Tech-savvy trash

Features - Equipment Focus // Roll-off Trucks

Sensor technology is allowing waste haulers to maximize loads and reduce unnecessary trips.

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September 13, 2018
Hilary Crisan-Heavilin
raccoondaydream | Adobe Stock

Stanford University is in the heart of Silicon Valley, a place where tech is king. So, it should come as no surprise that the university’s waste services provider would leverage the industry’s latest technology to increase efficiency and reduce unnecessary pickups.

Peninsula Sanitary Service Inc. (PSSI), Stanford, California, provides the 8,180-acre campus with containers it dubs “debris boxes” to take the waste generated from the school’s ongoing construction and demolition projects and from the moving in and out of the college’s 13,000 students at various times of the year. PSSI carries four roll-off box sizes in 8-, 15-, 20- and 30-cubic-yard capacities. The 15-, 20- and 30-cubic-yard boxes also come in short and tall heights. In all, 52 debris boxes are strategically located across campus and are serviced by roll-off trucks as needed.

Keeping track of, and knowing when to service, each container takes a lot of time and effort. That’s why Andrew Pellegrini, operations manager at PSSI, decided to look for a technology solution that could help. Luckily, being so near a plethora of tech companies, he didn’t have to look far.

He found Compology, based in nearby San Francisco. The company, in partnership with Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wastequip, offers a container monitoring system for waste containers.

“We always try and look for advancements in technology,” Pellegrini says. He notes that the data collection capabilities of Compology’s system were a major factor that helped PSSI settle on them as their equipment provider.

The Compology system includes camera-based sensors and a web-based dashboard that allows Peninsula to track container location, fullness and motion throughout the university.

Taking the plunge

About two years ago, Peninsula had Compology sensors installed on all of its 104 debris boxes. One way the sensors have helped is through the ability to service boxes more quickly since drivers are only servicing boxes that need it. However, Pellegrini says that if a customer calls and wants a box serviced, the technology can also help increase efficiency since the driver can likely fit it into his or her schedule that same day, whereas before, it may have taken a day or two to fit it into a driver’s schedule.

Keeping track of inventory has been simplified, too. Pellegrini says during a large demolition job going on at the campus, the demolition contractor decided that, rather than use the typical high-side end-dump trailers, it wanted to use the debris boxes.

“Instead of having to go up and count inventory, I was able to go on the Compology software and know instantly I can have 30 boxes available,” he says. For each container, Pellegrini says the software tells him “where it is, how full it is, all the information for the customer, contacts, phone numbers and the last time it was picked up.”

On the container page of the software platform, he can look at pictures of the box as it gets filled up. There is also a dispatch page for the paperless option on the tablets Pellegrini’s drivers carry.

“Our drivers don’t want to spend their time looking for containers or manually filling out paperwork. Using Compology’s tablets, I can dispatch our drivers to exact container locations, and they can easily enter work order information without getting distracted,” Pellegrini says. “My drivers are happier and I get accurate data I can actually use.”

Expanded scope

Nationwide, Compology has about 5,000 sensors deployed. Ben Chehebar, Compology co-founder and chief product officer, says the company’s customer base ranges from small cities to companies managing close to 1,000 containers.

“Compology builds routing software for garbage trucks,” says Chehebar. “It is software we build to help people make better routing decisions. What we are seeing our customers using this for is mostly all-around routing and customer service.”

The sensors are typically installed inside the back of the roll-off container close to the rim. On front-load containers, they are typically placed inside on the door or in the front of the container. An accelerometer in the sensor also measures and records when a container gets picked up and put down—proof that the container has been serviced.

The sensor’s camera automatically takes photos of the entire contents of the container. This also provides service verification by comparing the pre-service photo of the full container to the post-service photo of the empty container. Image-based sensors also deliver the change in fullness percentage as a third point of service verification. Compology can also use GPS to track the location of roll-off containers from the customer’s coordinates to the coordinates of the disposal facility.

Chehebar explains that, beyond just verification, on the front-load side, drivers can reduce the number of pickups they are making: “Measuring fullness is a way for a customer to cut costs,” he says.

He adds, on the roll-off side of the business, a scrap metals hauler can make money off the resale of the material in the container. In this example, fewer pickups mean maximizing the revenue from material in the load, less labor and reduced fuel costs.

On the customer service side of the waste business, Chehebar says it is using fullness monitoring to notify customers that a container is full and that a pickup is needed. For large construction sites, he adds, using the monitors is a way for a foreman to make sure there is enough capacity in the containers since that foreman can’t be everywhere at once.

From the end-user perspective, Compology takes the need for self-monitoring away since the hauler can do all the work instead. Chehebar says this is just one area of the business that is expanding as the company continues to work on newer, more sophisticated monitoring systems.

After starting the company more than five years ago in his parent’s garage, Chehebar says the company has grown to a full staff working out of its San Francisco offices. Now with thousands of sensors out in the field, the company has rapidly expanded to keep up with demand, making it a true Silicon Valley success story.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2017 issue of Waste Today, a sister publication of CDR.