Drivers towards RCV design

Published:  19 January, 2012

Ann-Marie Knegt travelled up to Warwick to visit Dennis Eagle's manufacturing facility,where Norman Thoday (MD) revealed his views on the current state of the industry and how increased efficiency pressures will shape RCV design.

RCV manufacturer Dennis Eagle has identified several key objectives which are driving modern refuse collection vehicle design. They range from changes in disposal methodology and the growing pressure on operational efficiency; through to legislative change; and the exciting possibilities which new technology presents.

MD Norman Thoday explains how the company is working with its customers to ensure that Dennis Eagle remains at the leading edge when it comes to performance and efficiency, along the following key objectives:

• disposal methodology

• operational environment

• legislation

• technology

• operational efficiency

Disposal methodology

Due to the desire of Local Authorities and private waste contractors to increase recycling levels, Norman has seen the number of wheeled containers used in the UK rising. Almost all the vehicles Dennis Eagle now builds have a wheeled container hoist on the rear.

Around 20 years ago, there were hardly any wheeled containers used in the UK, says Norman. Now the containers vary according to the recycling rounds and the recycling is driven by the disposal methodology. If this is co-mingled there is one container, if it is not and boxes are used, it varies again.

“Obviously, this influences the design of our trucks. The chassis stays very similar, although changes in chassis are driven by legislation for brakes, engines and emissions. We have to design the body so it is able to cope with the different types of material that are generally collected, because in most cases Local Authorities and contractors require vehicles that can pick up normal residual waste, plastics, food and green,” he explains.

Some years ago the company developed the Phoenix2, and more recently the Olympus, to provide the operators with a body that can pick up different types of materials; is fuel efficient; and features all the new technologies – including bin RFID, weighing systems and internal diagnostic systems.

Operational environment

In principle, the final version of any vehicle is down to the buyer's specification, and therefore Dennis Eagle has modularized the design of its trucks. For instance, the Olympus body range is available as a two-axle version and a four-axle version. In many city-centres, the shorter two-axle version is very popular due to its flexibility in narrow precincts. The same goes for some rural districts, where manoeuvrability is also essential on narrow driveways and country roads. However, Dennis Eagle is now manufacturing a narrow threeaxle vehicle which is as manoeuvrable as the 4x2 but has a larger payload.

Norman explains that reducing the number of journeys to the disposal point is something all his clients are aiming for at the moment. “Since you have to drive with two members of staff in the cab, operators see this as down time, and therefore we have to provide them with the best possible payload to get a minimum number of journeys. Some metropolitan boroughs have reduced their journeys to about three to four loads a day.”

It is well known that the country's focus is shifting from landfills to recycling facilities. This is the reason why Dennis Eagle developed the Twin Pack body, a dual compaction vehicle. In some cases, RCVs dispose of the waste one side at one location, and on the other side at a different location, because there is not always one point of disposal for many Local Authorities. This means that recycling brings logistical issues that an operator has to deal with, and vehicle design offers a cost effective solution to counter this.

Dennis Eagle's Duo body is a conventional RCV which has a pod behind the cab. This enables the operator to pick up different materials, such as glass and plastics, because it is a non-compaction body. Norman says this is an alternative solution to for instance the Olympus Twin Pack, which features triple lifts and advanced technology.

The basic vehicle has been designed on a modular principle, and Dennis Eagle tries to use as few components as possible. The company sees this as a benefit for the customer, as spare parts will be easily available to them. He explains that this is also beneficial as when vehicle design becomes simpler, the workshop manual becomes easier to understand as well.

Operational efficiency

“We still have customers which change their fleet every five years – lease and contract hire. Others have extended the life of their fleet,” continues Norman. “The real change in the sector is to be found in spot hire. The age of the vehicles that are used for spot hire has increased dramatically in the last three years. The parts and service we provide are available for the whole life cycle of our trucks. In addition we provide training courses for the operators, and provide an advanced parts ordering system, called the Electronic Parts Catalogue, which also helps with maintenance and servicing.

“We have found that service and maintenance standards in the UK are very high. The focus tends to be on the chassis, but the body has many moving parts, and safety aspects. We need to stay on top of that as an industry, because technology is useless if it doesn't work properly.”

Norman believes that visibility from the cab is essential to safe operation. The onus tends to be on reversing incidents. Pedestrians for instance have a habit of stepping right in front of the truck, and if the cab design doesn't allow for that, it could lead to dangerous situations.

For the rear, LAs are now requesting real-time cameras, which record any incident to hard disk. This is an asset because it not only greatly improves safety, but it also assists the operator with legal issues. “It is amazing how claims are made for scratched cars by the public, and when they review the footage it turns out that the car was already damaged before it approached the RCV.

“It all comes down to driver training, good working practices and risk assessment. Dennis Eagle offers operational training with the delivery of every vehicle, and teaches people how to use the machine correctly, without trying to teach people not to take operational shortcuts as this creates safety and maintenance issues.

“Proper vehicle design comes by executing engineering details. When you deal with a £150,000 vehicle, it can be off the road for a £5,000 component as easily as for a £2.00 component. You have to keep the operator in a position to maximize the fleet's performance. The price of a truck is not the issue, it the price of the spare parts that counts.”

Technology

Although Norman feels that there is potential in battery-powered vehicles, he believes that the technology has not yet reached the point where it can be used cost effectively. He finds that the price of Lithium Ion batteries is still so high that it is quite difficult to recover the premium over the life of a truck.

“If the average lifetime of an RCV is seven years, you would have to look at the fuel savings and set these off against the battery premium. We are not yet in a position to make that claim. We will be able to do so as technology in battery performance moves on, however, at this moment in time the industry hasn't reached that level yet. If there are noise issues, then a battery-powered vehicle is a good solution. Even so, how many contractors can afford to buy a vehicle that is more expensive?”

Since Dennis Eagle is owned by Ros Roca – a Spanish RCV manufacturer – Norman is well aware of the waste infrastructure in Spain, where 50% of the vehicles operate on compressed natural gas (CNG). CNG is relatively cheap and clean, and the technology behind it is now fully accepted in the country. However, putting a CNG infrastructure in place requires a firm investment, and he doesn't think we are prepared to do so in the UK.

He is, however, very impressed with the new Euro6 standard. “The engines that are now being installed in the vehicles – and this primarily relates to the treatment of exhaust gases with urea – are extremely complex. The claims that are being made is that they are so clean that you can almost breathe the exhausts. Technology is moving forward and it is moving in the right direction, but I believe that the diesel engine manufacturers are the real leaders.”

The future

Noise has always been an issue in the waste industry, and Norman believes that future technology will address this. The material of which the body is made is also something to reconsider. For instance, in the fire industry materials such as glass re-enforced plastic (GRP) and polybodies, made out of tough, durable, impactresistant polypropylene, have been accepted technology for years.

When dealing with glass collection, the glass would hit plastic instead of metal, and that would mean a reduction in noise. “We find it strange that many fail to accept that vehicle design and collection systems are driven by the disposal method, and we believe that the refuse stream is going to be lighter.

Recycling is taking the weight out of the collection, especially with glass. This means we will be building smaller and lighter trucks in the future, with a smaller payload. Diesel technology such as Euro6 is likely to be favoured, but hybrids and battery could well be required in urban and city environments as this would be driven by air quality targets. For rural areas I cannot really see the benefits of alternatively powered RCVs.”

At the same time Dennis Eagle has seen the demand for onboard technology increase. Customers are now buying weighing systems; navigation systems; in-vehicle diagnostic systems; creating a massive amount of data about the vehicle and even about the driver.

He feels that this will only increase in the future, and that there will be a massive drive for efficiency by using telematics systems for collection rounds, as well as driver analysis systems to reduce fuel consumption and increase safety.

“If a driver drives an RCV well, it could produce dramatic savings in fuel. The emphasis is shifting towards driver training, as this could mean an organization could make significant savings per year in fuel and maintenance,” concludes Norman.

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