How do MRF operators buy equipment? What are their expectations? How do equipment vendors meet these needs?
While most would agree that price is important, and may draw the buyer toward a particular piece of equipment, many other factors play an important role in motivating a specific purchase.
Equipment purchasers fall into several distinct categories. First, there are the multi-MRF operators. In general, they are sophisticated, experienced buyers who know exactly what their facility needs. They may have an engineering staff to establish bid specifications. This buyer may purchase hardware and piece together a processing line with equipment manufactured by one or more vendors, none of whom have system or installation responsibility.
Next, there are multi-MRF operators who prefer not to get involved with piecemeal operations. They will buy total systems from a vendor, including installation. The last group, first-time buyers, often have no operations experience and require the assurances, designs and guarantees provided by a systems supplier. Each of these groups approach equipment purchases differently.
While no single criterion exists that ranks above all others in making a purchasing decision, MRF operators, large or small, should consider the following factors.
Operating History. MRF operators agree that a successful operating history is a major factor motivating the purchase of any specific piece of equipment. The operator needs to know that the equipment is reliable and has performed the required tasks. The equipment vendor should define for the operator these performance criteria.
The manufacturer's history is equally important. Although some situations would merit purchasing new technology or products from financially weak companies, operators should be cautious. "You can have the most useful, well-made, cost-effective equipment available, but if something goes wrong, will the company be in a financial position to stand behind the product warranties?" said Steve Viny, president of Norton Environmental, Cleveland. It is important for the operator to note this information during the evaluation.
Buyers also should check references and visit sites, especially if significant costs are involved. Although vendors will likely refer you to their best installations, you should interview maintenance and operations personnel on site.
This approach may reveal important information that could sway an evaluation. Ask questions on the timeliness of equipment delivery, its fit, finish and sturdiness and the degree of vendor cooperation during installation and while under warranty.
Maintenance Record. Examining the maintenance record is critical. Ask these questions: * Can components be serviced with relative ease?
* Are the motors borderline in size or are they heavy duty?
* How reliable is the piece of equipment?
* If the unit breaks down, how long is it usually out of operation?
The buyer must evaluate the risks and consequences of downtime. The alternative may be to purchase a more expensive piece of equipment with a higher level of reliability.
Some machines and equipment systems used in solid waste processing are high maintenance, which should be considered during the evaluation. These include shears, shredders, tub grinders, front-end loaders and balers.
The operator should not confuse operational reliability with maintenance. An equipment's reliability and its ability to function depend on regular maintenance.
For example, a shredder must be maintained. However, if the shredder is expected to operate at 20 tons per hour and the actual performance is 15 tons per hour, the records may indicate an operations flaw - despite the unit's good reliability.
Consequently, the equipment does not meet the operator's expectations and the vendor's credibility is compromised.
Safety. OSHA requirements and insurance premiums are a fact of life. Worker safety is a prime consideration when evaluating equipment. John Gold, president of North Shore Recycled Fibers, Salem, Mass., believes that machinery must have every safety feature available. "It's a small price to pay to prevent accidents," he said. Placing guards over moving parts is an obvious safety precaution. But also consider whether the equipment is designed for easy access. For example, if the operator faces risks during routine maintenance, chances are the maintenance will not be done correctly.
Ergonomics and machine noise also should be considered. Although some MRFs are noisy by nature, equipment should be designed to attenuate the noise level. Providing hearing protection may not be enough and alternative solutions should be sought. Similarly, minimizing the operator's physical stress should be considered when evaluating equipment.
Power Consumption. Electricity is a major cost for MRF operators. In addition to capital costs, all equipment purchases should be evaluated on operating and life cycle costs.
For example, although most of her plant's equipment is manufactured in-house, Liddy Karter buys balers and eddy current separators from outside vendors. Karter, vice president of Resource Recovery Systems, Essex, Conn., said she buys the most energy-efficient available. Since balers have the largest motors in her plants, she evaluates power consumption, along with operational speed, simplicity and safety features, as major criteria in her purchasing decisions.
Cost. The initial capital cost of equipment is always a major factor in purchase decisions. While some MRFs are merchant facilities, other operators competitively bid for equipment installation. In both cases, capital costs are heavily reviewed, since they can be determined early. Additionally, when an entirely new facility is being built, the equipment can represent 30 to 50 percent of total costs.
The initial cost of equipment may be a superficial factor and somewhat misleading. Life cycle and future capital costs must be evaluated, especially for major investments such as balers or complete systems. Life cycle costs may include less parts to replace, less baling wire used, higher productivity and reduced labor costs.
Consider, for example, a new product introduction. The design assessment determines it will perform better, faster and with lower operating cost than traditional equipment will. It also has a higher initial cost and, with a limited track record, it carries a risk.
Ernie Romeo, vice president of engineering at RRT-Recycle America, Melville, N.Y., said that he assesses the risks, benefits and price. If the long-term costs are significantly less than those of other equipment, RRT will work with the vendor on tradeoffs. RRT may consider the risks acceptable and purchase the equipment, as long as the manufacturer offers extended warranties, replacement guaranties or cost-sharing.
This approach may help you to purchase a product with significant advantages over its competitors.
Responding To Customers How do the equipment vendors respond to the operators' needs and requirements? Several manufacturers suggested the following tips to consider when making purchasing decisions:
Richard Harris of American Baler Co., Belleview, Ohio, said his company insists on being involved in the entire project simply to ensure that their baler is properly integrated. Company reps check to see that the baler is sized properly, and that the safety issues are addressed. Showing an interest in the whole project is necessary to have satisfied customers, he said.
Dick Merrill of Mayfran, Cleveland, said his company sizes all components and warranties performance to ensure that the equipment functions as an integrated system. To make sure performance requirements will be met, the company reviews the project's design parameters whenever a quote is based only on the customers' input.
Gary Musselwhite of Excel, St. Charles, Minn. said his company will even refer a customer to another manufacturer if they feel their product won't meet expectations for bale density, size or configuration.
All of the vendors claimed that they considered safety to be of major importance, and that their products met, or exceeded, all regulatory guidelines.
Solid waste processing equipment has matured over the last several years. Today's MRF operator can be assured that the high level of competition among manufacturers will continue to spur advancements in equipment.
Manufacturers recognize that reliability, structural integrity, safety and value are of utmost importance, as they look for the opportunity to develop strong customer relationships and gain repeat business. The MRF operator can only benefit from this trend.