You Want Chips With That?

Jon-ShiveralAMCS Group’s John Shiveral explains that RFID technology is about more than just “pay as you throw” schemes. It’s about data collection, protecting your workforce and saving money
Published in the CIWM Journal July 2013

The use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in the recycling and waste management industry is widespread. However, for organisations not involved in high-volume “pay as you throw” domestic services, it is a common perception that the technology is suitable for that application only. As more and more organisations successfully use the technology for commercial applications, that perception is changing.

The most common use of RFID is for bin chipping. The benefits in time and cost savings thanks to employing RFID technologies are substantial:

Proof Of Service

RFID is, in many ways, the ultimate proof of service. This is a result of the absolute nature of the reading; also removing the requirement for a person to provide a signature and for that person to be accepted by the customer as an authorised person.

The result is that the record of a customer’s RFID is significantly more reliable and largely irrefutable as proof of service. The benefits are therefore easy to imagine for anyone that currently experiences problems such as lacking or easily challenged alternative forms of proof of service.
• Invoices are more difficult to dispute
• Delayed payment by the customer is reduced – no time wasted gathering signed tickets and anecdotal evidence
• Credit notes are reduced, saving both their value and the administrational cost of authorising and producing them

These benefits do indeed transpire. Some RFID users have experienced significant reductions in credit note value, as high as 75 percent. But there are also a number of less obvious scenarios where benefits arise. One example would be the case where a customer’s bin has been re-filled since it was collected, perhaps by a third party (such as cleaning staff) early in the morning. Such a customer would often, innocently or otherwise, call in to claim that they have had no service. The RFID proof of service facilitates the collector to challenge that assertion.

Denial Of Service

When integrated with the controls of the bin lift, RFID technology also brings benefits in the form of denial of service. The on-vehicle system can be configured to prevent the lifting gear from operating in the following circumstances:
• if the bin has no chip
• if the bin’s chip is not recognised as “one of ours” – it has been shown that up to 10 percent of collections are unauthorised. This can be worth as much as £20 000 per annum per vehicle
• where the chip is recognised but corresponds to an entry on a credit stop list – savings of up to £6 000 per annum per vehicle have been recorded.

Perception is all important in this scenario. The direct technological link between the lifting gear and the account balance achieves two benefits: it is clear that the matter is out of the hands of the driver; and the service is perceived more like a utility, such as gas or electricity, which is metered and cut off systematically when funds run dry.

For small business customers the use of RFID is very well suited to a pre-paid scheme, where customers are encouraged to maintain a positive balance of funds, topping up online. Such a scheme has two additional benefits: the operator benefits from the positive balance of cash in the accounts; and the administration of payment is online and therefore a significant reduction in administrational cost and time can be realised.

Perhaps the most important denial of service is the denial of fraudulent lifts. The requirement for a bin to be chipped and recognised as “one of ours” will eradicate any fraudulent lifts where the lifting gear is employed. The introduction of RFID to a service always reveals the extent of fraudulent lifts. In our experience this is often between five and 10 percent of all lifts carried out.

Availability Of Data

The use of RFID technology increases the level and accuracy of data about a collection operation. In conjunction with real-time communication to vehicles, it is further enhanced by the immediate availability of information. The availability of the data itself enables better analysis of routes, presentation rates and timings.

In the absence of RFID, data is dependent on communications from the driver and therefore represents the driver’s view of what is happening. RFID provides accurate information and removes the possibility for human error.

Over and above the business analysis benefits already outlined, the increased levels and availability of information provide more pragmatic benefits such as customer service operators having information available, while on the original call, regarding the occurrence of service. They can cite the precise number of lifts, the times and, when used in concert with GPS, the precise location; or with the appropriate use of an on-board computer or handheld device, it is also possible to facilitate driver feedback. A potential statement from a customer call centre could be: “I am sorry sir but my driver has indicated that your bin was not presented at the time he passed by. I can see that in the photograph taken at 08:05 and I can see that the neighbouring businesses were serviced at 08:00 and 08:10.”

The implementation of RFID technology has revealed some alarming statistics about the proportion of “missed lift” claims that are dishonest, either because the customer has since re-filled the bin or simply because the customer did not present the bin. Data suggests that the proportion is as high as 15 percent. RFID provides the ability to challenge these claims.

New Applications

This article has mostly focussed on the use of RFID technology for what is commonly known as “bin chipping”, namely the identification of wheeled containers at the point of service by automatic lifting mechanisms. There are, however, more applications for RFID in the recycling and waste management industry.

Previously, there have been physical problems, related to the reflection of remote frequency (RF) signals and the durable placement of RFID tags, with the application of RFID for large metal containers such as skips and roll-on-roll-offs. Advances in RFID tags, readers and the application of the technologies themselves, now makes such use possible.

Highly accurate reports showing, for example, the location of all 20 yard open containers, their age, when they were last emptied, when they were last repaired and their total level of service, are now feasible.

Even the core usage of RFID, as discussed here, provides a very high level of information about asset locations and usage. Coupled with a disciplined approach to the receipt of new bins, the issuance of bins to customers, the removal of bins for repair and the disposal of bins, RFID makes it possible to maintain accurate levels of inventory and therefore better control expenditure on new assets.

For local authorities seeking to measure levels of recycling rates the implementation of RFID technology is an ideal solution. It is a practical method for providing highly accurate reports on both recycling rates and waste diverted to and from landfill, which local authorities are obliged to provide by law. Employing RFID technology also provides local authorities with the level of recycling rates in certain districts, enabling them to focus recycling campaigns and reward initiatives in particular areas.

RFID tags are sufficiently affordable to be used for the tracking of hazardous waste containers, pre-paid bags and finished recycled goods. It represents an improvement over barcoding in many ways, not least of which is the removal of the line of sight requirement for reading, which usually requires reading to be performed by a human being with a scanner, which is in itself prone to error. RFID as a technology is now a viable replacement for barcoding in this industry.

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