It's a Snap, Not a Grind

When you're in the market for green and wood waste processing equipment, it's a lot like buying a car. You wouldn't choose a roadster if you needed to haul heavy duty work tools. And you wouldn't buy a truck if you simply wanted a gas-efficient vehicle for stop-and-start errands.

In car buying, as in green and wood waste equipment purchasing, the machines themselves and the money involved make it important to know your needs well in advance.

Dan Brandon, marketing manager with Winn, Mich.-based Morbark Inc., a manufacturer of heavy duty sawmill equipment, including hand-fed brush chippers and high-speed industrial tub grinders, says, “You have to look at what you want to get out of that vehicle. How much can you afford to spend? Clearly, in many cases, if you can spend more, you'll get more for your dollar.”

Assessing Business Needs

One of the first steps in getting the right equipment — to start a business or to complement an existing line of machines — is to carefully consider material type and volume to be processed.

“Green waste can be a lot of things,” Brandon says. “It can be small yard trimmings-type materials all the way up to large logs and stumps. So the purchaser needs to analyze his waste stream and attempt to match the equipment to that.”

There are three basic types of equipment best suited for processing green and wood waste: horizontal grinders, tub grinders and shredders. While all three technologies should be investigated when making a purchase, Dave Benton, marketing manager for Eugene, Ore.-based Peterson Pacific Corp., a recycling equipment manufacturer, says to keep safety in mind.

Tub grinders can process larger stumps and a lot of materials, Benton says. But horizontal grinders are safer to use at job sites where people, traffic, buildings and homes are in close proximity.

“Horizontal grinders are designed in such a way that there's virtually no material thrown out of the hopper, which is one of the drawbacks we see with a tub grinder,” Benton adds.

Shredders, on the other hand, are suited for dealing with solid materials beyond green and wood waste, and can have rather specific applications, according to Benton.

Jerry Mishler, technical sales associate with Wilsonville, Ore.-based SSI Shredding Systems Inc., concurs. As a manufacturer of slow-speed, high-torque shredders capable of sheering through materials beyond wood and green waste, including steel bars, rocks and spikes, Mishler says, “Applications really do differ. There's no such thing as a generic wood shredder that's good for everything in green or wood waste. People need to know the specifics of their waste stream.”

Chris Dixon, branch manager and product specialist for Pioneer Machinery Inc., an Orlando, Fla.-based machine dealer with 28 southeastern branches, suggests buyers in the market for a grinder, shredder or screen approach the process with a list of operational requirements. This list should include: types of materials to be processed, current and future production requirements, potential site conditions, possible support equipment, as well as finished material and portability requirements.

It's not enough to just break materials up, says Mark Rieckhoff, environmental product specialist manager with Vermeer Manufacturing Co., Pella, Iowa. Processing equipment buyers need to consider the markets for their processed material before making a purchase.

“When making an initial purchase, equipment buyers need to know what markets they're going to serve, and suit the machine for that market,” he says.

Jerry Morey, marketing manager with Bandit Industries Inc., Remus, Mich., suggests that the top two factors potential equipment buyers should consider are “the ability of the machine to cost-effectively reduce green waste materials, and the ability of the machine to produce salable products, preferably in a single pass.”

Other factors to consider before settling on equipment are business growth and budget.

“You may be doing X amount of tonnage to begin with, but what's your forecast two or three years down the road?” Brandon asks. “Are you going to double your volume, or do you plan to stay fairly stable? Our experience is that there's usually growth.

“Another factor is budget,” he continues. “How much money can you invest in this equipment? We're talking about a business plan here. The successful operators in the green and wood waste recycling industry are the ones who plan and take all the variables into consideration.”

In addition to initial machine cost, Brandon also advises that those in the market for green and wood waste processing equipment to factor in what they think the residual value of a machine will be two to three years down the road. Oftentimes, as businesses grow, machines must be upgraded, or businesses find that they need larger — or simply more — equipment.

“Many successful operators depreciate the value of their machines over three years, trade them in and get new ones,” Brandon explains. “So essentially, the machines paid for themselves over that course of time.”

Invaluable Research Tools

Once potential buyers identify their business machine needs, the next step in determining the right equipment for an operation is to research the options.

“The Internet plays very heavily into a machine purchase,” Mishler says. “If you see eight companies building a similar kind of technology, that can indicate that a person needs to investigate that particular technology.”

The Web also can help a potential buyer become well-versed in the options before he approaches specific manufacturers. As Brandon says, “Getting on the Internet is a nice way to gather information without having to get on the phone with a salesperson.”

Once shoppers become familiar with the technology, Morey suggests they speak with people in the industry that own similar equipment. This allows potential buyers to find out about certain units' abilities to effectively reduce specific types of waste.

Visiting tradeshows is another way to garner product information. “That's an excellent place for someone in the research mode to go and talk to various manufacturers about their products, get some ideas and gather up brochures,” Brandon says.

“Some of these shows also put on a number of good seminars,” he adds, “which are either no cost or very low cost, and where people can learn a good deal.”

The manufacturers also point out that trade journals can be another effective research tool. “You can go on their websites and access previous articles,” Brandon says. “Do some reading, and narrow it down to two or three manufacturers.”

Person to Person

Then, once a prospective green and wood waste equipment purchaser has decided on the types of machines that will best suit his or her business, it's time to visit dealers and see first-hand what the machines can do.

“Locate a reputable equipment dealer in your geographical area of business that represents quality manufacturers,” Dixon says. “Then do your best to find a product specialist you're comfortable with — one that understands your particular application requirements.”

By familiarizing yourself with manufacturers' track records and calling references, “not only will you gain significant knowledge of the manufacturer, but you will gain tidbits of knowledge that may help your operation in the future,” Dixon says.

If possible, “arrange to have a demonstration, preferably on your site and with your materials,” Morey recommends. This will determine whether the equipment is able to produce the end-product you desire.

During the demonstration, “have a performance checklist ready for the demo that lists important benchmarks the machine must perform to,” Dixon says. “The list should include every item that you need to consider before purchasing a machine.”

Lastly, remember that price should not be the only factor in an equipment purchase.

“My advice would be, don't just look at price,” Brandon says. “That'll get you in trouble. Sometimes you may save initial capital investment, but you could pay for it down the road.”

“Just because a machine might be $30,000 cheaper does not mean it's better, or cheaper to own and operate,” agrees Steve Berglund, vice president in charge of operations for Prairieville, Ill.-based Midwest Forestry/American Wood Recycling.

Making the initial capital investment can help avoid troublesome machine malfunctions and down-time. “We see it all the time,” he says. “People buy cheap equipment and it's always broken down.”

It's better to spend the extra money and get the right machine off the bat, Berglund adds. “We get the job done because we're not always repairing equipment, but we paid a little more to begin with.”

Carol Badaracco Padgett is a Waste Age free-lance writer based in Atlanta. For additional information about buying green and wood waste equipment, visit