Does Dennis Eagle’s latest Phoenix rise to the challenge?

In the first of LAWR's Road Test series, we test drive Dennis Eagle's Phoenix high capacity twin pack 50/50 recycling vehicle during a live round to check out its capability on the job. Dan Gilkes reports

Refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) are specialised pieces of equipment, so how do you choose between manufacturers? You know your collection criteria, route lengths and the potential amount of material to be collected. But other than actually sitting in the driver’s seat, how do you know if the trucks that you are looking at will be right for your operation?

LAWR decided to provide some help with that decision, by carrying out road tests of actual refuse and recycling collection vehicles in live rounds across the country. The test is not intended as a definitive decision-maker, but hopefully offers fleet managers more information than can be gleaned from a specification sheet.

Where better to start than with the latest high capacity twin pack vehicle from Dennis Eagle. The Phoenix, based on the firm’s Elite 2 6×4 chassis, has been available for some time with a 70/30 split rear end. To meet the changing needs of the industry, the company is now also offering the twin pack in a 50/50 split.

Our truck was on demonstration with Cleanaway, refuse, recycling and street cleaning contractor for the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. Cleanaway runs eight Dennis Eagle Phoenix trucks with the original 70/30 split bodies, but is looking at the possible purchase of two more due to the success of its recycling initiatives in the area (see box, p15).

LAWR spent the day on a round in Windsor, picking up recyclables using Cleanaway’s coloured box scheme. One side of the truck was used for paper and cardboard, the other side for glass/plastic bottles and metal cans. Dennis Eagle remains one of the few manufacturers that produces both the chassis and the body for its RCVs. The only component bought in for the truck is the Terberg Tinium double bin lift at the rear of the vehicle.

The Phoenix body sits atop the Elite 2 chassis. This wide track 6×4 is powered by a Cummins ISBe275 six cylinder diesel engine. The Euro 3 motor offers 271hp (202kW) at 2,100 – 2,500rpm and a healthy 689lb ft (934Nm) of torque at 1,200 – 1,700rpm. The power is transmitted to the rear axles by the popular Allison MD3060 six-speed automatic gearbox.

It should be noted that Dennis will be introducing a new version of the Elite chassis later this year. The revised truck will have a Euro 4 certified Volvo engine, complete with Adblue tank, and will offer slightly more power at 290hp (216kW). Performance is expected to be similar to the current vehicle.

Low mount offers good stability

One of the advantages of not building the RCV around a converted haulage truck is that the components can be mounted very low in the chassis, to help keep the centre of gravity as low as possible for stability on the road.

Given that there is always the possibility of uneven loading with the 50/50 split rear end, the company has decided on Hendrikson-Norde rubber suspension for the rear bogie to prevent roll and to keep the truck level. At the front end the chassis sits on conventional twin parabolic springs, with telescopic dampers doing their best to soak up any bumps.

In practice the combination works well, riding over speed bumps smoothly in built-up residential areas. On the open road, with speeds building, the truck rides reasonably, though big potholes do result in a bit of a thump in the cab.

The Cummins engine works well enough and is relatively quiet, which is more than can be said for the Allison transmission. Yes, auto boxes, and the Allison in particular are a popular choice in RCVs, but the whine from the gearbox is always audible as you work your way up through the gears. That said, gear selection could not be easier, with a simple push button console offering a basic R-N-D choice along with up and down buttons if you feel the need to hold a gear.

It was possible to catch the engine out though, especially on steep gradients, where if you pull away without first building the revs up it can take a long time for the transmission to start the vehicle moving forwards. Indeed on one very steep manoeuvre, I managed to stall the engine in reverse gear as I hadn’t built up enough revs before letting the handbrake off.

No problems with fuel

Fuel economy is a difficult one to quantify with a truck that is left running all the time. Suffice to say that a reliable mpg reading is not really possible unless you have a collection round with high mileages and relatively few stops. Cleanaway certainly had no problems with the amount of fuel being used by the demonstration truck, which was in line with its own vehicles.

The Elite 2 uses Dennis Eagle’s low floor cab, which is offered in driver plus three or driver plus four seating configurations. Cleanaway would opt for the driver plus three set-up, but the demo truck was supplied with the additional passenger seat which sits just to the left of the driver.

To be fair this is a pretty cramped seat, with limited leg room. As it sits slightly forward of the driver’s seat the passenger can also block the driver’s view to the nearside mirrors, if they don’t lean back. With the driver plus four cab, the rear three passengers sit fairly high up, with a limited view out of the front window, which also doesn’t go down too well with some passengers.

There is however plenty of room to move about in the cab, and the lack of a gear lever means that there is a totally flat floor for the driver to walk across, so that they can exit on the pavement rather than the road. The three rear seats also allow for a full height set of shelves behind the driver, ideal for storing wet weather gear, sandwich boxes and personal belongings.

