Baler Business, The

By its very nature, a baler presses recyclable materials into tight, tidy bales. It only makes sense that professionals in the market for such machinery approach the baler purchasing process in the same manner — neat and clean.

To find out the essentials of the procurement process, Waste Age turned to some of the industry's wisest. Their advice? As with most purchases, baler buying starts with proper planning. Here's what to consider.

Know Your Business

The first step is to determine which materials need to be baled. Will you bale paper, aluminum, steel or plastic, and how quickly and with how much manpower will you need to handle the incoming volume? The answers to these questions are all-important for your baler buying preparations.

According to John D. Gibbs, marketing manager for baler manufacturer C&M Baling Systems Inc., Winston-Salem, N.C., there are three major points a baler purchaser needs to consider. “They need to know what they're baling, the rate or volume of material that will be coming through the baler, and where they intend to put the baler,” he says.

Of those three points, throughput, or volume processed, is especially important, Gibbs says. You shouldn't even begin shopping before you know how much volume you need to process and the material and product size you will need to handle, agrees Shannon Harrop from his Sacramento, Calif., office of J.V. Manufacturing.

Vice president of West Coast operations for J.V. Manufacturing, Harrop explains that “having the answer to that question will help a buyer determine whether to choose a horizontal or vertical baler. The volume that's generated determines the throughput that's required. Typically, with more throughput and a larger product, you'll need to work into a horizontal baler.”

Conversely, vertical machines often are used in tighter spaces and situations requiring less throughput. For example, a vertical baler typically is used at a retail store with either a backroom operation or a warehouse, Harrop says. “When you get into larger warehouses, that's when you get into horizontals.”

Along with understanding their business needs, potential buyers also should consider what kind of volume is anticipated daily and even hourly.

“Let's say someone wants to bale 1 ton of material an hour, but they want to feed it all within 15 minutes,” says Sam Finlay, vice president of sales for Crown Point, Ind.-based Balemaster. “Then you have to design the machine to handle 1 ton in 15 minutes, not 1 ton in an hour. So people must have a full understanding of their requirements and the logistics of the various materials in their facilities.”

Clarifying the necessary machine requirements also helps a potential buyer come away with the correct machine specifications at purchase. Horsepower and cylinder size are important considerations, as these determine the machine's amount of thrust.

“If you're going to bale Bible paper, you don't need a lot of thrust,” Finlay says. “Where if you're baling steel cans, you need more thrust.”

Keep in mind that the best options will be determined by the individual business. Warehouse voltage and phase requirements are important pieces of information to gather before baler shopping.

Also “consider how you want to load the baler,” says Doug King, managing director of manufacturer DKA LLC, Hendersonville, N.C. “Do you intend to use a conveyor?” he asks. “If you don't use a conveyor, will you have the loading manpower? If volume is high, do you need an automatic tie system for the baler?”

“Customers may require a fluffer if they're doing certain types of paper,” adds William N. Thomas, sales manager for International Baler Corp., Jacksonville, Fla. “The fluffer goes up on top of the hopper and pre-processes the material before it goes through the baler.”

Automation is another factor.

“Our highest-end machines run without a full-time operator,” says Jeffrey Van Galder, director of sales and marketing for St. Charles, Minn.-based Excel Manufacturing Inc.

“Verifiable automatic operation can translate into savings of $50,000 to $60,000 for the customer,” he says, but, “as soon as you tie an operator to a machine, you're tying yourself to an additional fixed cost.”

Consider the Baler Environment

Once material, volume and machine options have been assessed, a buyer must consider space constraints. “A baler is a lot like a locomotive,” Finlay says. “It's long and narrow, and not real high. Then, as the bales come out, that adds to the length of space that's required.”

A business must have adequate room — in both width and height — in its warehouse to handle the baler that will best meet its needs. “Before purchase, you need to make sure the baler will clear in all directions,” King says. “If you have a baler that requires a 14- or 15-foot clearance at the top for loading the hopper and your ceiling is only 12 feet high, you're not going to be able to use it.”

Ultimately, available space may dictate the final equipment choice. “Our smallest machine probably takes an operating space of 10 feet by 20 feet,” Van Galder says. “Then, our largest [machine] takes up approximately 30 feet by 45 feet.”

To ensure buyers' facilities can accommodate different sized balers, “with large machines, auto-tie balers for instance, we always send a line drawing with the customer's quote to show just how much space it takes up,” International Baler's Thomas says.

But buyers also have to provide space for bales to exit the machine. “If the bale is ejected, you need to make sure that happens in an appropriate direction and that you're not baling up against a short wall,” King says.

