Automated-Arm Garbage Trucks Will Save Money, Workers' Backs

Robotic arms will pick up new trash carts, and your old cart is yours to keep if you want it.

When you're spending a quarter of a million dollars on a piece of machinery, you want to know it's going to do its job. When you're buying five of them, you really want to know it.

The Wauwatosa is moving to automated-pickup garbage trucks next year and was budgeted $1.25 million to purchase five such trucks. The question was, which was the best buy?

In May, Director Bill Porter formed a team that included not only the analysts and bean counters in City Hall offices but also some of the folks on the line — the people who drive our streets and wrestle our carts in every kind of weather.

This PRIME team (process review, information, management evaluation) spent the summer looking into all aspects of automated garbage pickup and believe they have come away with a winner — the Labrie Automizer.

Real-world testing

The team toured facilities in Cudahy and Madison that already have automated pickup, and members rode on routes and watched their crews at work.

Madison had done a real-world, real-time evaluation in which it tested trucks from six different manufacturers over a year to see which performed best.

"The trip to Madison was very informative. We talked to the operators, what they liked, what they didn't like," said city fleet manager Kevin Hurst. "We talked to operators, mechanics, supervisors — not manufacturers, not salesmen."

Anyone who has watched their recycling being picked up knows what an automated truck does. If you've positioned your cart correctly — facing out to the street and within no more than four feet of the curb — a crew of one, the driver, operates a robotic arm that reaches out, gently but firmly squeezes your cart, lifts it up and tilts its contents into the maw of the garbage bay.

The driver doesn't have to leave the truck, doesn't need an assistant, and moves from cart to cart much faster, saving labor, time and fuel.

Porter estimated a cost savings of $1.5 million for the department and taxpayers over the next 10 years, with nearly $250,000 saved in the first year of operation. The life expectany of any garbage truck is about 10 years, he said.

"Our operators have really bought into automated garbage pickup," Hurst said.

And it isn't just because they don't have to get out of their cabs so often — there are serious savings in workers compensation to be realized, because injuries to waste management workers are serious business in both cost and quality of life.

The plan to automate also allowed the city to eliminate three open positions in the department without layoffs.

A perfect score

The Labrie system was so superior in the final analysis that there was no real contest. It scored a perfect 36 out of 36 in meeting specified criteria developed by the PRIME team. The other bidders, Newway and Bridgeport, fell down in 10 and 12 categories, respectively.

"The arm is the most important feature," Hurst said. The Labrie bid included rebuilds of the automated arms every three years and still came in within budget, he said.

Tosa also gets on-the-road operator training and maintenance training, Hurst said. Plus, residents can rest assured that these monster trucks can navigate wherever your cart waits.

"Demos came in, and they went through our tightest alleys," Hurst said.

Along with the trucks will come new garbage carts designed for automated pickup. Porter said that residents can keep the old carts and use them for yard waste or any other purpose, or the city will pick them up and recycle them.

The Labrie trucks will be purchased through Stepp Equipment Inc. of Menomonee Falls. It will take about six months for the trucks to be delivered, Hurst said.

"When we get it, it will be turn-key," he said. "All we have to do is put on the city's logo."


Your new garbage truck

Automated bay and arm: Labrie Environmental Group

Model: Automizer

Powered by: Cummins diesel

Cab and chassis: Peterbilt 320

Gross vehicle weight: 46,000 pounds (23 tons)

Capacity: 24 cubic yards

Warranty: 2 years

Life expectancy: 10 years

Tosamom November 11, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Does anyone know how the decrease in staffing will affect how the streets get plowed and the leaves get picked up? If I read the article correctly, right now, 3 positions are being eliminated, but no one is being laid off because those positions are 'open' - I assume that means no current employees. That would mean 3 less than last year and who know how many more in the future?
JustMe November 12, 2011 at 02:59 AM
Wauwatosa does a poor job snow plowing especially by Froedtert hospital.


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