As the cost of collection trucks continues to soar, it is becoming more critical for haulers to get as much life as possible out of a truck.
Manufacturers and waste firms are doing what they can to extend that life with routine maintenance and other measures built into their businesses. These programs can be complex, but it is worth it in the long run if it means less downtime and fewer costly repairs.
Responsibility for fleet maintenance does not only fall on the shoulders of the waste management companies. Collection truck body manufacturers, such as Heil, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, make sure the parts they build can be used to the end of their life cycles, which the companies stress are elongated through routine maintenance.
“When we think maintenance, we view this as something relating to return on investment and lowest total cost of ownership,” says Jeffry Swertfeger, director of marketing for Heil parent company Environmental Solutions Group. “If maintenance is done properly, it will have a direct positive impact on lowest total cost of ownership.”
On any given day, trash and recycling services provider Kimble Cos., based in Dover, Ohio, has between 320 and 340 trucks out on the road out of its 350-unit fleet. Of those vehicles, 175 use compressed natural gas (CNG) to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Dan Dubel, corporate maintenance manager, says Kimble uses a mixture of roll-off, front-load, rear-load and side-load vehicles from Heil and Dodge Center, Minnesota-based McNeilus.
While Kimble runs into more common maintenance issues, such as brake and tire wear, Dubel says CNG engines cause the most difficult and costly repairs. “The CNG market is fairly new, and there’s not a lot of aftermarket availability for parts,” he says. “With the growing technology, there’s a lot of expense with engineering and designing the parts, so the cost is higher.”
Kimble keeps a stock of parts and has partnerships with local vendors to make sure downtime is minimal when a CNG truck goes down. When those two options don’t work out, “They’re down until you can get parts,” Dubel says.
Electrical components, such as exposed wires on refuse bodies, tend to be the most difficult to keep up with on Kimble’s overall fleet, Dubel says.
“A lot of that can be attributed to weather and treatment of snow covered roads in Ohio,” he says. “We try to mitigate these issues with quality preventive maintenance inspections and getting wiring out of wet salty conditions. The electrical wiring is exposed in certain areas to the elements, so you’ll find loose connections or corroded connections or ripped-through wiring.”
For both CNG and diesel vehicles, preventive maintenance is rigorously practiced in Kimble’s five repair and maintenance facilities. The system is broken down into three services: preventive maintenance A, B and C (PM-A, PM-B and PM-C).
“PM-A is scheduled every 100 hours of service—around two weeks,” Dubel says. “It’s a 25-point inspection that checks the cab, chassis and safety equipment and lubricates any necessary components. PM-B is the replacement of engine oil at every 400 hours. The differential transmission and hydraulic oils are changed once per year—PM-C.”
BLT—brakes, lights and tires—inspections occur twice weekly and are performed by a maintenance team member. A similar inspection is conducted daily by the drivers pretrip and posttrip.
“Another thing we do is live tracking and posting of important information relating to trucks that are down, parts ordered, repair status and schedule,” Dubel says. “This information gives management the ability to make quick and informed decisions.”
Files of maintenance schedules, ordered parts and down trucks are kept on a shared digital drive that all management team members can access. Kimble is in the process of putting large screens in its shops and offices to display the information on a live feed.
Each maintenance and repair facility keeps the parts necessary to complete preventive maintenance in stock, as well as any other components that would cause downtime if not immediately addressed, such as brakes, tires, starters, engine sensors and hydraulic hoses and cylinders. In the company’s main facility in New Philadelphia, Ohio, more than 20 trucks can be housed and worked on at one time. Three shifts of mechanics work 24 hours a day, seven days per week to ensure the fleet can run during off times like weekends.
“We try to stock anything that’s going to keep the truck from running its route that day,” Dubel says. “Obviously if it’s something unexpected or out of the ordinary, we can’t help that, but if it’s something common, like brakes and tires, we know what to stock for an emergency situation to keep the truck running safely.”
If in-house maintenance facilities are too busy, Kimble relies on manufacturers and dealers to lend a hand for repairs.
“We work with them very closely,” Dubel says. “We would call a manufacturer if we’re having a design issue on a truck. If we bought 50 of one particular unit, and they’re all having a similar issue, we’d depend on the manufacturer to help us solve that.”
Determining when a truck’s life comes to an end, Dubel says, is dependent on a variables that range from geographic location to equipment wear to operation cycles. This is determined by monitoring the cost history of each piece and evaluating whether it would be more expensive to repair or to replace the truck.
Waste Connections, headquartered in The Woodlands, Texas, can have around 85,000 trucks out on the street on any particular day in the 40 states it operates in. They range from roll-off to front-load and rear-load, many of which are automated. Heil, McNeilus, Peterbilt and Autocar are among the manufacturers that make up Waste Connections’ fleet.
Greg Thibodeaux, Waste Connections’ vice president of maintenance and fleets, says the company’s largest upkeep includes the advancing technology and emission regulations.
“The reality is that technology is moving faster on an annual basis than our technicians can get up to speed with,” Thibodeaux says. “We have a wide variety of manufacturers we use on the chassis and body side. Those products are constantly evolving and improving, and from a training perspective, that’s something you have to continually do.”
But waste companies are not jumping this hurdle alone. Thibodeaux says dealerships and manufacturers also are struggling to find technicians who can catch up with the technology quickly.
“What we’re seeing is that we’re entering into a fairly significant shift of older mechanics that have been doing this for 25 years and are starting to reach that age of retirement, and they don’t want to be involved in the technical side,” he says.
Yet, new technologies usually are developed when needed, and with stricter emissions regulations and the system upgrades required to meet them, breakdowns are occurring more often, according to Thibodeaux.
“We have emissions on the chassis side, and our body companies are constantly evolving and improving their products, so there’s always more and more electronics every year,” Thibodeaux says. “You need to be a pretty clever mechanic to work in the solid waste industry because you need to know all of this.”
For more common or routine maintenance, route drivers perform daily pretrip and posttrip inspections on their vehicles. The inspection is bumper to bumper and covers all safety items, such as tires and windshield wipers.
Mechanics inspect the vehicles every 21 days for the same issues and more. For automated trucks, mechanics conduct inspections weekly to keep up with their additional components.
Waste Connections keeps hard-to-find parts in stock at its 250 repair facilities. For more common items, local dealerships help with supply. What Thibodeaux calls “fast-moving” parts, such as wind valves, windshield wipers and brakes, also are stocked in-house.
Because of the smaller variety of stock supplies it has in-house, Thibodeaux says Waste Connections stays in touch with local dealers and manufacturers weekly.
Repairs are made in-house by one of the 1,260 maintenance employees throughout the company working three shifts, 24 hours a day. Thibodeaux says the majority of repairs on fast-moving parts are performed between 3:30 p.m. and midnight.
For Kimble and Waste Connections, open communication among drivers, mechanics and supervisors is of the critical importance. Without continuing education or creating a dialogue, these services will not be completed to their fullest potential.
Waste Connections facilities have held five classes this year where participating mechanics go through a retraining process of preventive maintenance procedures. The company also conducts supervisor fleet walks, where supervisors walk with maintenance employees around a vehicle to make sure the mechanic is thoroughly inspecting what he or she needs to and to build teamwork.
“When the supervisor walks the fleet with us, it builds collaboration and a team environment,” Thibodeaux says.
Waste Connections and Kimble are examples that, with collaboration, a set routine maintenance schedule and a group of knowledgeable technicians, waste companies can build a productive and long lasting fleet.