FOR ALL THE MACHINE'S simplicity, purchasing the right baler can be a difficult and thought-provoking process. With any type of capital equipment, careful planning should be the first step in the purchasing process. Because with the many baler models available today, recyclers and waste processors need to make sure they are getting the best machine for their facility while planning for present needs and future growth. It is often recommended to plan on a minimum of 25 percent growth when sizing the proper baler.

Due to the variables involved in the baling process, as well as in the processing facilities themselves, most manufacturers offer a range of baler models and options. The “right” machine will vary by facility, volume, material and cost, so it is important to choose wisely.

The available facility space and set-up may dictate the final equipment choice. When taking measurements, factor in the space needed for the bales to exit the machines and for forklifts to remove the bales.

Knowing the Materials

The characteristics of the materials to be baled also will play a large role in determining the size and type of equipment to purchase. Horizontal balers are most commonly used by larger processing facilities because of the high daily volume of material moving through the facility. Choosing a particular baler model, such as single-ram versus two-ram, is largely based on the specific mix of material that will be received and how it will be most efficiently processed.

While a single-ram baler lends itself better to baling fibrous products such as office waste, printer's waste or old newsprint (ONP), the two-ram works best on products such as plastic bottles or aluminum containers that do not necessarily present the same compression qualities time after time. Materials with odd shapes, low compressibility or high memory retention, such as Styrofoam or plastic, also will compact best in a two-ram baler.

Several additional items should be evaluated to customize the baler to an operation. Throughput, or processed volume, is key to determining the baler size and capacity that will be required. Final baler production will be influenced by horsepower and cylinder size. Understanding simple physics provides the knowledge that as cylinder size increases, baler speed decreases — unless additional horsepower is added.

Speed is a function of gallons per minute (flow dissipated by the pumps), while bale density is a factor of ram force. Total system pressure allows the manufacturer to decrease cylinder size to gain speed while maintaining ram force. The higher system pressure keeps the ram force at an ideal level for maximum bale density.

To optimize production, freight and storage capabilities, consider the final bale size and density, as well. For medium- to high-volume applications, automatic wire tie systems are necessary to maximize production. High-production facilities especially will require as much automation as possible to reduce the labor costs involved with operating the baler. A single-ram baler generally is more automated than a two-ram, so it requires less labor per bale produced. The majority of time, someone simply pushes material onto the conveyor, and someone removes the finished bales.

Keep in mind that high memory materials require additional wires to keep bales together. For this reason, two-ram balers are ideal because they allow operators to change variables, such as the number of wires and the distance between them.

Coordinating a System

Consider how the bales will be loaded and shipped — by flat bed trailer, closed van trailer or shipping container. Verify up-front that the bales will fit into the trucks, and that bale tonnage per load can be maximized.

Next, consider other equipment in the facility. The complete system could be as simple as a baler and conveyor, or as complex as single-stream sorting systems with disc screens, sorting platforms, bunkers and the like. Prior to purchasing equipment, confirm that the components will work together as a streamlined processing system.

Tipping and storage room also deserves some thought. Does the tipping area allow several days of accumulation? If not, the facility may require two balers so that when one is shut down for maintenance, the other baler can pickup the extra workload. The two-baler system works well for high-volume facilities processing multiple grades, where each baler can be dedicated to specific types of materials, such as fiber or containers.

When baling fiber, determine pre-conditioning needs. Hi-grades, ONP, old magazines (OMG) and office waste may require preconditioning. such as running the material through a star screen or through a baler's fluffer feature. This introduces air to the product and creates a higher quality bale. The weight difference in the finished bale will typically offset a larger baler's increased electrical costs, bringing it more inline with the lid-press balers or a non-shear baler.

Bale size (cross section) should be specified to maximize freight costs and minimize associated wire costs — not just per bale, but per baled ton. Some operators run with less tension pressure, producing a lighter bale using less electricity. This also places less strain on the machine during shear or final compaction. At first glance, this practice appears to require less electrical demand. When you consider the extra trips to move the bales and the higher wire cost per ton, the lower electrical cost may not turn out to be a such a bargain. Dramatically increasing bale weight will not greatly increase electrical costs. Actual cost per ton likely will be lowered when taking into account less labor and wire costs.

When handling old corrugated cardboard (OCC), choose a baler with the largest feed opening possible. This will reduce bridging in the chamber and give the fastest throughput possible. Due to the size and thickness of OCC, it is better to have a shear blade in the baler. A shear baler provides more density per stroke, resulting in heavier bales.

The weight difference of a shear baler will offset the lower electrical cost provided by a nonshear baler. This is another reason to compare the cost per baled ton. Additionally, the shear blade will provide a squarer bale for stacking.

Suppliers and Maintenance

It is important to consider baler safety features during operation and maintenance, too. Ask the following questions:

  • Does the manufacturer provide the ability to “lock-out” the electrical panel[s]?

  • Is high voltage kept separate from the control (low) voltage?

  • Can the safety switches for the hopper and tier be easily defeated?

  • Are frequent preventive maintenance (PM) items easily changed or will there be major downtime?

  • After the sale and installation, is training provided for operators and maintenance personnel?

  • Is refresher training available at the factory or in the field?

  • How are parts and after-hour support?

  • Does the manufacturer provide additional warranty or guarantee production values?

Housekeeping and general PM will keep a baler and peripheral equipment running at peak performance — but be sure these tasks are simple and safe to accomplish. Does the baler manufacturer use current technology? Is the manufacturer constantly working on ways to improve the baler or provide information deemed important to your operation? Is the company known as a technical leader in the marketplace?

After deciding on a baler, ensure that the conveyor[s] will provide material to the baler at a sufficient pace. The entire process will only be as fast as its slowest component. No matter how fast the baler can process the material, if materials are not being fed into the baler, you will not be baling.

Other factors to consider include the burden depth of material, length of horizontal pit section (how close the tipping area is to the conveyor), variable or fixed speed, and how the material is moved from the bunkers onto the conveyor. When setting up the baling system, ensure that the baler has some control over the conveyor. This will greatly reduce overcharging of the hopper, allowing operators to spend more time on other work demands.

The bottom line in the baler purchase is that you should feel comfortable with the manufacturer and its representatives. Talk with other users who are baling the same types of materials. This will highlight weak areas and allow you to rank a particular strength or weakness to your facility. Doing this extra homework will ensure your long-term satisfaction and maximize the baler's efficiency in your facility.

Roger Williams is the national sales manager for American Baler Co., Bellevue, Ohio.