Route optimisation software has delivered large savings for many local authorities and successful projects share some common features.
Done well, route optimisation is one of the best returns on investment a waste service can make. As any systems engineer knows, the place to find major efficiencies within a system is in the design phase, rather than during operations. The efficient operation of rounds is important, of course, and other technologies such as In-Cab can help here. However, if the design is not right in the first place, efficiency will always be compromised.
The results from successful route optimisation projects demonstrate this point. Even without major changes to the service, typical savings (of resources and costs) for route optimisation projects in the household waste sector are between 5 and 15 percent. For these projects, the basic service remains the same—such as the collections offered to households, the vehicles used to make collections, the location of facilities—but how the work is done is optimised. Where more radical changes are incorporated into projects, such as changing shift patterns or the frequency of collections, then savings of up to 45 percent have been achieved.
With possible savings like these and the cost of running a solid waste collection vehicle estimated between £100,000 to £200,000 per year, it is not surprising that many waste and recycling managers are now using route optimisation software to increase the efficiency of their business.
Approaches vary, but what is common are the secrets to success and the steps to achieving a successful implementation and results. Below are some steps we have come to recognise as important to the success of optimisation projects in the waste and recycling sector.
#1: Use Real-World Data in Your Model
The use of real-world data underpins any round design exercise whether done with paper or software. Without real data, estimates of workload will only ever be guesses. The use of software allows designers to bring much more data to bear, using information from a number of different sources, such as GPS and in-vehicle systems. Data does not need to be perfect or absolutely complete, but the data does need to be from the real world if plans are to be realistic and achievable.
#2: Do Not Underestimate Data Gathering
Having emphasised the importance of data, it is critical not to underestimate the time it can take to gather data. On some projects, it may take up to one-third of project time to gather any data needed. This is one of the reasons that well-intentioned projects generally fail. Data such as property lists, bin details, current rounds, access issues, reception facility details and collected weights all take time to gather. A plan of what data is to be gathered and how that will happen is one of the most important factors to your project’s success.
#3: Involve Drivers and Supervisors
One of the misconceptions about route optimisation software is that it replaces the need for people. On the contrary, the software is simply a power tool for its users. Route optimisation software lets people who understand waste collection design better rounds faster, but it doesn’t seek to replace the knowledge of the people who operate the service. Their knowledge is vital in understanding the parameters in which the design must operate and the operational issues associated with different types of collection. Without building in this knowledge, a design risks being unworkable and not followed, with the associated effects on both costs and customer service.
#4: Choose Sector-Specific Software
The optimisation of waste collection and street cleansing rounds is different and more complex than routing problems in other industries, such as deliveries or field service. It involves many more stops, different frequencies of collection, specific safety risks and unusual vehicle constraints. Routing solutions from other industries do not work in waste and environmental services. But while waste route optimisation is complex, with the right software and support, it is not impossible. Results from successful projects in cities and municipalities around the world show the savings and service improvements that can be achieved using optimisation technologies designed specifically for the unique problems and parameters of waste and recycling collection.
#5: Create a Plan to Maintain Your Routes Going Forward
A route optimisation exercise takes time and effort. At the end of the project, some people look forward to not having to go through it again for some time. However, things change. New collections are added and others are removed, the amount of material collected alters, as can the make-up of your crews and, over time, inefficiency comes back into your rounds. Where data has been kept up-to-date, it is much easier to re-plan routes as they become inefficient. In this way, solid waste operators can consistently maintain a more efficient set of routes. We have found that it is those projects that make a plan to maintain the data that are most likely to follow through, and those operators then review routes more regularly, making smaller, more frequent changes.
Secrets of Success
Route optimisation allows waste collection and street cleansing operators to identify and then remove inefficiencies. By building a digital model of their service, solid waste operators are able to compare different options with their current setup in order to identify more efficient and effective operating routes. In addition to cost savings, this can also mean balanced workloads and happier drivers, better customer service as crews are less likely to run short of capacity, and a safer operating environment since routes have been designed to properly account for safety issues.
The secrets of success for route optimisation in solid waste collection involve understanding the importance of each step in the process and the specific features of operating a waste collection service. Where projects succeed, the result should be major efficiency gains and service improvements. Where projects get stuck, it is a massive missed opportunity.