Entsorga-Enteco 2006: Technology & Logistics: Vehicles and tours designed to be efficient

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Source: Koelnmesse

The flows of waste and recyclable products are currently being guided in completely new directions. In some cases this is due to environmental policy, in others to developments on the raw materials market. But whatever the cause, the segment of logistics systems for the waste disposal industry is now undergoing a comprehensive overhaul. This affects vehicles, vehicle bodies and equipment as well as fleet management. At the forthcoming Entsorga-Enteco — International Trade Fair for Waste Management and Environmental Technology ( Cologne , 24th to 27th October 2006), the exhibiting companies will be presenting their latest responses to this development process.

A completely reorganised system for disposing of the 1.1 million tons of unwanted electrical and electronic equipment in Germany each year took effect in March 2006. As a result, manufacturers are now obliged to take back television sets, computers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, coffee machines, mobile phones, Gameboys, neon tubes and so on from private households. The unwanted items are, as previously, taken by their owners to municipal collection points. As of now, the logistics become the responsibility of the waste disposal sector on behalf of the industry as a whole. Tasks here range from setting up over 7,500 new containers at around 1,500 municipal collection points across Germany to collecting full containers, allocating containers to treatment and recycling facilities, and disposing of harmful waste.

In June 2005, the logistics experts at municipal and commercial waste disposal agencies faced new challenges related to the implementation of Germany 's Technical Directive on Residential Waste (TASi). Previously, residential waste was simply collected and taken to the nearest landfill site, most of which were set aside for specific municipalities. But as a result of the TASi, this waste now has to be treated thermally or mechanically-biologically first. There are fewer facilities for this kind of treatment, however, which means that reloading stations must be set up, larger vehicles must be purchased, and longer distances have to be travelled. In some places, logistics costs can rise considerably as a result.

This is compounded by a market where the competition is becoming increasingly fierce. What's more, the sector is currently undergoing a major transformation. Rather than being concerned purely with waste disposal, it is now becoming a raw materials industry. According to a study conducted by the Technical University of Dresden, private service providers — especially the larger ones — already regard themselves as important suppliers of secondary raw materials to be reused in industry instead of disposers of waste. This development will also have an impact on logistical structures in the sector.

Regardless of whether the focus is on waste disposal or raw materials, logistics remain a key cost factor. The sector has over 30,000 vehicles out on the roads in Germany every day. More than 10,000 of them are required for collecting around 40 million tonnes of residential waste each year and then transporting it to facilities for sorting, processing, treatment and landfilling. According to recent figures, these vehicles cover an annual total distance of over 320 million kilometres. Around a quarter of this distance is now subject to motorway truck tolls, which were introduced in Germany in 2005. This results in added costs of almost €10 million every year, plus more than €13 million in toll costs for the logistical handling of commercial waste and recoverable materials.

Cost pressure calls for new alternatives

In view of new logistics structures, extra toll charges and increasingly fierce competition, companies are doing all they can to cut costs. One way to do this is to opt for collection vehicles that are suitable for the development structure of the area where waste is to be collected. Labour-intensive rear-loaders — generally with three people on board — have to be used in cities and urban areas, including for bulky refuse and the collection of waste sacks, and this is costly. However, front-loader vehicles have become increasingly widespread for collecting commercial waste from large containers. There is one condition: the containers have to be accessible at all times. The advantage of these vehicles is that only one person, the driver, is needed to operate them. This also applies to side-loaders, which are now becoming a more familiar sight in rural areas and thinly populated suburbs.

The vehicles' electronic systems can also have a positive impact on logistics costs. Such systems have become more and more effective and sophisticated in recent years. Primarily, they are used to transfer information between the cab, chassis, body and other features such as the lifting, weighing and identification systems. With their help, drivers can see on the monitor how their vehicles' components, hydraulics systems and powertrains are running at a particular time. The data collected can be used to optimise the overall vehicle system, but external contact to the company has to function smoothly as well so that the data can be evaluated. This is useful in terms of planning the most efficient tours and automatically processing contract data, from documentation and assignments to invoicing, for example.

Binary unit systems (BUS) play a key role when it comes to data transfer. They link various components to each other by means of a two-wire connection. In sweeping vehicles and in front-loaders, rear-loaders and side-loaders, CAN (Controller Area Network) binary unit systems are the most common. These are especially useful for sending and receiving data. The process of drawing up norms and standards for such systems has not yet been concluded, but a great deal of progress has been made to date.

Costs can also be cut considerably by planning tours in the most effective way, which requires powerful optimisation software. The most important features here are a well-managed database for handling key data — on containers, vehicles and the volume of waste or recoverable material that has to be treated — and logistic figures or geographical data. The software calculates the most efficient trip, taking into account factors such as working hours, the distance to be covered, and the type, number and durability of the containers.

Global Positioning System (GPS) data is now integrated into tour software to an increasing degree. GPS refers to a navigation system that uses state-of-the-art satellite technology combined with computer-supported information processing in order to determine the exact position of vehicles or containers to an accuracy of just a few metres. It enables tours that have been taken to be recorded and evaluated. In addition, special measurement recording devices allow GPS to allot tipping, loading and downtimes for particular coordinates, including scheduling information.

Full service from body manufacturers

Another way of cutting costs is by improving fleet management. Waste disposal companies have for some time been trying to keep the number of vehicles they use to a minimum. Hardly any vehicles are kept in reserve. Instead, companies aim to utilise the existing capacity more efficiently, and to service their vehicles regularly so they are ready for use at all times. The manufacturers of vehicle bodies are increasingly offering all-encompassing services to help in this regard. These include providing reliable maintenance and servicing. In addition, reserve vehicles can be made available at short notice for a fixed monthly fee. This enables fixed costs to be reduced considerably. Also gaining in popularity are rental and leasing offers for waste disposal vehicles.

The logistical tasks faced by commercial and municipal waste disposal organisations comprise much more than collecting and transporting waste and recoverable material, however. Street cleaning and winter services are also important, and vehicle manufacturers are designing increasingly effective and efficient vehicle bodies for these purposes. Road sweepers, for example, are available in all sizes: large ones for cleaning main roads, medium-sized ones for narrower inner-city streets, small, agile ones for pavements and pedestrian areas, and ultra-compact ones for very narrow spaces with obstructions such as bollards, parked cars, benches and fountains. Also available is a wide variety of snow blowers and snow ploughs for city centres, main and rural roads, motorways and airport runways.

In many cases, the waste disposal industry is also responsible for cleaning sewers. The vehicles required here are equipped with special attachments such as suction and rinsing devices, and these are now also available with satellite-supported electronic systems as well as CAN-BUS and GPS. As a result, the relevant information about the sewer in question — such as the dimensions of the shaft and sewer and any damage — as well as information about work carried out, the location and the contract term, can be transmitted straight to the control centre.

Entsorga-Enteco 2006 — the International Trade Fair for Waste Management and Environmental Technology ( Cologne , 24th to 27th October 2006) will present the latest facts and figures with regard to the optimisation of logistics systems, vehicles and devices for the waste disposal industry.

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