Visibility from the driver’s seat is very good, with tall windows and glazing behind the cab doors. Well-positioned mirrors offer a good view when driving and manoeuvring, and there was a mono screen camera for the loading bay at the rear of the machine that provided an excellent view across the rear of the vehicle.

Total body control

The Phoenix twin pack body has two totally separate compartments dividing the body longitudinally. Each body compartment, which has a swept volume of 0.93m3, has its own tailgate and Terberg single bin lift.

The compartments have independent two-plate packer/sweeper designs and separate ejection barriers. The entire system can be controlled from within the cab or from consoles mounted on the either side of the rear end of the vehicle.

Initially Dennis designed the system with a 70/30 split, primarily to carry regular household waste in the 70% side and recycled materials in the 30%. However Cleanaway has been so successful with the recycling system in Windsor and Maidenhead that it has dedicated trucks for recycling.

While interested in the 50/50 design as a possible for the future, Cleanway’s senior environmental manager Darren Ashley says the company would stick with 70/30 in Windsor as the rounds include schools, and a four-wheeled bin can be picked up by the 70 side of the truck. In addition, the firm still picks up more paper and cardboard than glass, plastic and metal.

Possibly because the crew on the truck are used to the 70/30 design, they felt that using two smaller bins on the 50/50 design was slowing them up on the round.

“Time is of the essence on this job,” says driver Rowena Finlay. However she was happy with the performance of the truck, and was particularly pleased to see the optional air conditioning fitted.

Some of the fittings in the cab were less popular though, including a cup holder that opens out right where your left knee sits and a second holder that is virtually in the doorway on the left, just where everyone else gets in and out of the cab.

However Dennis Eagle’s regional sales manager Paul Hobday says that the Euro 4 truck that will be introduced later this year features a revised cab layout that cures many of these operational niggles. The new truck will also feature a CANBus electrical system with a central information screen in the dash that doubles up as the rear view monitor.

Additions to the fleet

As mentioned Cleanaway is already a Dennis customer for the Windsor contract, with eight recycling vehicles and 12 conventional RCVs. There is a possibility that the firm will be adding two more recycling trucks to the fleet, but will stick to a 70/30 split rear end to suit the existing rounds.

However Cleanaway is looking to set up a similar collection business elsewhere in the country, and Mr Ashley can definitely see benefits for the 50/50 truck. “As a user the 50/50 is a truck that will be popular in a few years to come, as recycling develops,” he says, adding: “I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from our drivers on the Dennis trucks so far.”

And that surely is as strong a recommendation as you could wish for.

Dan Gilkes is a freelance road tester

Specification table:

Dennis Eagle Phoenix high capacity twin pack 50/50

Engine: Cummins ISBe275 (Euro 3)

Power: 271hp (202kW) @ 2,100 – 2,500rpm

Torque: 689lb ft (934Nm) @ 1,200 – 1,700rpm

Gearbox: Allison MD3060 six-speed automatic

Front axle: Dana I section, 8,000kg capacity

Rear axles: Dana 11.28 Hypoid, combined 20,000kg capacity

Brakes: Full air, twin circuit with 4 channel ABS

Cab: Low floor with one step, driver + four crew

Body: Phoenix high capacity Twin Pack 50/50

Hopper size: 0.93m3 each

Packing mechanism: Independent two-plate packer/sweeper

Hydraulic system: PTO pump delivering 0.9 litres/sec at 1,200rpm

Wheelbase: 5.6m

Turning circle: 18.4m (kerb to kerb)

GVW: 26 tonnes

Unladen weight: 15,240kg

The Cleanaway contract

Cleanaway picked up the seven-year contract to handle the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead’s refuse and recycling in March of last year. The borough was already operating a black box collection for paper and cardboard, and in October last year Cleanaway delivered 55,000 purple boxes to households for glass bottles, plastic and metal cans.

The boxes are picked up every week on the same day as the regular domestic waste collection. The take-up by residents has exceeded all expectations, with around 80% contributing to the scheme.

This means some 275 tonnes of recyclable paper, plastic, metal and glass are picked up in the two towns. The paper is transferred to nearby Taplow Mill where it is recycled into corrugated packaging material, while the glass, metal and plastic are separated at a site in Rainham and used as construction fill.

Cleanaway’s teams have a driver and two operatives, each pulling two conventional wheelie bins. The loaders fill the bins as they walk along the route, stopping to load into the truck as necessary. This means that the truck doesn’t have to stop at every house, reducing congestion on the route.

Originally Cleanaway bought eight Dennis Phoenix trucks for the route, the idea being to have six working and two spare. With such a high take-up to the scheme all eight trucks are now out with crews, so the firm is looking to purchase a further two trucks to have as spare vehicles for the operation.

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