Controlling plow trucks remotely

Sept. 1, 2003
IT'S dark. It's snowing, and the roads are icy. Not exactly ideal driving conditions for anyone, but it is the time that the drivers of ice-control trucks

IT'S dark. It's snowing, and the roads are icy. Not exactly ideal driving conditions for anyone, but it is the time that the drivers of ice-control trucks are needed most.

Under these conditions, truck drivers must plow the roads, apply the right mixture of salt, sand, or liquid materials, and keep a large truck under control. Yet just operating the plow and driving the truck down a slippery road is enough to keep most truck drivers busy.

So why not let the driver drive and have someone else monitor the flow rates? Seely Equipment and Supply recently completed an order for 10 trucks that use GPS tracking that do just that — enable the largest county in New Jersey — to take some of the burden off the driver and let him concentrate on driving.

For safety and efficiency, as well as cost control, Burlington County required that the new trucks be tracked by a state of the art GPS system.

“It is all about the safety of my operators,” says Paul Wnek, supervisor of roads, bridges, and the mosquito commission for Burlington County. “Our operators potentially can spend up to 16 hours in the vehicle during a winter storm. They need to be comfortable and safe. By eliminating the need to drive with the body in the raised position like conventional snow and ice control vehicles, it takes the worry out of having the operator multi-task for hours. This makes him more efficient and safe.”

The remote control capabilities come from the GPS system that interacts with the truck's controls. With it, trained supervisors monitor each truck's location, speed, and fuel consumption. It also enables the supervisors to change application of salt to calcium, determine the position of the snowplow, and to accurately account for the materials used by lane mile.

And what if the truck slides off the road or other emergencies occur? A “One-Touch” alert system gives the truck operator emergency access to the command center.

Saving taxpayer money

Although the 10 trucks contain the latest snow and ice control technology, the county believes they will pay for themselves fairly quickly through more effective application of materials.

“Just the use of ground-speed controls will save between 40% and 60% in material costs,” says Greg Markert, vice-president of sales at Seely. “Ground-speed controls take the guesswork out of applying materials. Four years ago, we upgraded some trucks for Monmouth County. The county spent $100,000 for the upgrade, but they saved $150,000 in material costs just in that first season.”

Burlington County is the largest in New Jersey, spanning the width of the state from the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean. Among the 502 miles of roads within the county are all of the major evacuation routes in the state, making it particularly vital that the roads stay clear. Its size and location provide for diverse weather conditions, making precise application of salt and liquid deicing materials more challenging — and increasing the value of trucks that can get it right.

Design objectives

The criteria in designing the trucks:

  • Safety of the driver.

  • Efficiency of material application.

  • Ergonomics of the driver.

  • Utilization. It takes less than 15 minutes to change the trucks from a snowplow truck to a dump truck suitable for other applications. The plow and rear spinner are designed for quick removal. The side spinner also is removable, but its removal is not necessary.

Updating the fleet

The order, which Seely completed in August, is the culmination of about 18 months of work between the Farmingdale, New Jersey, truck equipment distributor, component suppliers, and Burlington County.

The project began when Wnek approached Seely to help him update his aging fleet of snow and ice control vehicles. Wnek started this task shortly after he joined Burlington County. He inherited a fleet of 54 snow and ice control vehicles that had to be updated within a short time.

Through the efforts of Paul Csuha, Seely Equipment sales representative, and vendor engineering departments, Seely was able to write a specification that filled the needs of the Burlington County Road Department.

After reviewing different applications of snow and ice control equipment, Wnek decided on the following:

  • The trucks would be built on Freightliner Business Class MB2 chassis — a 39,000-lb GVWR conventional cab model. The trucks are powered by the 6.4-liter Mercedes Benz MBE 900-230 — a diesel engine rated at 230 horsepower. The transmission is the Allison MD-3060P automatic, a push-button electronic shift. Cruzan's Freightliner of Pleasantville, New Jersey, served as the lead contractor for the order.

