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IT'S AN UNFORTUNATE FACT of recycling equipment: despite the strictest adherence to maintenance routines, efforts to keep out any unprocessables and resisting temptation to run machines beyond what is recommended, balers will, in fact, wear out. However, as recently proven by The Recyclery, a San Carlos, Calif., recycling facility, replacing old equipment does not need to be a traumatic, disruptive experience. In fact, when handled correctly, replacement can occur with virtually no production interruptions. In The Recyclery's case, this resulted in a newfound level of productivity and understanding of the value of cooperation.

Waste from the Bayside

The Recyclery is a materials recycling facility owned by the South Bayside Waste Management Authority (SBWMA), which, in 1999, purchased the plant, equipment and the adjacent San Carlos Transfer Station Facility. Materials — old corrugated cardboard (OCC); newspaper; aluminum; all grades of plastics except film; loose and mixed paper; and tin cans — from the eastern part of San Mateo County, part of the San Francisco Bay Area, is sent to the facility for processing. This includes materials from 10 cities plus some unincorporated parts of the county, and an area called West Bay Sanitary District that is separate from the county pockets. The SBWMA is committed to increasing recycling in the region and, as a result, needed the ability to process much more material.

According to Kelly Runyon, senior engineer for Environmental Science Associates, a San Francisco-based consulting firm working for the SBWMA, volumes started increasing almost immediately. This placed an inordinate strain on the already-aging baler that was in place at the facility at purchase time.

“The previous baler was a late '80s model Harris HRB8, a 100-horsepower (hp) machine with a tremendous number of hours on it. At the time, it was being run at 2½ shifts a day, five days a week and one shift on weekends, so we really couldn't work it any harder,” Runyon says. “It also was showing signs of wear that were taking it beyond the realm of simply increased routine maintenance. The SBWMA knew it needed a new baler and contracted with us to write the specs, oversee installation and performance testing, and monitor its overall performance.”

Out With the Old

Runyon says that when the SBWMA wrote the specs for a new baler, a good deal of thought was given to the amount that would be processed by The Recyclery to meet local recycling goals. “That figure was translated into tons per hour for the new baler,” he says. The replacement unit would be chosen through a public procurement process involving bid documents, technical specs, etc. “The bid had to include meeting aggressive bale weight and throughput specs, as well as the ability to pass a performance test after installation,” Runyon says.

Original throughput requirements were specified as hourly tonnages by type of material, not in overall tons per day. For mixed paper and newspaper bales, The Recyclery specified 35 tons per hour, making 1,400-pound bales or heavier of export dimensions. For corrugated cardboard, the facility specified 18 tons per hour, again making 1,400-pound bales. For aluminum cans, 7 tons per hour making 1,000-pound bales were specified. Three manufacturers sent proposals to the SBWMA for consideration. Ultimately, Harris won the bid, offering a 200-hp, two-ram HRB Centurion baler that met all the requirements at what the county felt was the most reasonable cost.

After determining the type and style of baler that would be installed, the consultants began preparing the site for baler installation. Anticipating that the new machine would have a much bigger appetite than the one it was replacing, Runyon and representatives from the equipment manufacturer decided to upgrade the feed conveyor — well in advance of the new baler delivery.

“The approach we took was not to make the feed conveyor faster, but to make it stronger to be able to handle a larger burden depth,” Runyon says. “We also decided to replace the drag chain conveyor with a roller chain unit, which we felt was a much smoother operating mechanism. And, because it is smoother, we also believe we get more pulling ability for the same horsepower.”

One month prior to the new baler delivery date, Runyon had a crew completely dismantle the existing feed conveyor, strip out the belt, rebuild and “beef up” the frame, and add a new belt with a sturdier drive mechanism to prepare for increased production. During the installation, the crew also repaired some damage that initially had gone undetected because it was hidden by the conveyor. All work occurred during a weekend to eliminate interruptions to the processing schedule. This practice also would be repeated during the new baler installation.

Giving it the Slip

Runyon says the installation at The Recyclery relied heavily upon — and benefited greatly from — advance planning. Dialogue with the equipment manufacturer helped to address issues well in advance of them becoming problems. Once the baler arrived onsite, however, neither all the planning in the world nor the best communications could have prepared The Recyclery for what was about to take place.

