Toowoomba’s technological transformation

We spoke with Troy Uren, Toowoomba Regional Council Manager Waste Services, about their revolutionary automated waste transfer station network and overall waste management strategy. 

We understand you recently won an award for innovation. Can you explain what makes your transfer stations unique?

The key initiatives for which we won the 2017 Innovation Award at this year’s Australian Landfill and Transfer Stations Conference relates to the integration of technology at our new Greater Toowoomba Waste Management Facility. We have a number of uses for technology which are focused on improving how we manage the site and how we can deliver better customer service.

There are three types of cameras on site, including CCTV, thermal and licence plate cameras. Digital CCTV provides security, with motion sensor and infrared ability.

But our digital CCTV also includes analytics which help us manage queuing by sounding an alarm when a car sits stationary at a given location. The analytics allow us to search imagery and to run heat maps to see where people go and how they use the facility.

What is the purpose of all this advanced technology?
Our aim is to be able to use this to analyse the effectiveness of the facility and our at flat floor design allows us to make changes in how we operate cost-effectively. There are three thermal cameras on site at key risk areas which are integrated into our emergency management systems. These have the aim of picking up heat sources before they pose a fire hazard.

Licence plate cameras are at the entry and exit to all our key operating areas. These cameras are linked to our transaction management software and tell us where people go and how long they are there. These are key pieces of information required in the planning of new facilities and will also allow us to operate with cashless toll road type transaction management in the future.

We also have the conduit in the ground for up to 16 digital signs which will be integrated with our electronic gates. This will allow us to manage the site at the push of a button, eliminating the need for staff on the ground.

For example, an incident in an area might require us to close certain gates and direct customers to a given area. This would normally require the mobilisation of a number of staff, all then removing the resources away from dealing with the actual incident. We will be able to close gates, change the messages on digital signs and therefore change the operation of the facility with the push of a button.

Our focus is to be able to manage our customers on the fly and to use the data we gather to learn how to operate better in the future. We believe that the easier it is for our customers to use our facility, the more likely they are to achieve our goal of recovering resources, which has proven successful to date.

Can you explain some of the waste management roles that exist at the council and how they work with one another?

Council operates its facilities and delivers its services through a range of delivery models, including in-house and outsourcing. Our kerbside collection services are an example. Our gatehouse and resource recovery functions are outsourced and we are going through the process of preparing new contract documents for these services. We are planning to make some significant changes to how these services interact.

We deliver a number of functions in-house, including our landfill and transport operations and our front line customer service. Our contractors are a fundamental part of the service we deliver to our customer. Often we have contractors in the front line of customer service. It is therefore important that we take a partnering role and expect a high standard. Ultimately we look at ourselves like Apple. Many people may (or may not) know that Apple doesn’t make iPhones. They are made by another company in China. Apple however, designs and markets the iPhone. We see our services in a similar manner. We design a service to our customer and then work with partners to deliver those services to the customer under the Toowoomba Regional Council brand.

To read more, see page 32 of Issue 12.