With 38 years in the trucking industry, Stewart Dodd is a man with experience but he is also a man with vision. When he joined Dundee City Council as workshop manager eight years ago, he was presented with an ageing fleet.

“Most vehicles were over five years old and nearing the end of their working life,” he recalls. When the council introduced plans for a sophisticated recycling scheme soon after his appointment, Dodd knew that his fleet needed to be overhauled.

“The transport division would have a pivotal role in the scheme and it was clear that unless the fleet was replaced there was no way we could attempt to support it,” he explains. “The fleet was too small and too old to be able to meet the targets of the ambitious plans or the increased workload.”

Since then Dodd has built up and continues to maintain an award-winning fleet – in 2003, he was voted ‘local authority fleet operator of the year’. The fleet comprises a variety of refuse vehicles for different types of wastes – garden, recyclables, landfill, as well as skip lifters and hooks. Dodd’s dedication to his role has ensured that the recycling scheme in Dundee continues to be supported entirely by council vehicles, without contracting out to private companies.

Early introduction of automatic vehicles was key in updating the fleet. After renewing the refuse vehicles, Dodd began to equip the hook loaders with automatic transmissions. Soon after, he introduced them into the skip-lifters. Within a fleet of over 120 vehicles, more than 40 are equipped with Allison automatic transmissions.

“With the safety and long-term cost benefits, it made sense to start using automatics. When I saw it was working well in the hooks I decided to introduce them into the skip loaders as well,” says Dodd. Now he has Allison automatics in nearly all his heavy vehicles.

Benefits of going automatic

There are numerous benefits in using automatic transmissions, reflected in the large-scale trend towards automatic across many industry sectors. The trend is driven by pressure from increased levels of traffic, competition and productivity. However, despite the benefits, many people are still put off by the initial cost.

But as Dundee City Council has experienced, the investment is quickly recovered in savings over the vehicle life. By reducing wear and tear on the driveline during operation, the maintenance costs and times are also dramatically reduced.

“With manuals we would be going through a clutch every 12 months, costing around £2,500 a time,” says Dodd. “With automatics, we recover the initial investment from these cost savings in less than seven years. That is less that the minimum working life of the vehicles, which is at least seven years, though often significantly longer.”

The council also benefits from reduced downtime. “This is crucial for our skip loaders which work from 07:30 to 15:30, seven days a week,” points out Dodd.

Low maintenance

Maintenance hours are also reduced. “We only see the automatic hooks once every five weeks when we inspect them, and once a year for an overhaul when we dump the oil,” says Dodd. “This means that valuable maintenance man hours are not wasted and can be spent on unavoidable repairs instead.” This results in an overall increase in fleet productivity.

Dodd says the main reason he decided to go automatic was to improve road safety. “In hilly, urban environments like Dundee, the drivers of manual vehicles would spend most of their time with their hand on the stick. With an automatic, both hands can be kept on the steering wheel and full concentration can be given to the road, and to pedestrians.”

By focusing driver concentration, stress and fatigue are also reduced which further boosts productivity. Initially, some of the drivers were nervous about using automatics, particularly in a landfill environment where traction can be a problem, but they soon warmed to them.

“The automatics were, I must admit, met with scepticism concerning their performance in a landfill environment,” reports Dodd. “However, that was dispelled on their first visit when the vehicles performed better than a manual box. We also retrofitted a Scania 114, 8 by 4, 340HP landfill truck with traction control and now our operators would refuse to drive anything else.”

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