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Screw it, let’s do it

Speaking to Inside Waste after winning the Waste Management Association of Australia Innovation Award for automation at the facility at the 2017 Australian Landfill and Transfer Stations conference in March, Council’s manager – waste services, Troy Uren, said the decision to build the facility wasn’t based on a desire to be innovative. Instead, they were focused on their customers and how to better deliver services to the community as well as the operational aspects of running a facility.

Tapping into more than 20 years of waste management operations experience, including as a consultant who saw many mistakes made across the country, Uren decided that Council needed to bite the bullet and build a facility that avoided the mistakes made in the past. A key factor was to focus on the operational issues, rather than only focusing on engineering issues when designing a site, and construct a transfer station that could remain standing and efficient for decades to come.

GTWMF is part of an integrated network of 23 facilities. These plants are split into six tiers, with tier one, which GTWMF comes under, being the largest.

It was certainly a risk choosing the region’s largest facility as its learning site but Council was left with little choice – the $1.6 billion Toowoomba Second Range Crossing would cut into the original plant and Council had to find another site to construct a new facility. And Council was given 10 months to get their affairs in order.

“I’ve got to give credit to the Council, the executive, and the community of Toowoomba. They let us get on with the job and you don’t often see that. Now, they get to look back and go, you’ve got it right. There was pressure on us to get it right because they’d given us that autonomy but we think we’ve come up with a pretty good solution,” Uren said.

“There are negatives of course with starting with the biggest one but there are also positives in that now we’ve got a blueprint and we know what we can do. The GTWMF has set the scene for how we roll the other facilities out. They can’t be any more complex than the one we’ve already completed.”

The facility includes an operations centre with fibre optic connectivity to allow for the management of the network from one location. It also comprises digital CCTV, giving Council the opportunity to manage security and safety with motion sensors, infrared and image recording as well as track analytics, ANPR licence plate cameras that, amongst other things, can inform Council on where people go and how long they spend at each location, improved transaction software featuring touch screens, integration with the ANPR cameras, and greater speed and accuracy, as well as electronic front gates and wireless connectivity.

Among the many improvements  at GTWMF are digital CCTV, giving council the opportunity to manage security and safety with motion sensors, infrared and image recording as well as track analytics, and ANPR licence plate and thermal cameras.

These improvements and new systems offer numerous benefits, from allowing staff to operate systems with a push of a button, to better managing customer flow and analysing what is working and what’s not. In the future, these systems will also give customers the ability to manage their own account, with the potential to promote positive behaviour in the community by linking pricing to the area of the facility the customer has used.

“We’re right at the start of the benefits realisation but there have been a few immediate benefits. For one, the diversion that we’re getting from landfill at this site, in comparison to the previous site that this replaced, is almost three times the amount. We were getting about 30% and we’re now getting about 79%. This is with no new programs and no new staff. The number of loads to landfill has also reduced by 72% and we’ve got a target of 90%,” Uren said.

“Another benefit is with the fire systems and the thermal cameras. They’re identifying hotspots and fires and we’re dealing with them immediately. We’ve had a major fire on-site and there’s been no loss of operational time.”

Additionally, the front electronic gates, which cost Council $48,000, have saved more than 1.25 hours a day, resulting in productivity gains of $29,000 a year.

The next part of this journey is the roll-out of digital signs. And of course, Council has every intention of implementing new systems based on learnings from GTWMF at its other 22 facilities over the next five to seven years. It is about to go to tender for three tier five facilities to be delivered as a package.

Commenting on lessons learnt to date, Uren said: “My key piece of advice would be, forget the capital cost and focus on the operational cost. That’s what we’re here to deliver – we’re here to deliver a service and achieve an outcome. The capital is a means to an end and people are too focused on the capital that they forget the operations.

“A facility will take six months to build but you’re going to operate it for 30 to 50 years, meaning the operational costs will be significantly more than the capital cost. Yes, you need to consider the capital but if that’s your focus, you’ve got it wrong from day one as the OPEX will exceed 70% and perhaps be up to 90% of the total lifecycle costs of the system.

“We believe we will be able to reduce our operational costs on our next tier five facilities by up to 75% over the previous business as usual. That can add up to a very substantial saving to the community.”

This article was originally published in the June issue of Inside Waste.