From Zero To 100 Tons In Four Weeks

Build it and they will come ... unprepared. While a material recovery facility (MRF) manager probably has toted along experience from another MRF, chances are, the interworkings of a MRF are new concepts to the rest of those involved.

Most likely, the maintenance staff has arrived from another manufacturing plant that uses equipment bearing little resemblance to MRF equipment. With luck, the crew will have solid hydraulic and electrical experience. The sorters and material handlers probably haven't a clue, and the baler operator may not know what a baler is, let alone how to avoid getting baled.

These are the folks who will have to take the new MRF from zero to 75 or 100 tons within four to six weeks.

"The training program is a key component of building and commissioning a MRF," says Melville, N.Y.-based RRT Systems' Engineering Manager Michael Jones, who has organized and carried out numerous training programs that get new plants up and running. "To pass the owner's acceptance test, we have to prove that the facility will do what we said it would do."

Thus, Jones must train the plant manager, maintenance crew, baler operators and material handlers. Fast. Over the years, RRT has developed a basic training process which Jones adapts to each new MRF the company commissions.

Training follows a strict schedule, according to Jones. First comes one to three days of classroom training. This depends upon plant size. For example, a small plant may need one day of classroom training, followed by four days of hands-on training, with more classroom work at the end of each hands-on day.

A new MRF usually introduces recycling to a community. Since few locally-hired sorters and equipment operators will understand the concept or know the equipment, classroom training begins with "Material Recovery 101." Everyone, except the management staff who has experience, attends these sessions. "We start by having the authority or municipality talk about the facility and the community's recycling goals," Jones says.

Next, trainers explain design drawings and plant layout to give employees a feel for how material will flow through the conveyors, shoots, magnets, air classifiers, eddy current separators and balers. "We spend a lot of time on nomenclature, defining the differences between PET, HDPE and other containers, showing the differences between the materials," Jones says. "For example, Heinz Catsup bottles look like HDPE, but they're vinyl."

Classroom discussions emphasize teamwork and cross training. On a paper-sorting line, for instance, a worker may miss a piece of corrugated and must call out for help down the line.

"We go over the control panel in detail," Jones says. "We talk about the lanyard stops and the emergency stops, when to use each and how to read the control panel to find out what's happening on different lines." Classroom training also covers operating and safety procedures, including personal protective equipment such as respirators, face masks and rubber-dipped leather gloves.

Unleashing The Students With barely a day to absorb the classroom information, hands-on training begins with the arrival of material to be processed, usually at some point during the second day. At start-up, the training staff fans out, taking up posts near the plant manager, maintenance manager, line supervisor, sorters and the baler operator.

The plant manager is up to speed, and the maintenance staff has plenty of back-up from the manufacturers and distributors, but the line supervisors, sorters and baler operators need close supervision during the initial stages. "There's a lot going on at this point," Jones says. "To run material, the sorters have to be trained. But you can't train the sorters before you run the material. It all has to happen at the same time. So it's a betwixt-and-between part of the process."

As the first material flows across the conveyors, sorters receive their hands-on introduction to sorting HDPE from PET from everything else. "We show them how to sort, how to work together, where the shoots are and what goes into each shoot," Jones says. "We also cover safety procedures again, making sure that everyone wears the proper protective equipment."

Although the magnets, air classifiers and eddy current separators operate autonomously and are self-cleaning, training specifies daily checks of this equipment. "You have to check the oil levels on the magnets daily," Jones explains. "It's also important to check the tracking of the belts on the magnet and the pulley alignments."

The eddy current separator also requires one or two daily checks to ensure that no metal has infiltrated the drum. Although the maintenance people check the drums, Jones believes the line supervisor needs to know how to do this as well.

The line supervisor also must learn to adjust the slide gates that direct the air flow on the air classification system. And, the plant manager, fore-person and line supervisors have to get comfortable with the control panel. The training staff goes over the start-up procedure by turning on the plant and initiating the flow of material. "Sometimes, we'll hit the emergency stop before they start up, to see if they can figure out why the lines won't run," he says.

Jones' trainers go over the equipment being controlled from the main panel, paying special attention to the lanyards that stop part of the line and to the emergency stops that shut the entire line down. Trainers spell out the layout of the control panel again, ensuring that everyone understands what the green, yellow and red lights mean.

Trainers work with material handlers on the floor. Their responsibilities include clean-up throughout the day and filling in on sorting lines whenever needed. At the baler, the operator has begun intensive training, which usually is provided by the manufacturer or distributor.

"When we buy a baler, we purchase a three-to-five-day training period," Jones says. "I also recommend sending baler operators to schools operated by the manufacturers. It may cost $1,500 for training, travel and personal expenses, but it's worth it."

"This equipment takes time to explain," says Randy Smith, General Kinematics field service manager who conducts training sessions both at its Barrington, Ill., plant and on-site. "In the recycling industry, we get a lot of inexperienced people, and we may have to cover the basics before moving on to operations."

"We give hands-on training at the time of installation which includes day-long sessions on hydraulics, electrical service, the operator control station, mechanics and preventive maintenance, says Lynda Kaperonis from Lindemann, Charlotte, N.C.

And, in addition to training during installation, Marathon Equipment Co., Vernon, Ala., offers three-day training schools annually at sites nationwide and overseas, reports the program's director, David McGee.

