Telepathic powers of telemetry

Modern telemetry systems can work wonders for fleet efficiency - especially when there's a meeting of minds between technology provider and customer, says John McPherson

Privatisation of waste management has introduced many efficiencies and cost savings, but the continuing advances in transport and disposal of waste are being led by three core driving factors - safety, logistics and cost saving. Behind the advances in methodology lies engineering technology that is being developed at the same time as it is implemented.

Off-the-shelf technology is not the answer for an industry that is progressing at the fastest rate ever. The solution is to select a technology provider who is prepared to work alongside the people on the ground and develop systems that are geared and focused on real and practical requirements.

In Suffolk, the county council's 18 household waste depots are serviced by 250 containers and a fleet of 12 32-tonne GVW, eight-wheel trucks, each with Multilift hook lift systems. I work for Waste Recycling Group and as transport manager for the council's waste management contract, we are under pressure to maximise logistical efficiency seven days a week. To help with this, we have formed an alliance with M-Motion and its Telemotion suite of telemetry products that far transcends a conventional supplier-customer relationship.

A meeting of minds
At its heart the business link involves a meeting of minds - advanced, web-based electronics and telemetry from M-Motion being developed and adapted to meet our bespoke needs as waste management professionals. The first requirement is tracking so that we can be sure that all trucks and containers are where they should be. Satellite tracking combines with a geo-fencing system where, if a truck moves outside its pre-set permitted area of operation, the transport office will be alerted automatically.

As well as geographic boundaries, geo-fencing can be set to operate on time frames, with weekend and working weekdays having different settings. We are also preparing for a system where, at the beginning of a day's working shift, the driver inserts his digital key card in the truck cab to confirm his identity, register the start of the working day and instigate the automatic location systems.

The paper-based checks, where drivers must follow a series of visual and manual operations to ensure that the vehicle is roadworthy and safe, will be replaced by an electronic system. If any of these checks are incomplete the driver will be unable to move to the next stage and will be instructed to call head office. It is also planned for containers, as well as trucks, to be tracked, even when they are static, so the container can be matched up with the appropriate truck at any time.

Weighing is an important element of the Telemotion telemetry system. The driver and his employer are responsible for not exceeding the truck and container GVW. If the driver is told the high-sided container is carrying 9 tonnes, it may be only at the weighbridge that he finds out it is, in fact 12.5 tonnes - and he has been overloaded. The in-cab display would spot this before leaving the site.

Modern efficiencies at household waste sites allow the public to take more control of the waste they are getting rid of, but this also leads to containers being filled with more weight in low volumes. Before waste separation was introduced almost all debris was loaded indiscriminately into the first available container and the high volume/low weight items, such as cardboard and plastics, were mixed with heavier items, such as garden waste. Today green waste poses a problem depending on the time of year and weather conditions.

A solution for all seasons
Grass cuttings at the beginning of the growing season are wetter and heavier than during a dry summer, and all green waste absorbs moisture - so the container is heavier in rain or when holding wet items. The Telemotion system overcomes these potential problems by a series of sensors attached to the truck chassis, not the container, and data is displayed for the driver in his cab. The driver can see the weight on the chassis and he takes responsibility, not the operatives at the site.

M-Motion has also developed a product for compactor containers, where data on the container can be inserted into a working schedule. The on-board computer that is part of the telemetry system also connects with the truck's own CANBUS, relaying data on driving and engine performance, as well as recording this information. It is used for remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance - automatically sending data to the fleet manager on when workshop visits are required.

Safety is also paramount. In an ideal world I am looking for a system where, after pre-shift inspections, the driver can remain in his cab for his entire shift and concentrate on driving the vehicle - in those circumstances he is unlikely to be placed in danger. In the past there was a potential problem with loads shifting the centre of gravity in the container. If this coincided with an overload, then the container and truck could tip over.

We overcame this problem by switching from 6-wheel, 26-tonne GVW chassis to 8-wheel, 32-tonne GVW chassis, but there remains a legal limit and a larger chassis with a powerful, hydraulic hooklift system will easily carry a heavy container. The responsibility of staying legal and under the weight limit remains. Telemetry and data communications also remove the need for drivers to have in-cab mobile phones for general use.

Telemetry provides us with the most up-to-date accurate data on which strategic and managerial decisions can be made. This wealth of logistical information - for example knowing exactly where all the trucks and containers are at any one time - means we can be more efficient. The data that is communicated via the web site is also recorded and is available in ways that make it simple for individual and fleet trends to be identified and corrected.

Modern telemetry systems also cut out a big chunk of form-filling tasks. Data on weights and journeys is transmitted directly to the head office system so instead of waiting for forms to be faxed over and data collated, invoices can be sent as soon as the task has been completed with verification recorded electronically.

As transport manager, one of my priorities is safeguarding the 'O' licence as a commercial fleet operator and that can easily be affected by overweight loads being shipped on trucks and also accidents from not carrying out the correct procedures. Advanced technology will continue to play a major role in ensuring that we, as the waste management contractor, are always within the law.

John McPherson is transport manager for Suffolk County Council's waste management contract

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