a piece of equipment to self-diagnose a potential problem and then place an order for a replacement part to the location where the vehicle is normally serviced. The company can then be alerted, and the part replaced long before it fails. This would reduce the costs and delays of unexpected breakdowns, and also improve the efficiency of the vehicle and keep it running at peak performance.”

It might sound far-fetched, but the delivery company UPS is already using similar technology. Retail firms are also looking at how they can gain insight from big data.

Morley concludes: “While the waste sector obviously has a very different remit from retail, the sector should take note of the sophisticated supply chain systems behind these approaches, as they can enable much greater efficiency in the industry.”

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