Free training seminars are provided for the customers of Harris Waste Management Group, Peachtree City, Ga., says Mac Hancock, service engineer "We cover the basics, including hydraulic principles and the components of the different machines. Then, we develop a hydraulic circuit that applies to whatever the course covers: balers or shears."

It's important for operators to know enough about the baler design to make simple adjustments on their own without calling maintenance. Jones gives hands-on baler training that includes the basics such as emergency shutdown procedures and daily maintenance tasks such as checking the fluid levels, limit switch settings and cleaning.

"Most balers are fully automatic," Jones says. "The operators' responsibility involves supervising the machine and making sure it's operating properly and efficiently."

A key area of baler training focuses on the wire-tie system. "The biggest problem with any baler is the wire-tie," Jones says. "You have to know how to release jams and keep the track clean. Usually, we'll arrange to have a representative from the wire-tie system vendor present during training to go over this with the operator."

Hands-on training also highlights unique operational aspects, such as what to do when medical wastes show up on the line. "OSHA guidelines cover medical wastes," he explains.

"The procedure is to shut down the line and call a supervisor who will bring a special tool kit designed for disposing of medical wastes. Then, you have to find out what truck brought these wastes to the plant to ensure that it won't happen again."

At the end of the first day, everyone returns to the classroom for questions, answers and a general review.

"Repetition is key," Jones says. "After the first day, we sum everything up, and the next day we do it all over again, this time using more material. By the third day, everyone is getting his or her job down.

"We're careful not to ramp up too fast, but we also focus on bringing the plant up to full capacity as quickly as possible," he continues. "It's never good to take it too slowly."

Waste-To-Energy Facility Training While MRF operators only have begun to systematize their training programs recently, for years, waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities have followed rigorous training regimens regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), OSHA as well as the operators themselves.

"We're subject to EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act and also to a number of OSHA regulations," reports Dennis Joseph, manager of training with Ogden Waste- To-Energy Inc., Huntsville, Ala.

Ogden operates 28 plants nationwide, and WTE personnel must take one or several mandatory courses, according to Joseph. Plant managers, chief engineers, chief facility operators, control room operators and shift supervisors must complete a Municipal Waste Combustor Operator Training Program, a 36-hour classroom course taught by EPA-certified instructors.

Also, every WTE plant must provide specific training to anyone whose responsibilities may affect combustion, such as mechanics, electricians, operators and plant managers.

This training is based on a manual, which the EPA requires each plant to develop, covering subjects identified by federal regulations such as permitting, combustion processes, continuous environmental monitoring systems, environmental operating instructions and handling fuel and ash.

"We provide this training in the classroom and out in the plant," Joseph says. "No specific testing is mandatory, but we require our people to pass a written test."

The EPA also requires two certifications for chief facility operators and shift supervisors. The first is a provisional certification, which requires passing a written test administered by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) which covers WTE facility theory, operation and design.

After six months, provisional certification expires, and operators and supervisors must pass an oral exam leading to operator certification, administered at the facility by a three member board consisting of:

* an ASME representative, who supervises the test;

* an industry representative who handles the technical examination; and

* a representative from the EPA or state environmental agency.

This exam requires demonstrating expertise in seven areas: refuse and ash, combustion, steam, environmental regulations, electricity, safety and administration.

Federal environmental law requires the states to adopt the federal certification program or to develop their own process. To date, only Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia have developed their own requirements.

"If you go through a state program, you don't have to do the federal program, but you can't work outside the state," Joseph says. "However, the federal program is transferable."

In addition to regulatory-based training, Ogden has developed plant start-up and continuous training programs.

"Each of our plants has a training coordinator who is responsible for carrying out the training," Joseph explains.

Ogden's start-up training is computerized and constructed around 15 lessons. "[The course] requires at least 66 hours of classroom study, but if the material is new to the person, it might take twice as long," he says.

Joseph also has developed a training program called "Systems Training Enhancement Program" (STEP), which provides on-the-job instruction for new hires.

"New employees in existing plants have missed the start-up training," he says. "STEP brings them up to speed. It includes manuals covering six areas."

Whatever the facility, training necessarily becomes a whirlwind tour of operations. Many facilities, according to industry observers, don't train well, but as the programs developed by RRT and Ogden illustrate, systematic and professional training not only is possible, but is the only way to go from zero to 100 tons of processing as quickly as necessary.

Are you ready to begin training? Not if you haven't completed the following steps, according to Michael Jones of RRT, Melville, N.Y.:

1. Develop a plan for classroom and hands-on training in operations, safety, maintenance and management, including a schedule with real dates and times of day.

2. Set dates and times for material to arrive at the plant, moving up from five or 10 tons per day during the first few days.

3. Identify personnel and their positions including the plant manager, maintenance crew and sorting staff.

4. Circulate the training plan for the approval of the owner and management.

5. Schedule trainers. Jones schedules himself and several people from his engineering department and also arranges schedules for training by the equipment manufacturers.

6. Schedule the plant start-up to coincide with training. Material can't run through a plant without an operating baler, and a baler can't run without a trained operator.

7. Satisfy administrative requirements for start up by acquiring all operating and environmental permits and insurance policies, and by completing safety, fire, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections.