around any scrap metal recycling yard today and you’ll
find a wide variety of equipment. While some may be unique
to each operation, most recyclers agree that a good baler
is essential to their success in the business.
Balers compress saleable ferrous scrap
into a more uniform, rectangular shape (sometimes referred
to as a “log”) and enable scrap metal recyclers
to move baled material more efficiently from the yard to
the shredder or to the mill, depending on a number of factors.
To avoid any confusion, it is important
to distinguish bales of scrap ferrous from logs. “The
difference is density,” said Charlie Hall, president
of Iron Ax, Inc. of Hadley, Georgia, makers of balers and
loggers for the scrap metal industry. “A baler typically
produces a tighter, denser bale of metal, weighing from
between 70 to 95 pounds per cubic foot of material. And
because bales will usually contain more similar grades of
metal, they are almost always sold and delivered directly
to a steel mill, without further processing by a shredder,”
In contrast, a “log” of mixed
ferrous metal, such as auto bodies for example, is much
looser and less dense than a bale, running from 30 to 50
pounds of metal per cubic foot. Logs of scrap metal will
usually go to a shredder.
“A lot of shredders either can’t
or won’t process the denser bales,” said Mr.
Hall. “Sometimes, they could even damage the shredder,”
Choosing a baler
Balers can be a significant capital investment
for most metals recyclers, so choosing the right one for
your operation is important. Roger Williams, national sales
manager for American Baler Corporation in Bellevue, Ohio
said, “High volume recyclers can pay for a baler through
cost savings in labor, storage and handling in just a short
time,” he said. “Operating without one means
doing most everything the hard way,” he added.
There are many things to consider before
choosing a baler. Most balers for ferrous metals are horizontal,
rather than vertical, and they can be portable (mobile)
or stationary. Recyclers should begin with a clear understanding
of their customers’ requirements, as well as how it
will be used in the operation. “You have to know the
limits on what your customer can or cannot handle,”
said Charlie Hall. “Maximum bale size is critical,
both in dimensions and weight. Bale density is the key factor.
You can’t be shipping bales that are too big to process.
And if they’re too small, there’s additional
labor and handling costs involved on both ends,” he
Once customer requirements are met, recyclers
should look at the maximum density a baler can produce.
Balers with more compaction force enable recyclers to process
a wide range of material types and create a nice, tight
bale. The latest offering from Iron Ax, for example, features
variable density selection – up to 4,350 psi –
through a simple “up-arrow/down-arrow” keypad
input from the crane operator’s cab. Charlie Hall
points out, “With so much scrap metal going overseas
today, exporters want a baler than can fill a cargo container
for the best value on shipping costs. The variable density
feature gives operators a lot of flexibility to produce
whatever bale size they need depending on the material involved.”
The most common source of power for today’s
stationary ferrous balers is electric motors. In contrast,
portable balers are most always equipped with diesel engines.
Shoppers should first consider whether a stationary baler
is best for their needs, or if a portable model is the better
Productivity and training
In high volume operations, loading and unloading
the baler is handled by crane, and many of the portable
models either come equipped with a crane, or offer options.
The crane boosts productivity by moving
material in and out of the baler safely, and as quickly
According to Jose Pereya, general sales
manager for Sierra International Machinery in Bakersfield,
California, “There are basically three factors that
impact productivity of a ferrous metals baler - the material
mix, cycle time and the size and design of the charging
box. The mix is obvious. Some materials are easier to work
with than others. Cycle times vary from baler to baler,
and can be as long as several minutes. A good-sized charging
box measures about 13 feet long by 7 feet wide. That enables
operators to process more material per cycle of the ram,”
he said. “In addition, certain models of the Sierra
balers feature an ejector to move finished bales from the
charging box. That helps to keep metal moving quickly through
the baling process,” he added.
Of course, skilled operators are important
for safety and productivity as well. Most manufacturers
offer some form of training, either before or after the
sale of the baler. “We often bring our customers into
our own yard,” said Charlie Hall of Iron Ax. That
way, they can operate the baler themselves under the supervision
of our own people, and learn exactly how things are done
before they take delivery.”
Ralph Johnson, vice president and sales
manager of the R.M. Johnson Company in Annandale, Minnesota
added, “Knowing how to make a good bale is as important
as knowing how to run the baler. We recommend that new operators
put larger pieces of steel in the box first, then place
the smaller pieces in the middle. Larger pieces complete
the charge, so the bale stays together better. By stressing
both baler function and how to make a good bale, new operators
become productive more quickly. And once we leave our customer’s
site, they can always call to ask questions or address other
issues with us on the phone,” he said.
Keeping a baler running well isn’t too difficult.
Doug Sebastian, executive vice president, Harris Waste Management
Group, Inc. said, “A regular schedule for greasing
pivot points, checking hydraulic components and filters,
and inspecting the charge box lining are about all there
is to it.”
Of late, engineering has played an increasingly
more important role in baler maintenance as well. Doug Sebastian
continues, “Recently, most all of the Harris balers
were re-designed for improved accessibility to key system
functions. The new, ‘flooded suction power unit’
design places the hydraulic pump at the lowest point in
the system, ensuring it stays lubricated, and makes it much
simpler to access when service is necessary,” he said.
Advances in hydraulic cylinder design and sealing technology
have improved baler performance, too.
Baling ferrous metals is a tough job, and
good maintenance begins with a solid, heavy-duty design.
Critical wear parts, such as charge box liners for example,
are replaceable on most ferrous metals balers today. That’s
good news, because as a consequence, a well designed, well
maintained baler could be expected to last a long time.
“We estimate that about 90% of all Harris balers built
over the past 30 years are still in operation today,”
said Mr. Sebastian.