Running a full service auto recycling
operation today typically means volume. In a lot of cases…it
means thousands of vehicles per month. With a typical body
weighing about 2,500 lbs., it’s a lot of weight to be
shuffling around the yard. That’s why moving those hulks
from one point to another is done more and more today with
a wheel loader and specialized set of forks. While there are
other ways to move auto bodies around the yard, a loader and
forks is almost always quicker, safer and more cost-effective
in the long run.
This month, we’ll look at wheel loaders
and their role in auto recycling, along with the essential
option of purpose-built forks. Traditional forklifts, as well
as skid steers will likely be included in a future spotlight.
Plenty of choices
Wheel loaders – or in many cases “tool
carriers” – have become the workhorse of the auto
recycling industry. Like the four-legged variety, they come
in a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes. For moving autos,
buyers need to be aware of several key points.
Dan Snedecor, product manager – wheel
loaders, for Volvo Construction Equipment said, “Safety
is the single most important consideration, so we begin by
helping customers size the machine correctly for their needs.
Auto recyclers are lifting and moving around the yard with
as much as 4,000 lbs. on the forks with a single vehicle.
The loader must be stable under those conditions and operators
should take into account the surface of the yard they’re
working in. Rough ground requires higher load ratings for
increased stability. The center of gravity of the load will
shift as it moves across a rough yard. It’s all part
of understanding the application,” he said.
Beyond sizing, there’s the need for
a safe, sure lift. Advancements in lifting mechanisms on a
lot of today’s loaders have improved safety considerably.
According to Mr. Snedecor, “For auto recycling, customers
should look for a loader that offers ‘parallel lift’
capability. Parallel lift is essential because the forks stay
level as the boom is raised. Systems without parallel lift
will let the forks tilt forward some as the boom is raised.
This can pose obvious safety issues,” he said.
Next is the issue of visibility. Loader
operators have several issues to deal with that require a
clear line of sight. An unrestricted view of the tips of the
fork is important to ensure he can load the vehicle safely,
and for salvage operations - without damaging anything. In
addition, it is often important to be able to see the front
wheels of the loader; simply to be sure nothing is run over.
The most significant consideration for visibility though,
is making sure the driver can see where he’s going with
a body on the forks. That’s where cab height comes into
play. Some loaders, such as Kawasaki’s 60 K-Lift –
designed specifically for the auto recycling industry –
place the operator high enough to see what’s going on
around him. When comparing loaders, there’s no better
way to determine how high is high enough than by strapping
yourself in for a test drive.
Another feature gaining in popularity today
is the ability of a loader to offer full hydraulic control
at lower engine speeds. There are essentially two types of
hydraulic system designs – an open system, or a closed
system. Open systems depend on the loader engine speed to
drive the hydraulic pumps fast enough to provide sufficient
lift and perform basic hydraulic functions. However, with
the engine running faster, the loader can be more demanding
to control. Low idle hydraulic performance enables the operator
to lift, tilt and spot a vehicle, all while running the diesel
engine at idle. It’s made possible by a closed hydraulic
system. Closed systems rely on load sensing hydraulic technology
and variable displacement pumps. The primary benefits of a
closed hydraulic system is the operator has full hydraulic
power, and a loader that’s much easier to control.
If space is limited, and the loader must
get in and out of tight quarters in the yard, an articulated
frame might be essential for the auto recycler. Articulated
loaders are designed with a hinge in the middle of the chassis,
roughly halfway between the axles. An integral part of the
steering, movement along the hinge is modulated by hydraulic
cylinders. When the chassis turns, it allows the rear wheels
to track the same as the front. The payoff is a greatly reduced
turning radius, allowing the unit to maneuver around tight
places. “Articulated loaders are made for getting around
in a crowded yard,” said Dan Snedecor. “The reduced
turning radius means racks can be placed closer together,
and the unit needs less space to get the job done,”
Operating costs for loaders can vary over
longer periods of time. Following the manufacturer’s
recommended service intervals can minimize that expense, and
keeping the unit properly maintained on a day-to-day basis
makes sense. A primary benefit of the low idle hydraulic system
design though, is lower operating costs. Volvo Construction
Equipment says, “By running the loaders’ engine
at a lower speed, less fuel is consumed, less noise is created
and demands on higher wear parts are reduced. This translates
to lower operating costs as years go by.”
Other considerations for loaders include:
wheel size; ground clearance; transmission options; creature
comforts and of course, dealer support in your market.
Put a fork in it
Once you’ve chosen the right loader, the right
set of forks – designed specifically for auto recycling
– can boost productivity even more.
A set of forks is made up of two individual
blades or “tines,” and a rack. In most cases,
the width between the tines can be adjusted to fit the load.
The length, shape and material of the fork combine to determine
its suitability for any given job.
Elmer Secker, president of SAS Forks, Luxemburg,
Wisconsin, has been building custom forks for nearly 35 years,
and offers more than 60,000 different configurations of forks.
“A fork is only as good as the material it’s made
from,” notes Mr. Secker. “And material types fall
into three different classes. Entry level is T-1 steel that
has a 90,000 lb. yield rating. Next up is a forged fork with
a yield of about 120,000 lbs. But the best material is a custom
alloy that we blend specifically for the highest performance,
longest lasting set of forks you can buy. We don’t talk
much about what goes in them though,” he mused.
Typically, auto-crushing yards use a shorter,
side entry fork to load vehicles in the crusher and to remove
logs or bales afterwards. It’s a versatile, lighter
duty item that can be used for lifting just about anything
under 5,000 lbs. A good set of auto body forks will cost between
$3,500 and $4,000.
Today, many auto salvage and recycling operations
use a much longer fork that lifts a vehicle lengthwise. This
helps keep the undercarriage and saleable components on the
bottom of the vehicle in the best condition.
According to Elmer Secker, “Many of
the smaller yards don’t have a crusher on site, so a
lot of autos are crushed with a fork. Crushing forks weigh
around 3,000 lbs. and are designed for brute strength. With
some practice, a good loader operator can flatten vehicles
well enough for transporting to a shredder,” he said.
Depending on if it’s a quick coupling, or a pin-to-pin
design, a crushing fork will cost most recyclers about $4,500.
The length, width and material type of the tines will also
The key to choosing the right set of forks
for your operation is understanding exactly how they will
be used. The right forks for the right application can be
used on a daily basis for years with no maintenance. Ten,
twenty, thirty or more years is not uncommon.