Equipping A Processing Facility? Performance Is Key

Buying equipment for a processing facility is a balancing act. You expect reliability, flexibility, low maintenance and manufacturer support. All this - and it must be competitively priced.

The first step is to define your expectations. Here, managers must examine the entire operation, from the facility to the operators.

For example, when Balcones Recycling, a fiber processor in Farmers Branch, Texas, built its new recycling facility, planners had a clear view of their desires and needs. They wanted equipment that would give them improved sorting, faster throughput, better bale densities and a nearly hands-free operation. This 100,000-square-foot recycling plant near Dallas processes more than 20 grades of secondary fiber and approximately 5,000 tons of material per month.

"Our material needs to be cleaner than our competitors' [material]," said Rusty Getter, Balcones' president. "The look and the packaging is important. Our ability to safely stack and showcase square, dense bales is what sells our product. We're also able to make better use of our warehouse space."

Balcones processes both pre- and post-consumer secondary fiber, 80 percent of which are high grades destined for deinking facilities. The pre-consumer fiber stream is mainly coated book stock and manifold white ledger, while the post-consumer fiber is mostly sorted office and white ledger. The remaining 20 percent is old corrugated cardboard (OCC) and super mix. Getter uses twin American Baler 8043s to handle both fiber stocks.

Like officials at Balcones, Danny Geiss, president of CDT Landfill Corp., Joliet, Ill., is automating his new facility to minimize labor costs. CDT has been in business for 35 years and operates several subsidiary recycling and waste handling companies.

CDT's new transfer station outside of Joliet, uses two lines and two work shifts, processing 600 tons of commingled waste daily. Most of its 18 employees sort waste and work on the trash line. A supervisor keeps an eye on the automated baling operation.

In its round-the-clock, six-days-per-week operation, CDT strives to produce consistent, eight-minute bales. The facility processes OCC, newsprint, mixed paper, plastic, aluminum, mixed metals and some office ledger. Geiss predicts that paper will remain the company's priority.

Whether you're designing new facilities, automating existing plants or upgrading, future needs should be anticipated during the equipping stage. "That means equipping your facility with an eye toward expansion, from installing more equipment to adding a rail siding or spur to your site," said Geiss.

Aside from tailoring a facility toward the materials to be processed, Geiss suggests that managers determine the expected tonnages for each material type. Also, keep in mind the largest sizes to be baled and how the equipment will switch materials.

Finally, CDT considers employee safety to be major concern. "We are committed to safety, and preach it constantly," said Geiss. "No matter how you look at it, training for safety and performance ultimately affects the bottom line." In addition to regular safety classes, CDT has factory technicians teach operators proper safety training and maintenance.

Making Informed Decisions If you have questions about MRF equipment, ask for advice from colleagues who've gone through the process. Also, talk to people who operate the equipment - ask what has and hasn't worked and to point out any pitfalls.

Support after the sale is another key factor in equipment selection. When selecting a manufacturer, managers should keep in mind the following questions:

* Does the technical support come from a nationwide dealer organization or through factory-direct engineers?

* Does the manufacturer provide maintenance and technical schools for equipment operators?

* Are the parts and service available locally?

Finally, don't be afraid to discuss broader issues with manufacturers. They often play an important role in the design phase. "[Before suggesting a piece of equipment,] we ask our customers about maintenance costs, human resources, peak load, weight, density, automation and utility costs," said American Baler's Richard Harris.

However, managers should avoid getting bogged down in numerous details. Writing overly complex equipment specs can overshadow problems they're meant to solve.

Instead, Harris suggests requesting a performance specification. This, he explained, "allows you to open up the bid and evaluate more options."