The Bottom Line: 3D Machine Control in the Landfill Industry

We, as a people generate an incredible amount of trash. Where does it go? Some is dumped into our oceans, which the marine life isn’t crazy about. Other volumes of trash end up in landfills.

These landfills are highly engineered facilities that mitigate hazards and their operators are charged with maximizing the air space they occupy which is constrained by their footprint.  For their operators, the goals, techniques and challenges they face are unique.  Lately, some have begun using 3D machine control technology and data communication to streamline their operations and realized better utilization of people, machines and available space.

On a landfill site, airspace is at a premium. It is the most valuable asset. Their footprint is only so long and wide and the heights which they can occupy are also limited.  By reaching optimum levels of trash compaction they can utilize their limited asset to its fullest.  By doing this in the most efficient way, costs can be lowered, machine time (and maintenance) can be minimized and materials can be saved.  Labor and fuel savings are also cited as benefits by users of machine control technology in this application.  Recently owners and operators have been reaping sizeable benefits from machine control’s cutting- edge technology.  Additional benefits include: a reduce carbon footprint, reduced staking costs, decreased machine wear, increased safety, reduced service costs and longer machine life (these sites are tough even on big, rugged compactors).

Many different types of heavy equipment are found on a modern landfill.  Among them, you will find excavators, scrapers, dozers and graders. These machines are used primarily for earth moving; preparing ramps, slopes and access roads. Dozers can also be used to re-position trash (think of this as a material layer on a roadway).  However, the movers and shakers and stars of the show are the landfill compactors.  Compactors can spread material, but their main role is compressing and compacting it. The efficiency at which they can do this varies widely depending on the techniques and tools available to the operators.  With machine control technology, they perform their role in the most efficient way.

To reach maximum compaction multiple passes over the material is required. Density increases with each pass. Without machine control technology, these passes can be inefficient as there are few landmarks or guide posts for the operator to orient to. There can be too few or too many, either one is expensive.  Also, how shall the operator determine when the optimum compaction level has been reached?  What level of compaction has been obtained for the different types of materials?  Machine control systems aboard these machines give the operator guidance on all these issues.  The operator can see on his machine’s control display unit exactly where he has passed, where other machines have passed, the number of passes and when optimum compaction has been reached.  The trash layer also needs to be graded, so run off does not become a problem. Machine control guidance provided here is like that for earthmoving machines and the operator is guided to compact the trash to the desired grade. The compacted trash cannot he left exposed overnight due to pollution concerns and threat of heavy winds, so a containing layer is spread over it.  Soil is often used for this purpose. Now, another benefit of machine control is realized when earthmoving equipment can accurately spread and grade this material layer to specifications, saving time, material and labor.  When it is time to add more trash to the landfill, (usually the next morning) this layer will be stripped off and stockpiled for future use.  Another issue that is important on landfill sites it the position of buried hazardous materials, asbestos for example. Here machine control provides another benefit as warning and watch zones can be set so machines don’t disturb these areas.  Safety is also increased with these alerts and proximity warnings.  Damage to other buried infrastructure is also a concern for operators.  For example; should a machine damage a well or injection point, repair crews can navigate back to them (if it has been previous located and recorded using the RTK rover that is usually part of a 3D machine control system) and affect repairs. 

Increased efficiencies in field operations are not the only productivity enhancing benefits realized by implementing machine control.  Data from the machines is communicated back to the office to generate daily utilization reports and asset management information. Traditionally, compaction numbers were available once a month. With office analysis tools and reporting, progress is available in real time.

Clearly the benefits are numerous and well documented by early adaptors.  We are likely to the solid waste industry adopting 3D Machine Control & Office Connectivity at a higher adoption. The return on investment is quick and subsequent increases in profitability are substantial, all contributing to a stronger bottom line.

 For more information, click see GPS Landfill Management System video

"Landfill GPS Compaction Systems - Is a Government (EPA) Mandate On the Way?" by Randy Noland, Managing Editor of

"Landfills - A Source of Energy & Candidate for 3D Machine Control" by Randy Noland, Managing Editor of

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