“This site is in a fairly tight area, physically speaking,” Runyon says, “so when the trailer carrying the baler components tried to swing into the property from the street, there was simply not enough room to make the turn. Instead, the driver had to pull through the building into the area where other trucks come through with recyclables. Unfortunately, even that wasn't wide enough, leaving the trailer slightly angled. If he were to continue forward, there was certain to be damage either to the truck, the facility or his cargo.”

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and this seemed the perfect time to illustrate that truism. Hopping down from the cab, the driver asked Runyon for liquid soap. “It was a strange request,” he says, “but we sent someone running and a bit later, they came back with a gallon jug of hand soap.” The driver applied it liberally to the 20-plus tires of the lowboy trailer, then asked one of the onsite loader operators to nudge the trailer. The lubricated tires slid easily on the pavement, pushing the trailer into a position where it could clear the doorway. “It was unbelievably resourceful — using $4's worth of soap to move an 84,000-pound piece of equipment nearly 3 feet,” Runyon says.

Working for the Weekend

The baler installation, like that of the feed conveyor a month prior, was conducted over a weekend. This was no small feat, considering the unit's size and the ancillary equipment. According to Runyon, planning again proved invaluable.

“Our ability to communicate was key in this installation,” he says. “For example, the control cabin for this baler is in a completely different location than that of the previous one. That created a new problem for the plant in terms of layout and getting access to that cabin. We also wanted a stairway rather than a ladder for speed of entry and egress, but there were simply not many places out on the floor for a stairway to come down. We had to do some real ‘back-of-the-envelope’ engineering here and sent the dimensions [to the equipment manufacturer] in advance. Doing things like that is always risky, but when the unit showed up, everyone was amazed at how perfectly it fit in the small space allocated for it.”

Work started on Friday noon and the plant had to be running bales by Monday at 3 a.m. The tight window included removing the old baler, installing the new one and handling any operational testing that needed to be conducted before going online. Runyon says the subcontractor hired to help with the installation assisted in moving heavy pieces of equipment in and out of narrow, confined areas. “In several critical areas, they had to get between columns, which are holding up conveyors, and somehow they managed,” he says. “The job is even more impressive given that no cranes were used inside this building; it was all accomplished by putting components on rollers and maneuvering them into place.”

Basking in the New Baler

Today, The Recyclery handles more than 240 tons per day of all types of recyclables. Of that, about 30 tons per day is glass, and the rest goes through the baler. While the new baler's overriding benefit is its ability to maintain higher throughputs, a number of features are paying big dividends. For example, a combo door — a bale separation and oversized bale release — allows The Recyclery to run 30 consecutive bales of cardboard and then quickly change over to baling aluminum cans. Employees can run without the door while baling cardboard and, when they want to change to cans, simply engage that door, fully eject the last cardboard bale and shut the door. There is no contamination, according to the facility. Also, if the bale is oversized, the door opens to the eject position and ejects that bale.

The baler also has a control system that an operator can set for a particular type of material, step back and let it run without supervision. For example, because plastic is a springy material, it needs to be double strapped, and the straps need to be closer together, Runyon explains. This information can be programmed into the baler, and the crew can adjust the settings to reduce the number of straps, when necessary.

The baler also can download data on command — a huge benefit to The Recyclery's inventory management efforts, according to Runyon. A modem-equipped controller allows the facility's staff to make remote diagnostics, he says.

Exceeding Expectations

According to Runyon, the new baler has met and surpassed the expected throughputs designated in the initial specs. “We are putting about 180 to 190 tons of material a day through the baler, running it, on average, about 11 hours a day,” he says. “Where the old baler had a cycle time of 25 seconds, the new one has a cycle time of about 8 seconds. We are making a 1,400-pound, mixed paper bale in about a minute. The old unit was simply incapable of those types of numbers.”

Yet even given the performance rates, Runyon still says the most impressive feat is The Recyclery's ability to replace an existing baler with a new one and be fully operational in such a short time period.

“There's no denying there was a financial incentive to get the new baler in place and operational,” Runyon says. “Failure to do so could have resulted in penalties of thousands of dollars per hour. However, having seen what I've seen, I'm convinced that even without that hanging over our heads, all the participants in this project would have done it right. This was just a classic example of how a project like this should be handled.”

Larry Trojak is a marketing communications specialist based in Ham Lake, Minn.