Breathing extra life into RCVs

Written by: Spencer Law | Published:

Spencer Law, the managing director of Refuse Vehicle Solutions, gives his views on the changes needed to improve the sustainability of refuse collection vehicles, and explains how he is applying the principles of the circular economy to his own business

In the past, it was customary for customers to sell their refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) after five to seven years and buy a new one. To me it always seemed like a waste of money.

Refuse vehicles are a significant asset costing between £130k and £150k, and to only get an average five years’ service out of them – by which time they are practically worthless due to poor maintenance – just doesn’t make sense.

Also, the current approach to vehicle body after-care is uneconomic.

Managed properly, these assets can be kept in optimum condition for 15-plus years.

Operators need to think longer term and invest in specialist preventative maintenance and servicing. One of the reasons that refuse vehicle bodies are so overlooked is the lack of current legislation requiring operators to look after the bodies, unlike vehicle chassis.

Here is a question: Why is a five- to seven-year-old chassis nearly always returned in good condition yet the body and compactor rarely are?

Legislation exists to make sure operators keep vehicle chassis properly serviced, maintained and safe, but nothing currently exists for vehicle bodies.

LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998) check that bin lifts are fit for purpose and safe, but this doesn’t relate to optimum functioning.

If the machinery in materials recycling facilities and picking stations was treated in the same way, it would become unreliable, potentially hold up production and ultimately make the operation commercially unfeasible. Therefore the equipment is well maintained to prevent this from happening.

Essentially, the same mindset is needed in the RCV sector.

A false economy

Manufacturers’ warranties are often viewed by operators as a fixed cost for repair and maintenance, but the truth is they are not.

The vehicles don’t get the preventative maintenance needed to keep them in optimum condition and to stop things from going wrong in the first place.

The warranty then runs out right at the point when the vehicle starts to require expensive repairs and the bills start rolling in. At this point many operators resort to cheap, non-specialist suppliers to maintain the vehicles, because the manufacturer is too expensive or not responsive enough.

We see inadequate repairs undertaken by independent engineers all the time.

Once electrical circuits and control units have been tampered with they are vulnerable and unreliable.

Lifelong problems can be caused by an engineer who doesn’t know what he is looking for, or lacks the technical data.

The answer lies in the proper management of these assets, meaning proactive maintenance undertaken by experienced specialist engineers. To ensure high standards are maintained in the RCV sector, the introduction of specialist training and engineer accreditation would help to set a quality standard.

Case study: SUEZ

When SUEZ (formerly SITA UK) was faced with a batch of refuse vehicles returning from a municipal contract, with an average age of 7.3 years, the company decided to recycle them and create an internal hire fleet to service its commercial trade waste vehicles.

James Griffin, technical manager – fleet at SUEZ, says: “We took the decision to refurbish these vehicles because it’s important to us that we practise what we preach – to reuse resources wherever possible.”

Four refuse trucks, all Mercedes Econic with Faun Variopress bodies, were handed over to remanufacturing specialist RVS.

All worn parts were replaced and defects corrected before the repaired areas were repainted.

RVS also went on to fabricate two full sets of recycling vehicle stillage containers.

Fact file: RVS

“There is now a thriving marketplace for second-tier vehicles, part of which is due to shorter lead times. RVS can deliver a pristine-quality used vehicle in eight weeks or less, compared to three months or more for a new vehicle,” says Spencer Law, MD, Refuse Vehicle Solutions.

“We have recently taken our business model one step further, adding the final piece of the puzzle with the launch of RediTruck - new, off-the-shelf, commercial spec refuse vehicles. This means we now offer services to manage and maintain and extend the life of refuse vehicles from the cradle to the grave.

“In the case of a new vehicle, we aim to help maintain it and keep it in optimum condition, so that it can be returned for a mid-life overhaul and go back into service for another four to five years,” adds Law. “Alternatively we can part-exchange it for a new vehicle; either way, the vehicle continues working. Another four or five years down the line, we can remanufacture the body and put it onto a new chassis, extending the vehicle’s life by another five years. When a vehicle finally reaches the end of the road, we’ll take it back, dismantle it and reuse the parts for the remanufacture of other vehicles, and so the cycle continues.”

Case study: Bakers Waste

Leicestershire-based Bakers Waste provides waste collection, recycling and shredding services as well as ISO accreditation and compliancy audits to companies across Leicestershire and the East Midlands.

The company used to purchase new vehicles straight from the manufacturers, but for the past three years the company has turned to RVS to repair, modify and renew its fleet, including the purchase of six used vehicles and a complete remanufactured vehicle on a new chassis.

RVS has remanufactured some of the company’s existing fleet to extend the life of the vehicles and provides technical support and parts for minor refurbishments carried out by Bakers Waste at its own workshop.


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