  • Bosch Rexroth of Burlington, Ontario, produced the controls that enable the trucks to be controlled via GPS selectable settings. The trucks included Rexroth's Compu-Spread CS 440 spreader control, for front and rear operation, ground speed controlled with GPS selectable settings, power float for plow surface weight control, plus other necessary valves and cabling.

  • Cirus Controls of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, provided its Multi-Stix, joy stick controls, seat-mounted swivel, and multi-function control console. By mounting the pedestal to the seat, the pedestal remains in the same position relative to the driver.

  • A Chelsea integrated direct-mount pump powers the hydraulic system.

  • Gledhill Road Machinery Company of Galion, Ohio, manufactured the custom, heavy-duty front-frame plow hitch and 10' trip edge plow. A particular feature of the Gledhill plow that the customer found attractive is its Level-Lift system. The system keeps the plow level to the ground regardless of the angle at which the snowplow is positioned. And with the power float capability of the valves, the weight of the plow on the road can be adjusted as required.

  • Pioneer Cover-All Inc of North Oxford, Massachusetts, produced the fully automatic load covering system to cover the Henderson “Muni-Body,” a multi-purpose body that can be used for spreader applications or as a dump body the rest of the year.

The body, made of 304 stainless steel, has a front and rear discharge, It was installed, along with a hydraulic pre-wet system with two 75-gallon tanks, at Henderson Eastern Operations in Watertown, New York.

“These trucks are pretty labor-intensive,” says Clint Koch, president of Seely. “We don't have the capacity to complete an order like this and still take care of our other customers. We were glad to have the installation done somewhere where it could be done well and quickly.”

By having front and rear discharge, the truck can perform burming work in the summer months. The front discharge allows salt to be applied ahead of the rear tires when the roadways are hilly and icy.

After many hours of research and specification writing, Csuha and Greg Held, senior project manager for Seely Equipment and Supply, were able to present Burlington County with a specification that met all of the needs of the county.

“The only things left was to go to bid and get the project going,” Markert says. “Using Cruzan's Freightliner to write the chassis specification around a Freightliner Business Class MB2, Seely and Cruzan's were the lowest responsible bidders, and the project began.”

From the first idea through specification writing, building and testing prototypes, and modifying equipment, the high tech snow and ice control trucks were delivered to Burlington County on August 18th of this year, ready to fight the elements that the upcoming winter may bring.

Multiple markets

Municipal markets are one of Seely's specialties. Of the 10 people on the company's sales force, seven specialize in calling on municipalities, counties, and other government entities. Government work is only one of its markets.

Seely has a dedicated sales specialist to represent its line of cranes and other material handling equipment. Two additional people sell construction equipment.

“Selling to municipalities and the construction market are two different processes,” Koch says. “The construction guys get the immediate gratification of making the sale. Those who sell to municipal markets spend a lot of time working on specifications and following bidding procedures. It can be quite a while before the bid is approved.”

Taking care of some of the details are four inside sales coordinators that Seely calls project managers. It is their responsibility to handle the sale from the time the quotation is accepted until the order is delivered.

The company's emphasis on municipal sales is understandable, considering how the company originated. Leslie Seely began selling flagpoles and street signs in 1946.

One day, someone asked Seely if he could sell them a snowplow. He replied, “sure,” and then proceeded to get a snowplow line. Presto, he was in the truck equipment business.

The company has added other products for municipalities, including items that have little to do with trucks and equipment — such as helping towns design their logos.

“Having graphics capability helps us provide one-stop service,” Koch says. “We can assemble the truck, paint it, and apply graphics.”

The company also supplies truck equipment customers with construction equipment. It recently took on the New Holland line, with tractors displayed next to the trailers built to transport them and close to the snowplows that government entities also buy.

“The New Holland line helps to offset the seasonality of the snow and ice control business,” Koch says. “We wanted something that sells especially well during the summer. Tractors, backhoes, wheel loaders, skid steers are products that cities buy, and their peak selling seasons are the opposite of our snow equipment season. The lines we have acquired give us something to sell all year.”