“The keys are the software, the business process and the overall technology solution,” said Jimmy Martin, the CEO of Advanced Manufacturing Control Systems (AMCS) Ltd. It is not an observation the average guy in charge of waste removal would be expected to make. But AMCS is not an average waste removal business and Jimmy Martin is no average guy.
Martin and his partner, Austin Ryan, are computer geeks. They look like they ought to be in a computer game design studio. But what they are doing is no game. They started the business in 2004 with the intention of using computer technology to make waste removal and recycling more efficient and effective.
“What you’re trying to do is change behavior,” Martin said.
Martin holds degrees from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland’s most demanding undergraduate school, in math and physics. He got a master's degree in computer systems from the University of Limerick. For ten years, he worked with U.S.-based corporations in the semiconductor industry as an automation engineer, focusing particularly on sensing technology, weighing technology, and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.
“We use the RFID to track the bin, who owns the bin, where it is picked up, what time it is picked up, what weight is in there,” Martin said in his Limerick brogue, “and to use the information to make sure people are paid for collection, to make sure what waste is going to go back in the truck is legal and valid and then for routing and optimization of the trucks.”
The AMCS technology begins with a chip in every bin, whether residential or commercial. It is an inexpensive matter. Including them in the manufacture of new bins costs less than a dollar. Sending crews out to insert them into existing bins costs less than five dollars.
Each truck is then equipped with a computer that gathers data from each uniquely identified bin each time waste is collected. The waste from each customer is weighed. AMCS has extensive data about the weight of the bins. The computerized systems, which Martin and Ryan described as very sensitive and thoroughly validated, instantly sense if a bin is holding what it shouldn’t and can shut down rather than empty the bin into the hauler’s truck.
Drivers have data screens that deliver feedback from the system to guide them in handling shutdowns. Many trucks are also equipped with cameras so drivers can examine what is emptied.
The system has been carefully designed to protect all data. But, as Martin pointed out in response to the question of whether he had encountered the rumored organized crime involvement in waste management, this stuff is way over Tony Soprano’s head.
"Anyone that is successful is very professional,” Martin said. “Ten years ago it was a hump and dump business,” he explained. “You sent the bin truck out, you collected all the waste that was in front of you and you took it to a landfill.”
But landfills are no longer tax shelters; they are precious and dwindling resources. They are heavily taxed and regulated, and the stuff that goes into them is sharply limited and carefully monitored.
“Nowadays,” Martin said, “You have make sure every cart and piece of material that goes into it, you know who it is, what it is, and you’re getting paid for it.”
That change is driving more and more rigorous attention to what haulers remove and what is recycled. Everything that has value as energy or recycled materials is converted to value and only what can go nowhere else goes to landfills.
The business, Martin said, “is a very high capital-intensive business, with a lot of difficult processes.”
The success of the AMSC approach is undeniable. The company is handling so much of Ireland’s waste removal and recycling (well over half) that Martin did not want to say specifically how much for fear of intimidating competitors. AMSC has opened operations in Norway and Sweden and is beginning to penetrate the U.S. market, with operations in Cincinnati, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Plano, Texas, and San Francisco, California.
The success of the process and the need to be more efficient are driving waste management companies to educate their customers. When consumers learn what goes in which bin, handling the bins becomes a less expensive matter for the hauling companies.
The AMCS data mining and wireless 2-way system can also stop pickups from customers who have not paid their bills and can accept credit card payment as pickups are made. In fact, the system can essentially keep a hauler’s books, route its drivers, do its billing, manage its customers and do its collections, making it virtually a turnkey waste management operation. All a hauler has to have is trucks and drivers. And AMSC’s in-truck screens give the drivers feedback that train them to be more effective and efficient.
AMSC appears to be on course for enormous success. It is the very definition of doing well by doing good. “Some of the really progressive guys,” Martin added, “will use the data to go to the schools, talk to the kids in the schools and get the kids in the schools to own the data. We’ve found that to be a very good way to motivate everybody.”