Megan Workman

The author is associate editor of Recycling Today magazine.


Upkeep up, downtime down

Material Handling Equipment Focus

Preventive maintenance and operator performance are necessary for extending the longevity of grapples.

November 10, 2014

It is quality over quantity, unless your operation has just two maintenance workers for a fleet of 11 cranes and 24 pieces of equipment. That was the case when Theodore, Alabama-based Mack Manufacturing Vice President of Sales and Marketing Matt Davidson showed up to service a 1-year-old grapple on a material handler in Taiwan.

Davidson says the shafts of the hydraulic scrap handler “hadn’t been greased since we greased it when we sold it,” which was more than a year before his repair visit. With just two maintenance employees on staff, Davidson says the Chinese company was merely fixing repairs as they occurred instead of implementing preventive maintenance measures to stop them from happening.

“All they could do is fix things, and they couldn’t maintain anything,” Davidson says of the Chinese company’s operations.

“Maintenance is critical, and greasing the shafts is the No. 1 [step],” he adds.

Davidson says greasing not only can extend the life of shafts and bushings, the effort also will result in a longer-lasting grapple overall. He suggests greasing the grapple every crew shift change, or every eight hours. Using grease guns can help to save time, he adds.

Many operators, however, do not take the time to lubricate equipment, resulting in increased costs as well as in downtime. Davidson explains, “You can extend the life of your shafts and bushings tremendously if you take the time to grease them. That’s what we find most people don’t do.”

He continues, “The hydraulic system doesn’t have to work as hard when it’s greased, and when you have dry shafts causing friction that increases the wear on that hydraulic system.”

Operator actions

Preventive maintenance ultimately affects how long grapples last, Davidson says. The operator also plays a significant role in how long the piece of equipment will last.

Jose Segura, owner of Houston-based equipment supplier J.S. Industrial Supply, says how the operator maintains and uses the grapple daily affects its longevity.

J.S. Industrial Supply has been selling four- and five-tine Mack grapples for 20 years, with about 70 percent of its business in Mexico, Segura says.

Making maintenance matter

With a considerable amount of consolidation occurring in the recycling industry, many mom-and-pop scrap yards have been purchased by large steel mills or scrap companies. These acquisitions have had an effect on a range of business matters, including the daily maintenance equipment requires.

Matt Davidson, vice president of sales and marketing for Theodore, Alabama-based Mack Manufacturing, says he has seen more attention paid to maintenance since these consolidations have occurred.

He explains, “What I’ve seen happening in the scrap business is you’ve had some major players that have gobbled up all the mom-and-pop scrap yards.” He references Commercial Metals Co. (CMC), a metals recycling, manufacturing, fabricating and trading enterprise headquartered in Irving, Texas; recycling company Padnos, based in Holland, Michigan; and the stainless steel recycling firm ELG Metals Inc., a part of ELG-Haniel, headquartered in Duisburg, Germany, as companies that have been buying scrap yards.

Some steel mills are relying on contractors, such as these large scrap metal companies, to manage equipment maintenance, according to Davidson.

He points to Tube City IMS Corp., Glassport, Pennsylvania, a company providing steel mill services to customers throughout the world, as a firm that also offers equipment maintenance through its scrap management system.

“Tube City has maintenance crews servicing its equipment, and truthfully they’re probably doing a better job than old mom-and-pop [scrap yards] that were too busy that they had ‘Joe Blow’ fix problems as they happened,” Davidson says.

He continues, “Steel mills today realize the value of maintenance on their equipment.”

He says he knows of grapples sold to recycling companies that are still in use after two decades, while others are worn out after a year and a half of use, all dependent on operator performance.

“No. 1 with preventive maintenance has to do with the man who is operating the grapple,” Segura says. “It is very critical to know how to operate the grapple, and it has to have maintenance.”

While some users will blame a grapple’s inefficiencies on a bad bearing or weak tines, Segura says, “It’s the punishment operators put on the grapples.”

He continues, “You can build one super-solid piece of equipment, but if it’s not used properly, [operators] are going to destroy it.”

Davidson recounts a scenario in which an operator at a scrap yard slammed the company’s grapple up against rail cars to alert the rail operator to start moving, “and when it started moving, they just swung [the grapple] and slammed it against the rail car again.”

This type of abuse will only diminish a grapple’s performance, he says.

Scrap handler operators also should be aware of the type of material they are handling or sorting to protect not only the machine but also themselves, Davidson says. “If they’re handling engine blocks or aluminum siding that’s a big difference in density,” Davidson says, adding, “Ultimately, it’s the operator’s responsibility to look at that lift chart to see how much it can pick up.”

Tips on tines

Davidson mentions other preventive maintenance steps scrap handler operators can take to increase the life of their grapples as well as to save money.

In addition to making an effort to lubricate parts during each shift change, Davidson recommends operators check a grapple’s overall condition with a visual inspection. That worker might find a crack or other damage that could be taken care of before it worsens.

Davidson mentions another inevitable situation: A grapple’s tine tips will wear. When a grapple closes, its tine tips come together, stopping the cylinders. Worn tine tips will cause the piston rod to stop the grapple, eventually wearing out the cylinders. He adds, “Maintain those tine tips; build them up with weld or replace them.”

Segura agrees. “When the customer does not weld the tips on the end of each tine, that puts stress on the cylinder,” he says. “I’ve seen that many times. Mainly, rebuilding tips has to be done.”

Managing the rotation package also is important, Davidson says. The grapple should have a good hydraulic system, including keeping seal kits clean.

Wear and tear

With each new grapple model development, the equipment’s rotation system and cylinder design are typically addressed, helping to alleviate potential maintenance problems, Davidson says.

In the past, for example, cylinder rods were exposed, but recent improvements from numerous equipment manufacturers offer rod covers to protect this part of the tool. “Back in the old days, the rods were open, now they have a shield to cover them from getting damaged,” he notes.

Genesis Attachments, based in Superior, Wisconsin, announced in August 2014 that its GSG scrap grapples are now available in 10 sizes. Of its numerous features—designed to reduce maintenance, improve durability, lower operating costs and enhance safety—the company says its reverse-mounted cylinders protect the rods from damage. The scrap grapples also include a heavy-duty cylinder guarding system that protects the cylinders and internal components and is easily removed for maintenance, Genesis says.

When Northshore Manufacturing, Two Harbors, Minnesota, introduced two new Builtrite-branded grapples, the company boasted a number of improvements over previous versions, including the addition of heavy-duty cylinder shrouds and abrasion-resistant, bolt-on wear bars on the grapple edges.

Davidson says most companies are using abrasion-resistant steel as “it holds up better to wear and tear.”


The author is associate editor of Recycling Today and can be reached at


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