How do you assess ‘whole life costs’ for sweepers?

Packaging the terminology to describe what residents and businesses expect of local authorities has become an exercise in itself. The latest municipal "buzz phrase" is "whole life costs". The aims and objectives of this concept are admirable, but how does this approach work in practice? Street sweeper manufacturer, Schmidt UK Ltd, outlines key factors that affect "whole life costs", citing case studies of its equipment in action

Every council has to improve continuously, and be seen to do so, with no or very little rise in budget. That is the nature of progress. The “whole life costs” concept incorporates some of the best parts of “accountability” and “best practice”, and it also introduces elements of foresight that make procurement an even more structured process.

For example, street cleansing covers an array of equipment, from a brush and bin through to high technology mechanics and electronics. The trick is in working out the effectiveness and productivity of a piece of equipment or a methodology over the long term.

Solution number one could be a man with a brush: total equipment cost – one brush and one bucket or sack – but the best solution, number two, could be a mechanical sweeper, because it is faster, cleaner, more efficient and much more productive. This does not mean that the man and his brush are not vital in the overall cleansing role.

Not so simple

At its simplest the equation may be: capital cost plus all other costs over the life of the equipment divided by the number of years over which it is operated. But factor in a few variables and the answer may not be so straightforward:

  • Is the machine capable of handling the demands of a 24-hour or night time economy, which can often mean double or triple shifts?

  • Is it reliable or frequently off the road for non-routine repairs?

  • Can servicing and maintenance be pre-planned so down time is scheduled?

  • Can the cost of qualified driver training bring enough savings over a longer period?

  • Is this a one-man machine, or does it only work well and productively if accompanied by a man and brush, even where there is no street furniture to trap litter?

  • What are the costs of compensation or litigation if the driver is uncomfortable or injured, or, even worse, if the driver just does not want to use the vehicle because he is not happy with it?

  • How effective is the machine in sweeping up the problem in a single pass?

    In the Carrick district within Cornwall, Cory Environmental Municipal Services, evaluated its street cleansing needs in detail over three years ago, giving careful consideration to the difficult geography – including some steep hills that needed sweeping up as well as down – and the vast amount of litter associated with popular tourist resorts.

The three Schmidt Swingo compact sweepers have reached the end of their contracted life with the Cory at Carrick Council, but Workshop Manager Mark Hamblin is keen to see them continue – probably with one of Cory’s other municipal contracts. The work involved in evaluating the best machines for the job has played a role in Cory’s contract with Carrick District Council being extended to 2015.

With 178 square miles, including the steep hills and narrow streets of Truro and Falmouth, to cover, Cory needed power, proven ability and a large hopper, as well as accessibility. Reliability was vital and, as Mr Hamblin says: “We needed to know what our likely costs were going to be each year. We did not want any unpleasant surprises. Over the last three years we have been working the machines hard and almost without a break apart from normal servicing.”

Over in Exeter, another area popular with tourists as well as being a thriving social and business centre, the city council purchased one of the first purpose-designed hot water pavement washing machines, the Schmidt HotJet. Whole life costs were difficult to evaluate a year ago, as there were no long-term comparisons, but the machine was purchased as a long-term investment for the city, so it has been under the spotlight for all 12 months.

High profile

The Schmidt HotJet’s profile could hardly have been higher. Not only has it been written about and photographed several times for the local media, but it is also working 37 hours a week under the watchful eye of councillors and the public. Its prime task, to keep the re-paved and refurbished city centre free of chewing gum, is also very topical.

Factors in keeping the machine operating and demonstrating a return on the investment have included reliability, a timetable of oil changes and services and driver training.

Training as part of whole life costs is a priority. As with any vehicle or piece of equipment, if the operator looks after it, follows the advice of experts and trainers, it will continue to provide a highly productive return: it is the role of manufacturers to ensure that training programmes and familiarisation with up-grades and improvements are available.

Core question

The concept of whole life costs is not entirely novel: elements can be found in every local authority initiative to improve service and reduce costs. What could be innovative is the growing emphasis on a structured approach to procurement based not solely on finance and what can be immediately afforded, but also on answering the core question of whether the chosen vehicle will actually do the job for which it is being bought, and keep doing it.

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