Electrified advantages

Features - Scrap Handling Equipment Focus

Electric material handlers offer several advantages, but there are some necessary considerations.

May 28, 2014
Rick Zettler

Most companies in the scrap and recycling business look for ways to improve efficiencies, lower costs at the yard and get a leg up on their nearby friendly competition. One area of growing interest for lowering costs and increasing efficiencies at the yard is switching from diesel-powered to electric material handlers.

And why not? Some significant long-term financial gains can be had by switching to an electric material handler. With diesel prices averaging around $4 per gallon and the typical charge per kilowatt-hour of electricity less than 15 cents, costs for powering an electric handler can be less than half those of a traditional diesel powered machine.

Because electric motors do away with the diesel engine and aftertreatment systems, they also can be easier to maintain and can often last longer than their diesel counterparts.

“We estimate a 30,000-hour service life for an electric machine, and the return on investment for an electric material handler can be as little as 18 months,” says Steve Brezinski, Terex Fuchs material handler product manager for Terex Construction Americas, Southhaven, Mississippi.

Despite these advantages, recyclers must consider many factors prior to switching to an electric material handler. Without proper planning, those annual maintenance and fuel savings can be offset with efficiency and productivity losses.

Site survey

Where should recyclers start when looking into an electric material handler purchase?

“It’s the same as you would with any other new material handler purchase for the yard: the site survey,” explains Jay Young, scrap and recycling sales manager for Kansas City, Kansas-based Roadbuilders Machinery and Supply Co. Inc., a Terex Fuchs equipment distributor. “You need to conduct a comprehensive analysis of exactly what size machine and reach are necessary to meet production goals. The distributor or equipment manufacturer can help with this,” he adds.

One top consideration is the location where the handler will operate. Popular site locations for electric handlers are indoors, feeding shredders and shears, as well as at the port, where high mobility isn’t required.

Mike Myslicki, regional sales manager for Terex Fuchs equipment, says, “Customers have two alternatives for an electric material handler: a stationary, pedestal-mounted machine or one tethered to a cord, so the operator isn’t as free to roam the yard or port with an electric machine.”

With mobility being limited, or nonexistent, reach and capacity become more critical. An operation needs to consider how much reach will be required of the handler to minimize the number of times the material is handled.

“Terex Fuchs offers a number of boom/stick configurations, with the MHL320 model offering a 34-foot reach at the low end, and the MHL380 handler offering a 69-foot reach at the upper end,” notes Brezinski.

Working with the manufacturer, recyclers can order an electric handler with cable lengths specified to their sites’ specific needs.

“Power requirements vary by model; but, as a rule of thumb, the higher the voltage, the smaller the diameter of cable, so the longer the cable lengths,” says Thomas Berners, director of product management and the Application Center for Terex Fuchs. “We have equipped a handler with 787 feet of cable for a customer in South Korea,” he notes.

Finally, as part of the survey, recyclers will want to do a cost-benefit analysis of the total investment to get the site ready to power an electric handler. “If a site has a shredder, then it will already have the power source on site,” comments Young. However, if the power infrastructure does not exist at the yard, this will be an added cost to the company.

Mounting advantages

Once the site survey is complete and the right locations are selected for the new material handlers, then recyclers are ready to reap some of the significant advantages of the alternate-fuel machines. First and foremost, the recycling operation can be part of the green movement, as exhaust emissions are eliminated. Eliminating the particulate emissions from diesel engines is better for the environment and makes the operation friendlier to neighbors.

A no-emissions operation is ideal for indoor recycling centers and transfer stations. It creates a healthier work environment for employees, and it can help the operation by meeting workplace health and safety legislation.

Once the main electric motor is started, the handler is ready for work. There is no downtime waiting for the machine to be fueled, improving uptime availability. Berners says electric handlers more efficiently use the available power than diesel engines. “Whereas diesel engines achieve approximately 30 to 40 percent available power utilization,” he explains, “electric motors deliver up to 90 percent efficiency.” Additionally, there is no regeneration downtime, common to Tier 4 engines, which reduces machine productivity.

Replacement of the diesel engine, cooling system and exhaust aftertreatment components with electric motors can simplify maintenance needs for the handler and add to machine uptime. Engine oil changes and filter replacements are no longer necessary. “For the most part, you just maintain the motor bearings with an electric handler. That’s it,” says Brezinski.

Low vibration electric engines are much easier on machine components, pumps and the clutch, which helps to significantly extend the machine’s service life. “Customers operating in scrap and recycling applications will typically run conventional diesel-powered machines for up to 15,000 hours before they will replace the handler or rebuild/replace major components,” Young says. “However, electric handlers will typically offer twice the service life of diesel machines, which significantly lowers long-term operating costs.”

Finally, recyclers need not be afraid to work electric material handlers in the elements. The machine is designed to work in the same weather conditions—heat, rain, cold and snow—as diesel models. Additionally, electric handlers can come standard with a main power switch disconnect to safely service the machine.

Take into account

While several significant advantages are associated with electric material handlers, Young cautions recyclers not to think they can replace all of their diesel machines with electric handlers at their yards. “Scrap and recycling operations typically run a mix of diesel and electric machines at the yard,” he says. “You will always need the mobility of a diesel unit with some of your handlers.”

When looking at handler design, Berners offers this advice with regard to electric motors: “Consider a handler that dedicates motors to separate functions rather than one larger electric motor,” he comments. “The power torque curve to start a smaller engine is lower, which reduces the chance for blowing fuses at startup. Additionally, it is more efficient when you have a larger main motor and then smaller separate motors dedicated to pilot steering and the air conditioning unit,” Berners says.

Recyclers also may want to look for an electric machine that shares a high degree of components and parts with the manufacturer’s line of standard diesel units versus purchasing a specially built electric handler. This will help to ensure quick parts availability from local distributors, which will allow recyclers to stock fewer parts, since many of the same parts will work for diesel and electric handlers.

“Besides parts commonality, electric handlers can also retain many of the same features as their diesel counterparts and don’t require a steep learning curve for the operator,” says Brezinski. “Terex Fuchs electric handlers retain about 95 percent series component commonality with their diesel counterparts.”

While similar in design to diesel machines, recyclers can expect to pay a slight premium for a comparable electric handler model. Myslicki estimates a 10 to 15 percent premium on average. “Depending on the configuration, it could be as low as 5 to 8 percent, but a pedestal machine will typically run about 10 percent higher, and a mobile unit will be closer to 15 percent more,” he says.

Electric material handlers are not standard production machines, so recyclers should expect longer lead time—about four to six months, depending on configuration—than with standard production diesel models.

“It’s important that you work closely with your distributor and manufacturer to ensure the machine is equipped exactly the way you want it to boost productivity and efficiency at the yard or port,” Barnes says.

Finally, there is a cost associated with the electrical infrastructure needed to power handlers with motors as large as 335 horsepower (250 kilowatts). Electricity will be the lifeblood of these machines, so recyclers should make sure the station delivers consistent, reliable power. “If there’s a power outage, then the electric handler is not moving material,” says Young.

“As I mentioned, if the operation already has a shredder, the electrical infrastructure already exists, and it makes the decision much easier to go electric.”

Sorting through many of the same considerations for purchasing the right diesel material handler for an application, selecting the right size, reach and model of electrical material handler takes some time and special scrutiny on the part of recycling operations. Once an operation works through the cost-benefit analysis and all the considerations with the equipment distributor and manufacturer, the electric material handler model selected can help to control long-term operating costs and increase efficiencies.


The author submitted this piece on behalf of Terex Fuchs, www.terex.com, based in Southaven, Mississippi.