Let it snow!

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Not long ago, drivers of winter servicing and street cleaning vehicles in the beautiful southern German city of Freiburg had to keep a "clearing and gritting book" when doing their rounds. But these days the task of recording and assessing work in the waste management industry and in municipal cleaning is entirely automated.

Winter weather can cover the streets of Freiburg completely with snow in a matter of minutes. To prevent the city traffic from coming to a complete standstill, the clearing and gritting vehicles of the city's Abfallwirtschaft and Stadtreinigung Freiburg (ASF) then begin to appear on the streets. In the course of each deployment, ASF's intrepid drivers will free up a total of 664 kilometers of roadway from snow and ice. Until recently, drivers had to keep their clearing and gritting books up to date as they cleared the streets. Drivers used the books to record by hand the stretches of street that they had cleared. The reasoning behind this was that the documentation helped the ASF to defend itself, for example, where a legal dispute arose as to whether it had fulfilled its duty to clear streets and spread de-icing materials on the city's traffic routes. However, "using the manual system, both traffic safety and the accuracy of the data documented suffered," explains Stefan Prill, ASF's logistics manager. That is why ASF started looking for a solution that automatically documented the work that their drivers did.

Automatic documentation of vehicle deployments

Their search led the Freiburg municipal authorities to a Deutsche Telekom IT Premium Partner called Funkwerk Eurotelematik. This Ulm-based company has specialized in machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions for dispatching and managing vehicle fleets on the road. The M2M solution here is the automatic exchange of data between vehicle clients and a central server. ASF trialled the M2M solution on a small road sweeping vehicle as early as 2009. "After two months we were fully convinced by the system and fitted our 26 winter road clearance vehicles with an on-board computer, together with a display and control unit," Prill recalls. "Since then our dispatch documentation has been fully automated."

The on-board computer records both position and control data

The on-board computer plays an important role in this documentation: The device is about the same size as three standard CD cases piled on top of one another and, as well as a GPS module, also contains a mobile communications unit with an integrated M2M SIM card. In contrast to a simple conventional tracking solution, the on-board computer can be connected with the control devices fitted on the clearing and gritting vehicle. Apart from providing the vehicle's current location, the set-up enables the computer to record the position of the snow plow and the status of the gritting system, and to pass all this information back to the server. For the newer vehicles, it can even record the width of the corridor being gritted and vehicle's salt consumption. The mobile communication unit passes the data via Deutsche Telekom's mobile communications network to a server at the ASF base.

Planning better routes

With the help of a special software, employees at the base can follow the routes and the clearance and gritting performance of the vehicles. At the same time, the system can plan vehicles' routes and send these plans back to each individual on-board computer. The driver then follows the planned route through the city via the vehicle's display and control unit – in a similar way to a conventional navigation system. "This allows new drivers to learn the ropes substantially faster," says Stefan Prill.

Annual savings of about 15,000 euros

Aside from drivers, employees who actually have to clear snow manually can also enter their working times and activities directly into the system with the help of the solution. And the system produces results. "Our automated system for recording the work we have done has on its own resulted in an annual saving of about 15,000 euros," enthuses Prill. ASF has since also fitted its street sweeping machines and road cleaning vehicles with the M2M solution by Funkwerk Eurotelematik. The next step is to add the company's container vehicles to the list of users.