Streamlining Waste & Recycling Collections with Dynamic Asset Tracking
Waste and recycling containers are a lot like socks: they tend to meander and mismatch. But when it comes to keeping track of assets in the field, there’s no room for cold feet, as slow or inaccurate container identification opens the door to roaming receptacles and mischarge spectacles. By automatically caching bin information ahead of time, collection providers can avoid playing catch-up later. How does dynamic asset tracking work, and what are the implications for collection operations?
Tag & Drop
Asset tracking, at its core, is about knowledge. “From a technology and Internet-of-Things (IoT) point of view,” says Matt Monroe, Senior Sales Engineer in Routing at AMCS, “asset tracking is the ability to track where assets are and know what they’re doing.” In essence, this means knowing a particular container’s number, location, work order, customer, and any other correlated information at a given point in time.
In theory, operators could track assets manually with notes and files, but an automated process is far more efficient by reducing labor and human error. “It’s all about streamlining,” notes Monroe. “The level of manual effort that it would require would be quite substantial, as opposed to just being able to tag an asset, have the system capture that tag, and then apply it to the correct customer account.”
The process begins with unique identifiers. Common forms include horizontal barcode labels, as you’d find in a supermarket; QR codes, which are two-dimensional labels; or RFID tags, which emit weak radio signals at close range. RFID tags are the most popular asset tracker across the industry and can be applied via adhesives and rivets, or even melted into plastic containers during manufacturing.
Each tag then gets associated with a particular type of bin, service, and customer in a central database. When a bin is serviced, its tag is scanned and recorded – whether automatically from a front- or side-load arm, or manually with a hand-held scanner in the case of roll-off jobs.
In the end, this dynamic, automated process provides fast and accurate records of which bins are where, and whether they’re supposed to be. Armed with this valuable data, waste and recycling organizations can drive a number of efficiencies across collection operations, billing, and even pricing analysis.
Use It, Don’t Lose It
The foremost use case of asset tracking data is to compare confirmed bin lifts against expected lifts on a given route. Catching missed or swapped containers early helps operations teams jump in front of customer service issues before they arise, and containers that go lift-less for a while can be flagged as lost. Any unexpected extra lifts can be reviewed as well. “It keeps the drivers honest,” notes Monroe, referring to personal pickups that may not be officially sanctioned collection stops.
Automated proof-of-service also helps streamline the billing process – particularly for on-call work. Invoices can be sent faster without the need for a human to validate the service, and erroneous bills resulting from a container mismatch can be flagged and paused for review.
Proof-of-service data can be correlated with other data types as well. When coupling lift tags with anticipated bin locations via GPS geofencing, reality and expectations can be compared geographically to automatically tell drivers if the correct container is in the correct spot within a job site.
“That means that the driver doesn't have to click on a list of stops and say, ‘I'm here,’” Monroe adds, highlighting the increased safety and efficiency from fewer mid-route lookups and confirmations.
More still, matching confirmed work orders to arm scale lift weights allows for work order disposal cost analysis, which can help justify price increases to protect and enhance margins. For services on a flat rate, like a municipal contract, knowing lift weights for each unique job can inform service volume heat maps to identify problem areas in need of resource devotion.
The impact? Asset tracking leads to less container loss, fewer customer complaints, safer and smoother services, and reduced revenue leakage for cost savings from the back office to depot.
What’s the Cache?
While dynamic asset tracking undoubtedly brings its benefits, organizations should also recognize potential pitfalls before committing to a tagging strategy.
A key consideration is tag maintenance. While certain tags are more robust than others – RFID tags can keep emitting their signals for many years, and QR codes can still function with up to 30% degradation due to built-in redundancies – trackers and labels can be damaged or painted over, requiring bins to be re-tagged. “If you have thousands and thousands of these bins or even hundreds of these bins, you definitely don't want something that's going to deteriorate in a season or two,” Monroe explains.
Beyond physical maintenance, steadfast database upkeep is essential. Collection teams must ensure that the right identifiers stay associated with the right work orders as bins get reassigned across services and customers. Poor data quality could lead to false mismatch alarms, erroneous positive bin-service matches, and loss of confidence in the asset tracking process overall.
Finally, customers themselves can interfere with data fidelity by using the wrong container. This is especially pronounced in residential routes, where bins look the same and residents are close together. “It's very common for people to pick up the wrong bins in the street,” Monroe warns. “In those situations, it's very difficult to maintain that serial ID. But for commercial and roll-off, it's very efficient and very effective, because the customer sites are more spread out.”
As the saying goes: Garbage in, garbage out. The benefits of asset tracking are clear, but it takes tough tags, clean data, and dedication to reap rewards.
The goal of any asset, from stocks to real estate, is to realize returns. Waste and recycling containers are no different. By tagging and flagging bins upon service and correlating customer, location, work order, and cost information, dynamic asset tracking provides the knowledge and notifications to ensure collection operations are on a healthy path to profit.
Want to learn more about asset tracking as it relates to your business? We’d love to chat!
Please don’t hesitate to contact us at: [email protected].
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