Soft sell

Written by: Pat Murray | Published:

The waste management industry is ramping up its adoption of software and on-vehicle technology. Pat Murray from AMCS Group looks at some of the reasons for this, and a selection of the systems available

The increased uptake of technology and the push towards greater digitisation has come about due to a number of factors. Continued pressure on margins has meant that it is increasingly important for businesses to make their operations as efficient as possible.

This drive for efficiency might range from optimising the performance of the fleet, to reducing administration costs or the improved management of materials. Technology also provides a great way for businesses to further differentiate themselves from the competition, through improved service levels. The use of mobile technology, apps and online customer portals can provide customers with 24/7 access to accurate and real-time commercial and environmental information.

The other reason for the increased uptake is that technology providers such as AMCS have recognised waste as a potential high-growth sector due to the legislative, financial and social drivers that exist. This has resulted in significantly increased investment in system development for the sector. They have also been able to draw on experiences and products that have been developed for other markets and adapt them for recycling and resource management.

There are a number of areas where we have seen some real development in the capability and performance of these systems.

Route planning and optimisation

Route planning software uses complex algorithms to reduce fleet mileage from anywhere between 12% and 20%. In doing so, these systems are also able to take into account a range of other factors, such as restricted customer site access and the location of disposal points.

As well as reducing fuel usage and the resulting emissions, the improved allocation for work and consolidation increases fleet capacity and adds the additional revenue that each truck can make in an extra hour or two per day directly to the bottom line.

Mobile on-board management systems

The use of mobile devices to replace paper job sheets for drivers enables businesses to digitise their frontline workforce and streamline communications in real time.

This can significantly improve a business’s ability to respond to customer requests and reduce the costs associated with missed lifts or wasted journeys. It can also eradicate double handling and multiple points of data entry. The ability to provide customers with proof of service photographs and GPS timestamps can also virtually eliminate any instances of disputed service.

Additional automated data, captured from integrated on-board weighing and RFID systems, facilitates overweight container billing, meaning bins are no longer subsidised by the average of other customers on the route.

Customer self-service portals

Online customer portals provide a single point for your customers to access their account information whenever they like from where they like. It also lets your customers do your data entry for you. This improves data quality and extends your open-for-communications hours without additional staff overtime. It also enables customers to see tickets for all completed jobs at any time, eliminating the need for ‘copy tickets’ and helping to improve cash flow.

On-board weighing

The introduction of pay as you throw (PAYT), or pay by weight (PBW), in the municipal sector has been a popular topic of conversation recently, with the chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) and many senior industry figures now openly supporting its introduction.

Improvements in technology and a reduction in implementation costs mean that we have now, perhaps, reached a point where we should seriously consider the potential for change from a flat charging system to a fairer variable-rate model. With the pressure on both local authority and household budgets, it seems sensible to address the fact that waste is really the only utility over which residents have no direct control. Heavy waste producers are profiting at the expense of more frugal, waste-conscious consumers.

PBW systems offer local authorities a great opportunity to more accurately cost services, improve operational efficiency and better manage the materials for which they are responsible. At the same time, they provide residents with an additional means of controlling their own household bills.

One major development is that vehicle manufacturers are now supplying vehicles with lifting gear already prepared for the installation of weighing equipment. This dramatically reduces the costs associated with retrofitting kit to older vehicles, as no additional fabrication is required. It also reduces the amount of time that vehicles need to be off the road, which was always a major consideration.

The technology of the weighing systems themselves has also improved. Each lifter can now be installed with a weighing load-cell enabling two or more different household bins to be weighed independently and simultaneously. This dynamic design removes the need to stop the lifter in order to gain an accurate weight reading, so it does not impact on a vehicle’s productivity.

These systems also have a much broader scope of application. The information provided by them can be used to realise significant cost savings and environmental benefits through improved operational efficiency and greatly enhanced reporting capability.

Some of the key benefits include:

• Detailed cost analysis – down to a single road, household or bin

• Targeted communications – allowing variable messaging and reducing wastage from communications budgets

• Fleet optimisation – ensuring each vehicle is at capacity and fleet numbers are minimised

• Legislative compliance – in markets such as Ireland, this obligation can only be satisfied through the provision of accurate, reliable and robust on-board weighing systems

• Development of the circular economy – we need to understand what is really happening to materials to improve availability and quality

• Incentive schemes – where pay-by-weight is not deemed to be appropriate, the same system can be used to enable a rewards programme.

Enterprise resource planning

When it comes to systems, most businesses start with just the basics. This may include a combination of basic accounting software and document-based processes, e.g. spreadsheets, standalone databases or synced documents.

As businesses grow and transactions increase, it is likely that it will become more time-consuming and difficult to process a larger volume of data. Business processes such as inputting sales and purchase orders from various clients, processing invoices, billing and keeping track of client interactions will inevitably become much more complex. In addition, if information is stored in separate systems and databases, it means that data may need to be imported/exported from program to program, creating opportunities for errors and revenue seepage.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) can automate these manual processes, enabling more time to be spent on revenue-generating activities and improving service levels. Furthermore, ERP software allows synchronous and paperless workflow from inquiry to invoice and payment.

These are just some of the systems available to the waste, recycling and resource businesses looking to automate and digitise processes to improve efficiency, service levels and profit margins. Investment in technology will not only help deliver these commercial benefits, but the data and capability it provides will play an important part in further improving our resource efficiency, and in the development of a more circular economy.

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