Megan Workman

The author is associate editor of Recycling Today magazine.


The cost of commitment

Baling Equipment Focus

Lewis Salvage owner Mike Lewis shares how continuing a committed relationship with an equipment supplier has benefited his family-owned company as well as its customers.

February 11, 2015

Customer loyalty can make or break a business. If clients are satisfied, and the products and services offered to them are sufficient for their needs, their valued experience with a company will keep them coming back.

With numerous brand options available for any product or service, maintaining long-term relationships with customers is crucial for companies.

Mike Lewis, owner of Warsaw, Indiana-based Lewis Salvage, knows all about customer loyalty. Not only has his recycling, container transportation and metals processing company gained new, committed customers over the years, the family-owned business also has stayed true to its baling equipment supplier.

That customer loyalty has helped the fifth generation scrap processor to grow, both in terms of tonnage processed today to how many balers the company uses in its daily operations.

Lewis shares how continuing a committed relationship with its baling equipment supplier Sierra International Machinery, Bakersfield, California, has benefited his family-owned company as well as its customers.

Work together

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, and that is exactly how Lewis has handled his relationship with Sierra in regard to the baling equipment he runs at his Warsaw yard.

“I don’t think anybody else really has come up with an alternative to the Sierra equipment,” Lewis says of his more than 25-year commitment to the equipment manufacturer. “Since 1989, Sierra has been all we’ve used as it’s just been the best thing for us.”

Lewis Salvage has owned nearly 20 different pieces of Sierra equipment since 1989, Lewis says. He currently owns seven Sierra grapples and several balers.

For baling ferrous materials, from industrial production clips to shredder feedstock, the scrap processor uses a Sierra 4200 baler. The company also bales a mixture of unprepared ferrous shredding material, which Lewis refers to as “my own secret concoction,” using the 4200 baler.

To bale nonferrous materials—the company collects materials ranging from aluminum cans to copper tubing— Lewis operates a Sierra two-ram REB-2 baler.

After purchasing a Sierra T750 SL shear/baler for a demolition job in Indianapolis, Lewis says he moved the shear/baler to the company’s Warsaw location to use on site.

While Lewis says he has used different shear/balers, capable of shearing from 380 tons to 500 tons, the T750 SL shear/baler is the largest machine of this type Lewis Salvage has owned to date.

He says the 750 will not replace the 4200 baler; rather, the two balers will work simultaneously to process in even more volume.

“Over the years, I’ve know what size is needed for what we do,” Lewis says, adding, “I’m moving this 750 back to Warsaw because I’m ready to go to the next size. I’m not ready to get rid of the 4200; it will be [used] in addition to the 750 to step up production.”

The addition of another baler correlates to the company’s growth, Lewis says.

Lewis Salvage processes more than 50,000 tons of ferrous materials and nearly 4,000 tons of nonferrous materials per year. That is an increase from the 30,000 tons of ferrous materials and 2,000 tons of nonferrous materials the company was processing a decade ago.

Most of Lewis’ bales head to steel mills and shredders, he says.

The company’s container accounts also have served as a large part of its business. Lewis Salvage processes tons of material accumulated from the more than 400 containers it has placed with customers throughout northern Indiana.

Extra Volume

Lewis says although the number of containers the company serves has not expanded over the years—they are still a large part of the business—Lewis Salvage has grown its number of retail customers.

“We don’t really have a whole lot more industrial accounts than we did 10 years ago, but we have much more retail people coming through the door,” Lewis says.

He adds, “We have much more volume coming out of that retail increase.”

Lewis Salvage sees more than 200 retail customers today compared with the 75 retail clients from a decade ago.

To accommodate such progress, the company has added more processing equipment and building space to its Warsaw headquarters over the years. In the past, Lewis Salvage acquired more land to expand, such as in 1997 when the company added 5 acres on which it constructed a facility to house offices and nonferrous processing activities. In 2004, the company acquired another 5 acres of land in Warsaw for additional nonferrous processing operations as well as container/truck parking.

Lewis says purchasing two nearby competitors—Meyer Levin & Sons in 2007 and Mike Gill Auto & Truck Parts on Jan. 1 of this year— also caused a spike in business.

To handle this growth, Lewis says the company hasn’t added to its trucking fleet; however the northern Indiana processor has relied more on trucking companies.

Lewis Salvage serves its commercial and industrial markets with a fleet of eight roll-off trucks and tractor trailers.

“All the extra volume out the door is serviced by common carriers,” Lewis states.

Developed durability

Lewis says one of the company’s 33 workers uses one of two grapples to move materials into the company’s ferrous baler. Lewis Salvage relies on a Sierra Model PA grapple as well as a PR grapple to pick up heavy loads, Lewis says.

With five fingers each, the Model PA grapple can handle more tonnage than the Model PR, he points out.

Either way, it is the durability of Sierra’s equipment that Lewis says he likes.

“The availability of parts and service also helps,” Lewis adds.

He continues, “The easiness to weld on the baler is important because everybody has to weld under a baler, it’s just the price you pay to be in the baler business.”

Lewis notes the value in ferrous scrap baler operators taking additional steps to keep the wrong materials (such as nonmetallics or nonferrous metals) out of the baling equipment to achieve a quality final product.

Before Lewis Salvage can get to this point, incoming material first goes through radiation detection equipment, he says. This is followed by inspections conducted prior to and after unloading ferrous materials into the baler, including checking cameras at the scales. “We have a guy who looks at everything; he goes through the radiation detection first, then he looks at the cameras on the scale, then he checks the ferrous scrap to tell someone else where to put it, and then someone looks at the material when it’s placed,” Lewis explains.

If ever a problem arises with the company’s ferrous and nonferrous baling equipment, Lewis knows he can reach out to someone at Sierra because he has developed a personal, longstanding relationship with the manufacturer.

“The integrity of the Sierra team is a big one, along with the personal relationships that we have with the people at Sierra,” Lewis offers.


The author is associate editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted via email at


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