Just as passenger vehicles are becoming safer and more connected, so too are refuse trucks. But these complex fleet assets are also setting some of their own trends specific to their specialized function. Here are the latest developments in the evolution of these important fleet workhorses.
Collecting data from passenger vehicles has grown to become a critical fleet management tool. Now, refuse trucks are getting on board, too. From driver productivity to improved safety to staying ahead of maintenance and repairs, refuse trucks are using data to improve fleet performance.
“One trend we’re seeing is the continued evolution of the ‘connected truck,’” said Eric Evans, vice president, mobile product management, Environmental Solutions Group. ESG is the parent company of Heil, which manufactures garbage truck bodies. “By that I mean we are now fielding more requests — and designing more products — that send digital information back to fleet owners.”
Evans said this could be information pertaining to the drivetrain or the body that lets fleet owners know their vehicles are on route and working. Or, it may be safety oriented, gathering information from video and data feeds that provides insight about the vehicle operator and the surrounding environment. This data can then be used to enhance driver coaching opportunities or to evaluate the conditions of a crash.
Samantha Parlier, vice president, vocational market development, Freightliner, said that although data is a newer trend for refuse trucks, fleets are already finding multiple applications. “While still emerging with refuse applications, some fleets are using telematics data to keep track of and analyze their vehicles’ performance and usage,” she said. “This data can also help service managers gain insights into service intervals and help the service manager determine how the vehicles are being operated. Telematics can also contribute to a safer vehicle by recording data that can help determine unsafe driving behaviors. Fleets are also looking toward remote diagnostics to help make maintenance decisions, maximize performance, and ultimately keep the truck on the job and out of the shop.”
One example is the Detroit Connect Virtual Technician, a remote diagnostic service that provides insights into vehicle health and performance that comes standard on the Detroit DD8 engine in the Freightliner EconicSD, Parlier said.
Mack also offers its own connected technology through the Mack GuardDog Connect telematics solution, which automatically monitors a truck’s performance. If a potential issue is detected, the system sends a notification to Mack OneCall agents at the 24/7 Mack Uptime Center.
“OneCall experts quickly diagnose the issue and, based on its severity, determine the best plan of action,” said Roy Horton, director of product strategy, Mack Trucks. “Should a repair be required, proactive repair scheduling and parts confirmation is initiated, all while the truck remains on the road.”
In addition to becoming more connected, refuse trucks are also becoming more driver focused, offering features that improve driver comfort, boost productivity, and improve safety.
“Fleets are looking for anything that helps the operator be more productive and safe,” Horton said. “Operators need a work environment that promotes productivity, which is why our Mack LR model was designed with driver-focused features, such as multiple door and seating options, a tilt and telescopic steering column, and increased storage for items operators need during a shift.”
Parlier said Freightliner is also focusing on the combination of comfort, safety, and productivity. In 2018, Freightliner introduced the new Freightliner EconicSD, built for the specialized needs of waste collection professionals. The Freightliner EconicSD has low step-in height and a front-kneeling feature that helps reduce fatigue for drivers and passengers as they get in and out of their vehicles all day. Other features, like a more spacious interior, a modern, digitalized instrument cluster with steering wheel controls, and an optional pneumatic bi-fold passenger side door, are also intended to improve driver comfort and promote productivity.
“Today’s refuse trucks are specifically focused on maximizing productivity, as well as keeping drivers safer and more comfortable,” Parlier said. “By focusing on driver ergonomics and safety, a fleet adds to productivity by keeping the driver in top condition to operate the equipment.”
While productivity is important, Evans said caring for the safety and wellbeing of drivers takes precedence for public fleets. “Municipalities seem to focus more on operator comfort, cab ergonomics, and operational safety than on productivity metrics,” he said. “With municipalities, keeping operators in their cab and reducing cab shake — which can lead to operator fatigue — is becoming an elevated priority. With operators getting older, reducing cab shake and neck strain correlates to happier, healthier operators.”
In addition to keeping drivers safe and comfortable, refuse trucks are also being designed to operate more safely in the communities and neighborhoods where they operate.
“Government fleets in the refuse segment — similar to private companies — are all deepening their commitment to the communities where they serve, as well as adding more safety features and technologies to the truck,” Parlier said. “Fleets are expecting technologies that will contribute to a safer, more productive vehicle, as well as safer streets and communities.”
Refuse trucks now come equipped with safety features that can help mitigate potential collisions and keep drivers, passengers, and cars and pedestrians outside of the truck safer. For instance, the Detroit Assurance suite of safety systems, which is standard on the Freightliner EconicSD, includes Active Brake Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, and Sideguard Assist. Sideguard Assist alerts the driver to objects on the side of the vehicle, which is particularly useful for waste collection trucks that operate on neighborhood and urban streets. The Freightliner EconicSD also comes with other safety features that provide better visibility, like panoramic windshields, advanced mirror systems for expanded views, and low seating positions.
Mack is also focusing on safety by offering a pre-wire option for Lytx equipment on the Mack LR and Granite models. “This technology helps improve driver safety through driver coaching and predictive analytics to help reduce unsafe driving behaviors,” Horton said.
Technology to Reduce Driver Turnover & Simplify Maintenance
Evans said a major trend among refuse truck fleets is high refuse truck driver turnover. And as most fleets know, finding mechanics to work on complex equipment can be challenging, too. Heil has focused on developing technologies to address both of these issues.
“Operating a modern front loader or side loader can be an intimidating undertaking for a seasoned operator — let alone someone new to the job. We also needed to take away some of the maintenance complexity that causes fleet owners anxiety as knowledgeable mechanics are hard to find and even harder to keep,” Evans said. “Customers have asked us to develop vehicles that are easier to operate and maintain. We’ve answered that call.”
To simplify operation, the Heil Autonomous Lift Option (H.A.L.O.) allows a front load operator to pick up and dump a commercial container with one finger and then set it down at its original spot. This allows a first-time front load operator to be productive on day one. To simplify maintenance, Heil’s Command-SST Automated Side Loader (ASL) arm has just six lubrication points — about 75% fewer than other arms — making it easier to maintain. Arm lube points are also accessible at ground level, making it easier for mechanics to service.
A Variety of Fueling Options
Fueling has also evolved — and continues to evolve — for refuse trucks. Parlier said fleets with refuse trucks have successfully adopted a variety of fueling options over the last few years. “Refuse trucks, especially in municipalities, have been using a mix of fuels in their trucks for many years,” she said. “Diesel technology continues to become cleaner, and natural gas-powered engines are sound and proven.”
What’s next? Horton said electric-powered refuse trucks are coming soon. “Electrification of collection trucks is one of the most talked about subjects in the refuse industry, as fleets and customers begin to demand environmentally cleaner and quieter refuse trucks in the very near future,” he said. “Electromobility has made a big splash in the refuse industry. With set routes and a return to home every night, electromobility fits well with the refuse application.”
Mack Trucks will be testing its Mack LR Electric with two customers later this year: the New York City Department of Sanitation and Republic Services.
What to Expect Down the Road
What trends will emerge for refuse trucks in the next few years? Evans said we’re likely to see autonomous/semi-autonomous functionality. “With driver shortages and reduced driver retention, simplifying the operation of the vehicle will be a key driver,” he explained.