Swiss on a Roll?

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One of the more technically interesting vehicles at the show, the Italian-built Iride 'Combi' is designed to collect foodwaste and then wash-out the emptied bins

Continued unrest in the global economy - and on-going concerns about national debt within the EU - hasn't touched Switzerland. A strong Swiss Franc, a high standard of living and a higher-than-average concern over the natural environment, are just a few reasons why the recent 'Suiss Public' event was worth a visit. Malcolm Bates reports from Bern.

Switzerland. What images come into your mind? Cuckoo clocks. Toblerone chocolate bars. Well respected and profitable banks. Mountains. Yodelling. There are plenty of stereotypical images which I guess we could amuse ourselves with. But the question then arises - at whose expense are we making such wisecracks? My theory is, by underestimating the Swiss and their quiet determination, the joke is on the rest of us.

Why the need to analyse the Swiss people in general and the infrastructure of Switzerland in particular? Well, I'm in the city of Bern, the historic capital of the country for the bi-annual 'Suiss Public' exhibition. And even though I'm a regular visitor to Switzerland, I'm very impressed by this event.

For a country surrounded by larger, more dominant European economies, Switzerland has managed to stay clear of fully-integrated EU membership that would have spelt the end of the Swiss Franc and an independent outlook on life. So it's no surprise to find a wide mix of imported specialist products, together with more than a few uniquely Swiss brands, all competing for business.

Faun's new Variopress 'Dual Power' hybrid RCV. With a wider, loer hopper design than the Rotopress, it is designed to use the electric binlifters now available from Zoeller and Otto

Into the mix, we must add the fact that there are at least three strong outside influences on commerce and trade in Switzerland that somehow are balanced by an equally strong national pride. As a result, French-speaking 'communes' (local councils) might traditionally operate French-built equipment, those closer to Germany and Italy, each doing likewise. Then there are the considerable contrasts between the big cities such as Geneva, Zurich and Bern - and the rural areas. There are equally dramatic contrasts in temperature and weather conditions during the year. Such contrasts underscore the need for high quality equipment. What does this mean?

On one level, it means everything is complicated. And because Switzerland has a high standard of living, everything is very expensive. And because of the restrictions created by narrow old quarter streets and rural hillside village roads, until recently, trucks and buses built for operation in Switzerland were built narrower by law than those allowed in the rest of Europe.

One local Swiss operator's take (Fricktal) on the idea of a demountable RCV - this impressive unit supplied by Moser Tech is based on a four axle, single drive axle rearsteer DAF chassis with Palfinger hooklift

What we have got at the Suiss Public event is a vibrant, technically interesting manufacturing sector, made up of a rich mix of suppliers ranging from locally-based family companies, to successful multinationals. And even the most casual observer will know that of all the environmental quality standards measures on the planet, Switzerland will come out, if not tops, then somewhere in the top three.

So it's where the rest of us can see what 'the future' will look like today.

Doing the right thing

While Switzerland may well be made up of semi-independent 'cantons', the one thing they all have in common is wanting to do the right thing - and that means doing right by the local tax payers, by the workforce and by the environment. Buying the cheapest machine, built down to the lowest sticker price to make a short term saving, just isn't the Swiss way.

Which is perhaps why even the largest suppliers in Europe - such as Faun - used Suiss Public as a launch platform for a second - and arguably more significant - in a range of hybrid products aimed at the waste and recycling sectors. This second product is the Variopress 'Dual Power' and it will go into production this month - with a Swiss 'commune' tipped to be the first customer in Europe.

The new Variopress 'Dual Power' was so new, the company had yet to release the full specification at the show, although it is closely related to the Rotopress 'Dual Power' concept which was launched three years ago.

The original Rotopress prototype - which I drove at that time on an urban collection route in Aachen - has since collected thousands of tonnes of garbage on demonstration tours throughout Europe and is still working. This suggests the auxiliary engine/generator/supercap technology package is robust enough for waste applications.

Second generation hybrid

The Variopress Dual Power is based on 'second generation' technology and uses a quieter - and smaller - Volkswagen light van diesel engine as an auxiliary power source. With the lower and wider loading hopper of the Variopress, it is designed to take one of the new Zoeller (or Otto) electric bin lifters - offering Faun/Ochsner customers a direct hybrid alternative to replace the existing conventional diesel/hydraulic RCVs now in service. Significantly, without any major training required. It's worth noting that Otto binlifters are now also part of the Kirkhoff Group).

Sales and indeed product development of Faun products in Switzerland is undertaken by Ochsner, under the enthusiastic leadership of managing director, Rainer Janssen. While several other leading European brands of refuse collection vehicle manufacturers are also represented in the country, as a one-time independent Swiss manufacturer, the Ochsner brand identity still carries plenty of weight.

Sweeping success

That's not to say the Variopress Dual Power was the only star attraction at the show. Far from it. In fact because Switzerland is also the home of the multi-purpose tool carrier concept with manufacturers such as Borshung, Rapid and Bucher (and many others) all looking for new potential customers for machines with 'all seasons' capability. And because the environment - or more to the point, a clean environment - is seen as such a key prerequisite, the market for sweeping machines in Switzerland is far greater and more competitive than the modest size of the country might suggest. Again, locally-based manufacturers such as Bucher are competing head-to-head with leading brands from elsewhere, such as Dulevo and Sicas in Italy - and Scarab and Green Machine from UK.

At the other end of the scale? The Swiss also think 'small'! This is the articulated Holder V130 sub-compact sweeper. Powered by a 3-cylinder Perkins diesel, it has a total weight of 1780kgs. Hopper capacity is 380 litres

On the Dulevo stand, the now-in-production 'Sky 2000' could be a winner for this Italian brand. On the Bucher stand, was the 'dual-branded' sub-compact which is also marketed as the Johnston 101. Bucher will introduce a new arctic 'City cat' within six months.

It will not be 'dual branding' the new four wheel steer Johnston 201. And it should come as no surprise to learn that the Green Machine 500ze all-electric sub-compact sweeper (as recently tested by Waste Management World) is already attracting a lot of customer interest in Switzerland.

This is the 'Professional' sweeper from Karcher - a name you'll be hearing more of. This German manufacturer is expected to introduce a new range of larger communial sweepers and other units over the following months

In the outside area, another Italian manufacturer, Sicas, had both two and four cubic metre capacity vacuum sweepers on display - both featuring design upgrades.

'Suiss Public' is a bi-annual event in a small country, so why is it so important? Because environmental standards are so high, you can see what other markets will probably have to operate in two, three or more year's time. Make a note to plan a trip to Switzerland in 2013. See you there!

The smallest RCV in the world? Wiscon AG is marketing this 3-wheeled lithium-Ion battery powered scooter (or 'skateboard') complete with rear-mounted waste container 'body' and loading system (a broom!). Our transport correspondent gives it a quick low carbon test run!

Malcolm Bates is collection and transport correspondent for Waste Management World.

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