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As prices for copper hit highs last year, demand for wire strippers used to recover copper and aluminum from electrical and telephone cables has likewise surged. "We're coming off three to four years in a row that have been the best years we've ever had," says Bob Alexander, president of 20-year-old stripper manufacturer Strip Technology Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas. "We sold about 1,800 machines in 2006 and the goal is to sell 2,500 in 2007."
Traditional wire stripper buyers include general scrap metal recyclers as well as wire and cable manufacturers, construction and demolition firms and ship dismantlers. Electricians and electrical contractors represent a new market driven by high metals prices. The price increment for bare copper is high enough now that electricians who used to sell un-stripped scrap cable whole are buying their own strippers and removing the copper before sale. Strippers are even selling to individuals who collect cable and wire from electricians and strip it for resale, Alexander says.
Modern stripping machines make recycling an attractive proposition, says Sean Abenstein, sales manager for stripper manufacturer Gensco Equipment Inc. in Toronto. "The old style of stripping cable is sitting on a bench with an X-Acto knife and shredding off the plastic insulation," Abenstein says. "With a cable stripping machine it's very easy and quick to put a single slit in the top of the conductor and peel away the copper from the insulation."
Strip Technology sells four models of stripper, from the benchtop Model 1000 to the Model 5000. The Model 3000 is the overwhelming choice for recyclers, Alexander says. It is a heavy-duty upright machine that employs a 3 horsepower, 220 volt electrical motor and gearbox to process approximately 100 feet per minute of cable from 1/8 inch up to 2 1/2 inch in size.
Strip Technology recently reintroduced its Model 1500, which Alexander describes as the entry-level system for recyclers. "It's basically a smaller model of the Model 3000," he says. It handles wire up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and a 115 volt single-phase motor so it can be plugged into a regular extension cord.
Gensco offers three models popular for recycling: the CSX001, CSX101 and CSX201. All handle wire as small as 1/16 inch. The CSX001 strips cable up to 2 3/8 inches in diameter at 60 feet per minute. "The machine is very easy to use, it's compact and it's a bench-like model," says Abenstein. "It makes very light work of stripping cable. You can go through a lot of cable in a very short time."
The CSX101 processes up to 3-inch cable at 80 feet per minute. The CSX201 handles up to 4 1/2 inch cable at 100 feet per minute. "Most of the bigger recycling yards are using our CSX201," says Abenstein. "It's a more rugged machine for common recycling use."
In Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, Greenberg Engineering Company's most popular model is the 312 SPA. President Bill Greenberg says one of the features of the machine is its ability to cut through very thick insulation. "On a high voltage cable it can be 3/4 of an inch thick," he says. "We can cut through that in one pass." Greenberg's 312 SPA has a 5 horsepower motor and can process up to 180 feet per minute, handling from small household-type wire up to 3 1/2 inch cable.
Copper prices have fallen in the first part of 2007, but new markets are opening up for wire stripper manufacturers. Alexander says European buyers have been especially enthusiastic recently and sales there, where he has only been selling for three years, are now rivaling the domestic market. "This year is the year that everybody there realized we're going to be around for a while and the orders are pouring in. The fax machine is constantly going off," he says.
Meanwhile, wire granulating machines and technology developed in Europe and long used there are being imported into the United States. These machines take pre-cut short lengths of aluminum- and copper-containing cables and reduce the materials to small bits. Air jets then typically separate the different metals and insulation. Granulation can be a more efficient way to process large quantities of smaller-gauge household wires and extension cords. "The time spent stripping is still very tedious with the smaller cable," says Abenstein.
Manual strippers represent another expanding market. These machines are much lower in cost than motor-driven models. While their capacity as measured in cable size and processing speed is also smaller, they are attractive to individuals and small electrical contractors getting into stripping for the first time, says Alexander, who plans to introduce his own heavy-duty manual machine this spring. "There's a big push on those right now," he says. "If I had that product right now, I could sell about 10 a day."
But high-powered motorized strippers should continue to be the backbone of sales to the recycling industry. "It's very difficult to manually strip bigger insulated cable," says Abenstein. "The plastic is a lot harder to cut through, but a cable stripping machine makes light work of that cable. You're talking way more productivity."