Facility Operations: Enough of this Scrap!

Dec. 1, 2008
Recycling scrap can create new revenue.
An employee feeds scrap into a Sweed model 450WM chopper located near the receiving dock.

Whatever you’re warehousing, distributing or manufacturing, chances are awkward, unwieldy scrap steel and/or plastic strapping gets in the way. How you handle the mass of steel and plastic straps holding pallets and product together, and how effectively you handle production scrap, can actually help or hurt the bottom line.

Once it has served its purpose, steel and plastic strap is a pain to handle and dispose. It gets in the way, poses safety hazards, takes up valuable dock and production space, becomes an eyesore and usually ends up being handled multiple times, which slows productivity and adds labor cost.

Some companies, though, are finding an innovative way to handle this scrap. They are chopping it up and recycling it. Mechanical scrap choppers cut discarded material into small, manageable lengths, ready to be recycled.

One company that provides this type of chopping equipment is Gold Hill, Ore.-based Sweed Machinery Inc. Its scrap choppers can chop linear steel, plastic and other materials into small pieces at the point of generation for easy recycling as a well as a space-saving ratio of 20:1. Plastic strap, for example, can be reduced to chips that are 3/16th of an inch in size. The resulting scrap can be sold to scrap dealers.

Scrapping the Old Way
One company taking advantage of this technology is North American Galvanizing Co. based in Tulsa, Okla. The company provides corrosion protection for fabricated steel products. Using Sweed choppers helped North American Galvanizing’s Nashville, Tenn., facility achieve quick payback and add to the bottom line.

“We expected ROI in one year on a pair of Sweed choppers—one on the dock and one in production,” says Mitch Massey, plant manager of the Nashville facility. “With the choppers handling scrap at the point of production, we will add about $50,000 to the bottom line each year in labor savings and the added value of the scrap.”

Before using the choppers, the plant had to find ways to discard steel shipping straps in the receiving area as well as wire used during the galvanizing process in production. “Staff initially tossed the scrap into piles,”explains Massey. “We had five- to 10-foot steel shipping straps piled up in the receiving area as well as piles of wire scrap spread across the production floor.”

At the end of each shift, employees tossed the scrap into containers that were rolled through the receiving area and plant. This was easier said than done, though, since the bent and twisted scrap often had to be untangled from piles before it could be picked up.

The scrap would then be dumped into two 20-yard containers in the receiving yard. Because it took up so much container space, the scrap had to be crushed periodically with a backhoe or power shovel to make room for more scrap, and that wasted even more labor time. Employees also occasionally had to move the 20-yard containers around in the receiving area to make room to unload incoming shipments.

“The inefficient scrap handling was costing us too much in time, labor and resources,” reports Massey. “We also wanted to get the scrap off the floor where it posed a safety hazard to staff.” Besides posing a tripping hazard, the loose straps and wire could also get tangled in the wheels or driveshafts of moving equipment.

Choppers in Action
Introducing scrap choppers solved these problems. According to Massey, it was just as easy to feed scrap into an automatic feed chopper as it was to toss it on the floor or against a wall. “When the automatic feed starts, the operator can walk away, and the chopped scrap drops into a drum,” he says.

For the facility, handling scrap is now a one-step process. “Since the chopped scrap is so compact, we only need to move the scrap containers once a week instead of once a day,” continues Massey. In addition, scrap material that once over-filled a 20-yard container now fits neatly into two 55-gallon drums.

“Overall, we have reclaimed several hundred feet of space in production and the receiving yard,” reports Massey.

Labor savings have been impressive, too. Handling the scrap just once, at the point of generation, instead of several different times, saves a crew of six employees about six hours of labor a day.

Revenue is increasing, as well. Before, the plant was earning about three to five cents a pound for the scrap steel it sold to scrap dealers. Now, since the scrap is so easy to handle, process and recycle, the plant recently received 19 cents a pound for chopped wire and 27 cents a pound for chopped steel straps.

“Instead of getting a couple of hundred dollars a month selling general steel scrap, we recently received $9,000 selling chopped steel scrap,” states Massey. “This is found money that we had never capitalized on before. It is now going straight to our bottom line.”

A final benefit relates to safety regulations. “Not only have the scrap choppers helped us aesthetically, but also with OSHA concerns by eliminating potential trip hazards,” adds Massey. “The cleaner plant is also a plus with employees and visiting clients.”

Another satisfied customer is Winston-Salem, N.C.- based Pine Hall Brick, a brick and paver manufacturer. The company used eight-foot, plastic straps to secure brick cubes for transport. Before introducing the choppers, the company typically disposed of several hundred of these straps per day. Too busy to deal with the damaged straps while they were working, employees threw them on the floor to be collected later.

“At the day’s end, gathering the plastic straps was like trying to untangle a rat’s nest,” explains Tommy Goins, plant manager. “Folding a few straps into a drum for transport to a dumpster wasn’t hard. However, doing so to a few hundred was much harder.”

Investing in Sweed choppers solved the problem. “Now, when a plastic strap breaks, we put it into a scrap chopper, and it is taken care of on the spot,” continues Goins. “At the end of the day, there are no piles of straps to gather and untangle.” In addition, according to Goins, since employees handle each strap only once, it saves hours a day in labor.

And, there are some additional benefits. “The scrap chopper has cleaned up our operation, lessened our impact on the environment and makes us look good during plant tours and client visits,” he concludes.

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, Calif.

Scrap-Chopping Resources

There are several manufacturers and distributors of chopping equipment for steel and plastic strapping. Some of these include:

Industrial Carbide Saw and Tool

Johnson Systems

Samuel Strapping Systems

Sweed Machinery Inc.

Triangle Technologies

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