Buying the Best Baler

Buying a baler is like buying a computer. With a computer purchase, you have to consider processing speed, memory capacity, availability of accessories and whether the computer will meet your current and future needs. Overall, it boils down to how fast and how many bytes the computer can crunch.

The same holds true when buying a baler. Balers take large quantities of raw materials and compress them into dense, manageable blocks for short- or long-term storage. But unlike a computer where a byte is the same no matter what the software, to make a baler work, you need to be knowledgeable about what will go into it.

Squeezing the Box For most customers, a baler is an integral component of a processing system that may separate various components of the waste stream for recycling. Balers can range in size from a small unit at the back of a retail store that compacts corrugated cardboard and produces a single bale every couple of days, to a heavy-duty model capable of processing 40 tons of material per hour. The secret to buying the best baler is to know exactly what you want it to do.

In addition to compacting waste, balers also can be used to destroy product. Steve Forbis, president of Forbis Enterprises, Paris, Ark., custom designs material handling systems for industrial customers. One of his recent projects involved creating a system to destroy outdated juice products.

"The system we're putting in actually destroys products that are in the juice box," he says. "It drains out the product and bales the paper." Such a system may include a combination of shredders, conveyor belts or other feed systems to complete the application.

Metro Waste Management Inc.'s facility in Jackson Tenn., uses a baler to compact garbage to maximize density before it is placed in an adjacent landfill. Completed bales weigh between 1.6 tons and 1.7 tons, and are moved to the landfill by flatbed truck. According to Chase Clark, vice president of operations, when choosing its baler, Metro Waste Management looked for a baler with the most recent technology.

"We've had some problems with our older baler, such as computer problems and shorts in the electrical system," he says. "We wanted the most heavy duty baler that took as few strokes as possible. Instead of having more weight per bail, we would rather take fewer strokes because we found that's key to baler longevity."

Unlike balers of just a few years ago, today's balers can include a variety of electronic diagnostic and control features. In large operations, these features often help to reduce unexpected downtime by allowing the machines - through a modem or other interface - to connect to the manufacturer's service staff. When the baler has connected to the service center, a technician easily can determine the machine's problems. The technician then can correct the problem electronically or provide the customer information to speed up diagnosis and repair.

Additional features include touch screen adjustments that allow the baler to reconfigure itself to handle a variety of products literally with a touch of a button. This allows the user to quickly switch from processing plastics to processing paper or corrugated without much downtime for adjustments to bale density.

Doing Your Research The first step in deciding what baler is appropriate for your application is to determine what types of materials will be processed.

For example, if the baler will be used primarily to process pre-consumer paper products, then some of the more advanced adjustment features may not be warranted. On the other hand, if the baler will be used to process a variety of materials of different densities or sizes, that may dictate a larger machine with greater throughput. Oftentimes, customers in the market for balers already have a good idea of what to look for. For Kip Beaudry of Royal Papers Stock, Cincinnati, low-maintenance costs and high throughput were critical to selecting the latest baler in their paper processing operation.

"What I mean by low-maintenance costs is no specialized parts," Beaudry says. "I [want to be able to] go into any electrical supply house or hydraulic shop and get parts for it. I don't [want to] have to call the manufacturer and have everything shipped next-day air."

Beaudry says he looked at several different machine types before deciding on the one he ultimately purchased. "We were just trying to find something that had plenty of room for growth in it," he says.

Future capacity is important, according to Tom Devivo, vice-president of Willimantic Waste Paper, Willimantic, Conn., who recently purchased a baler for its plant expansion. Because Willimantic primarily processes large amounts of fiber material collected from residential operations in eastern Connecticut, "we know that cycle time and speed are extremely important," he says.

"We're doing 2,000 tons a month now, and we know in a year from now, we're going to have 2,200 tons, and five years, it'll be 2,500 tons," Devivo adds. "We need a machine that we can grow into."

According to Devivo, his latest baler purchase takes into account cycle time as well as current and future capacity. "The machine actually can bale more than what we're taking in right now, and we have other balers that sit idle," he says.

The Company That You Keep In addition to matching the machine type to your materials, Forbis says he also relies on companies with good track records. "Baling isn't rocket science, and it is something that's been going on for a long time. The main thing is that on top of buying the equipment, you're buying the people behind the equipment," he says. "Try to find a company that stands behind what they do - somebody that's easy to work with, who will follow through and do what they say they're going to do. That's usually what I find to be the best thing."

Medina Paper Recycling, Medina, Ohio, in part selected a baler based on its familiarity with the equipment at an existing operation. "This actually is the second paper baler we bought from the manufacturer, so [the company] had a pretty good idea of what we were doing," says Ken Rupp, Medina's president.

Rupp also suggests site visits. "It's very important to go out to a site and visit balers in operation because it tells the whole story," he says. "I've gotten to the point where I pretty much know what I need, but [for someone making a baler purchase,] it's very important to visit and watch someone run [the baler they're interested in] for half a day to see what it does."

A baler manufacturer's reputation and track-record in support after the purchase also is critical to selecting the best baler. "A lot of [a baler purchase] is based on history," says Metro Waste Management's Clark. "We had success with our old baler, and we didn't want to chance a different manufacturer when we knew the history. That was a significant factor. We already were comfortable with the after-market companies that sell the parts, and we already had a relationship with them."

Willimantic's Devivo compares the relationship he has with his baler manufacturer to one of a family member. "That baler [manufacturer] is going to stay in this business for 20 to 25 years. It's like having another brother or child," he says. "You know your children are going to move out when they're 20 years old, but your baler still is going to be there. That was a big reason for choosing [the company] - we felt very comfortable with them. They gave the feeling that they're going to be there."

Whether a baler will be installed in a new facility or retrofit into an existing operation, the manufacturer should provide assistance in making sure the baler fits the operation. Almost all the baler companies provide technical assistance to ensure things such as access to maintenance points are provided.

When Devivo purchased his baler, the manufacturer provided technical assistance in setting up the feed system. "They spent a lot of time designing where it would be placed in the building because a machine of this size has to be installed properly," he says. "They helped us design the conveyors. The primary concern was where to put it in conjunction with the sorting lines."

Right Sizing According to Forbis, many baler problems are the result of incorrectly sizing the machine. "A baler that cannot keep up with the volume of materials, or produce a bale that is the correct size creates more hardship than its worth," he says.

Metro Waste Management's Clark agrees. "We looked at a couple of other manufacturers. We just couldn't get the amount of material that we have to get through," he says. "That was a big step in decision-making."

Another problem can occur if the baler is not designed to handle the material being processed. "I've been in situations where people have been sold equipment to bale newsprint and the baler was never designed to do that," Forbis reports. "They were told it would and were trying to make bales of newsprint for 30 days. Every bale that came out of the baler would fall apart until finally somebody told them they needed to start conditioning their newsprint." In the end, Forbis says the situation was resolved because the baler manufacturer refunded the money. "This was a situation where they just lived and learned," Forbis says.

Once the baler is installed and operating, ongoing logistical support also should be considered as part of the purchase.

Royal Paper Stock's machine has the capability of providing on-screen diagnostics. And with the flip of a switch the machine will call the service center itself. Nevertheless, Beaudry says he relies on the manufacturer's telephone support staff.

"If I have a hiccup and see something wrong, all I do is call them," Beaudry says. "[A company representative will] sit there and talk me through [the problem]. If that still isn't enough, the company provides a 24-hour response time for field technicians to respond to the site."

Additionally, manufacturers should provide appropriate operation and maintenance training. "We'll go through with [the buyer's] maintenance department, depending on how elaborate the system is," Forbis says. "I'll work with the engineering and service departments of the baler manufacturers, and we'll set up a maintenance program. Some baler manufacturers have schools that are very good."

If the manufacturer offers baler school on a piece of equipment that was purchased, Forbis says he'll recommend the buyer send some of its personnel to the school to "get an in-depth course on that piece of equipment."

So how do you buy the best baler? According to Royal Paper Stock's Beaudry, it really comes down to four simple points:

"The most important thing is to make sure you buy a baler big enough to handle what you want," he says. "Second, make sure you have support from the manufacturer. If you buy one and you don't get any support, you might as well not have bought it because if it breaks down, you're in trouble.

Third, look at replacement parts," he continues. "If you burn a transformer, do you have to get one from the manufacturer, or can you run down to a local electrical supply house and buy one? That saves a lot of time. And fourth, what do you like? If all the other three fit, just buy what you like."