Space for material handling equipment, such as fork lifts, also may be required, Harrop adds.

To get the best possible result, potential buyers should be upfront about their wants and limitations. For instance, buyers should determine whether they intend to use a baler indoors or outdoors.

“Some customers, without telling you, will put a baler outside,” Gibbs says. “A standard baler machine can't go outside. We have to do certain things to make a baler weather-proof.”

Ensure Proper Maintenance

Beyond physical requirements, any end-user will attest that it's important to check out the maintenance program offered by a baler manufacturer before deciding on equipment. At some point, every baler owner will need the manufacturer's knowledge or assistance. Knowing support will be available to reduce downtime can add to the bottom line.

“A manufacturer should have excellent customer service and stand behind its warranties,” says Kevin Little, president of Toledo, Ohio-based Lake Erie Recycling. The company has used Excel Manufacturing Inc.'s products since 1993 to recycle all grades of waste paper, non-ferrous metals, aluminum cans and plastics.

“Even when a machine is out of warranty, [the manufacturer] should assist you right away in troubleshooting problems,” Little says.

Properly caring for the baler also can help ensure minimal maintenance, King says. He suggests developing a maintenance checklist from the product manufacturer's owner/operator manual.

“I would develop a maintenance card for the baler, based on the items in the operating manual, and ensure that the checklist is followed periodically,” he says.

Some companies offer special maintenance programs as part of the regular maintenance suggested in their owner's manual. International Baler Corp., for example, offers a baler care program. “We come in so many times a year, check everything over, make minor adjustments and let the customer know if they have anything major going on,” Thomas says.

Other manufacturers offer their own hands-on training programs for baler operators. “We have a school at Balemaster than takes place once each month,” Finlay says. “It's limited to 20 customers, and it runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for three days.”

At its school, balers that are cut in half are used to educate customers on which internal parts requires regular attention. “[The balers are] something [our customers] make a living with,” Finlay adds, “so it's good to [provide them with] knowledge of the machine.”

Some manufacturers may suggest customers go directly to their service departments or through distributor networks for both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. “Some customers are very capable and take on maintenance themselves,” Van Galder says. “For the others, we provide a service network, either directly or through our distributor network.”

Aside from following preventive maintenance schedules outlined in owner manuals, it's a good idea for owners to be proactive about taking small maintenance steps.

“Someone should do an overall check of the baler once a month,” Gibbs recommends. If they “blow it off if it's dusty and clean out any paper that's stuck where it shouldn't be, they'll be amazed at how little maintenance actually is required.”

An auto-tie machine will require slightly more maintenance than other models because it has an open system, Gibbs cautions. If the baler is operating in a dusty environment, “we ask the owner to change the oil every year,” he says.

Overall, potential buyers should consider their needs, as well as a manufacturer's maintenance offerings, ensuring safety and design through a reputable manufacturer. “These machines are potentially dangerous,” J.V. Manufacturing's Harrop says. “You want to make sure yours is compliant with ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards and that the manufacturer has a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listing on the machine.”

Carol Badaracco Padgett is an Atlanta-based free-lance writer. For more information about balers, visit

To Bale or Not To Bale?

As with most major purchases, financing can make or break a deal. While all companies offer financing options — for purchase, lease or sometimes rent — a potential baler owner needs to weigh what's best for his or her business.

“Just like buying a house or a car, it's capital equipment,” says Jeffrey Van Galder, director of sales and marketing for St. Charles, Minn.-based Excel Manufacturing Inc. “Businesses need experience and financial strength to get financing.”

Most experts agree that a customer should shop around to find the best financing deal. “Because of the way interest rates have been coming down, [buyers] may want to look at two or three different companies,” suggests Doug King, managing director of DKA LLC.

But sometimes, no matter how great a deal you come across, it's hard to justify a baler purchase. After all, a baling press often ranges from $7,000 on the small, vertical end, to $400,000 on the large, horizontal end. What's a small-business owner to do if he can't quite decide whether he should be in the market for a baler? Take a look at both return on investment (ROI) and cost-avoidance, the experts suggest.

ROI isn't necessarily the most important factor, according to Sacramento, Calif.-based Shannon Harrop, vice president of West Coast operations for J.V. Manufacturing Inc. “You want a return on your investment,” he says, “but you can also justify a baler not on ROI with the product you're creating — the commodity — but on cost-avoidance.”

“In the paper market we're currently in, a vertical baler purchase decision is based more on cost-avoidance than ROI,” Harrop adds. “By recycling and bundling into manageable bundles, you actually can save costs in hauling and tipping fees — although you're not necessarily creating revenue.”
Carol Badaracco Padgett