Specs change 06 March 2012

Economical and social factors are driving RCV operators to rethink some aspects of their vehicles. John Challen discovers measures being taken to boost safety and productivity, while cutting operating costs

Many new technologies appearing on commercial vehicles are not limited to trucks and vans. The same, or very similar, systems are also proving their worth on RCVs (refuse collection vehicles). Several factors, including health and safety, security and a requirement to save money and fuel on waste handling fleets, is driving adoption, with many operators now including innovative kit in their vehicle specifications. Additionally, some are looking beyond purchasing new models in a bid to better balance the cost/technology equation.

One innovation has been the inclusion of extra cameras and hard disk systems on waste disposal trucks. When RCV operator Enterprise was ordering its latest fleet of refuse vehicles for operation in the 'Square Mile' of the City of London, it selected Innovative Safety Systems to provide recording equipment – in the form of four-camera DVR hard disk recording systems – as well as training.

"Health and safety is one of our core principles, and this equipment provides us with a month's worth of recording, so we can monitor our teams to make sure they are working in a safe manner," explains David Martin, regional managing director at Enterprise. "If there are any incidents, we can find out exactly what happened and, in the event of any fraudulent insurance claims against us, the footage can be used as evidence in court."

Bob Sweetland, managing director of RCV contract vehicle hire and fleet management firm Specialist Fleet Services (SFS), reveals that his company has also seen an upsurge in requests for more health and safety equipment on its vehicles. "The cameras have picked up when vehicles go into the back of refuse trucks. But they also show when the operators themselves have damaged something," comments Sweetland.

Camera systems are now being fitted to more than half the vehicles SFS provides, and Sweetland says that number is increasing all the time, particularly for private sector operators. "We are also seeing more interest in electric bin-lifts, which have an impact on noise as well as the fuel economy of the vehicle," he adds. "We've recently taken our first orders and more people are looking at what the manufacturers are offering, in terms of hybrid chassis. Manufacturers are close to launching these chassis, and we are expecting quite a take-up of these vehicles, depending on the price."

Such systems may soon be helping the people of Cornwall, after SFS won a £14 million contract to provide vehicles for Cory Environmental's new contract with the county's council for waste and recycling collections, beach and street cleansing. The contract involves more than 200 vehicles including 47 RCVs, as well as sweepers, skip loaders, tippers, graffiti removal and street cleansing units, plus a number of specialist build vehicles for recycling.

Something old, something new
Meanwhile, those operators that believe they don't need new vehicles could do worse than talk to Spencer Law, founder and managing director at Refuse Vehicle Solutions (RVS). Established in 2009, the company's line in modified or remanufactured refuse trucks provides an arguably eminently cost-effective alternative to buying new, and matches operators' exact requirements.

"We will source a particular vehicle that the customer wants, and assess all the vulnerable workings of the body, bin-lift and chassis," explains Law. "We MOT them, service them, paint them and then deliver them as new, adding value in the process." He points to a recent example of a project completed for Gravesham Borough Council, which was looking to boost its RCV fleet, but was constrained by government budget cuts. That vehicle started off as a 4x2 chassis, before the RVS team added a lift axle to make it a 24-tonner, and also took a truck and body off a fire-damaged vehicle of a similar specification.

"When you buy a second-hand vehicle, the truck dealers obviously benefit from the margin that they charge on top. I wanted to offer something different from them and those selling new vehicles," explains Law, who has worked on and fixed refuse vehicles for more than 25 years. "We're not a new vehicle supplier, but I didn't want to be known as a truck dealer either."

While Law admits his company doesn't offer the cheapest options, for him, and many of his customers, it's all about the quality. "If there's a defect on the vehicle, or a common problem with a vehicle from a particular manufacturer, it is put right. Some of our vehicles might cost £60,000 to buy, but they are immaculate when we are finished with them."

The flexibility and options provided by RVS have allowed many private operators to save a lot of money, but in recent months it has been local authorities, too – namely Coventry, Gravesham and Swindon – that have been beating a path to his door.

"Last year we sold 53 vehicles, and only three of those were to local authorities," states Law. "But the Swindon contract alone was for six vehicles. That contract went out to tender, and while they aren't remanufactured vehicles, they are still high quality, defect-free, repainted vehicles that have had an MOT and service before delivery. Swindon also requested cameras, flashing LEDs along the sides and on the front grill, and we were able to integrate all of those into the vehicles."

Crucially, Law insists that the cost of those six RCVs was no more than just two equivalent new vehicles. Martin Britchford, fleet buyer for Swindon Commercial Services, is a happy man. "When the [first] vehicle was delivered, in under three weeks, it was difficult to tell it apart from a new one," he recalls. "If we can get the equivalent lifetime and operational standards from remanufactured vehicles as we can from new vehicles, while at the same time making significant savings against capital costs, we can provide a much better value for money service."

Multi-purpose vehicles
Elsewhere, Westminster is another local authority that has recently taken an innovative approach to its waste and recycling activities. In a move that is claimed will save "millions of a pounds", the London borough has unveiled a fleet of street cleaning vehicles that can double up as pavement gritters. With the addition of a simple attachment and the flick of a switch, its Hako Citymasters can transform from cleaning the streets, to keeping them safe for pedestrians.

Westminster's fleet of 70 rubbish trucks – complete with fuel-saving packs, improved engine management, GPS and quieter hydraulics – are predicted to save more than £300,000 a year in fuel costs alone, according the council. Cllr Ed Argar, Westminster City Council cabinet member for city management, says: "Westminster is constantly searching for ways to make sure residents and businesses are given the best value for money. Our new fleet is a great symbol of the investment we are making to keep our city clean – reducing noise and helping the environment in the process, without spending more money."

Author
John Challen

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Related Companies
Dennis Eagle Ltd
Innovative Safety Systems International Ltd
Mercedes-Benz UK Ltd
Refuse Vehicle Solutions Ltd
Specialist Fleet Services Ltd

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