Visitors to large nonferrous scrap processing facilities in China are not likely to see the same widespread use of automated processing systems as they would in Europe or North America.
As China’s scrap industry developed rapidly in the 1990s and in the current century, scrap facility operators drew upon that nation’s abundant labour supply to sort and prepare material.
At some facilities, workforces numbering in the hundreds hand-sorted through mixed metals grades such as zorba or fed lengths of wire and cable through stripping machines operated with foot pedals.
These practices are still in place, particularly the foot-pedal wire stripping workstations that can be found by the dozens at some locations.
The recent installation of a second wire and cable processing system at a nonferrous recycling facility in Tianjin, China, however, provides an example of an investment in automation in a part of the world that has traditionally relied on readily available labour to accomplish its sorting and processing tasks.
Tonnes to do
Wire recycling facilities in China quickly caught up to or surpassed the volume of material handled by similar facilities in Europe or North America.
At the same time wire and cable processing system makers are finding new interest in emerging economies, there are still sales to be made in traditional markets as well.
A wire chopping line made by MTB Recycling, Trept, France, was installed in the United States late in the summer of 2013 at Upstate Shredding, in the town of Owego, New York. The sale and installation was made through Wendt Corp., the New York state-based equipment maker and distributor that serves as MTB’s exclusive distributor in the United States.
The high-volume chopping line is the first owned by Upstate, which has long operated an automobile shredder in Owego. Upstate Shredding is a privately held scrap metal processor with 15 locations in the northeastern United States. The growing company says it processed approximately 1 million tons of ferrous and 200 million pounds of nonferrous metal in 2013.
According to Adam Weitsman, owner of the Upstate Shredding – Ben Weitsman network of 15 scrap yards, his company saw the potential a chopping line could provide by not only helping to increase profits for the company but also by providing the ability to further process insulated copper wire from ASR (automobile shredder residue). “Due to problems in exporting to China [and other] import restrictions, we needed to be able to process it here in the United States,” says Weitsman.
Noting that MTB itself is a “large processing company” in its native France, Weitsman says “we felt they would have the most experience with the product.”
Upstate Shredding’s intention is to refine low-grade insulated copper wire from ASR into copper chops that are more than 99 percent pure. The company says it plans to chop a 12-month backlog of materials and then will move onto processing copper and aluminium insulated wire from its own feeder yards as well as insulated copper wire from other shredder operators.
The chopping line installed in Owego features a BDR 2400 pre-chopper, two BAT 1200 granulators, air density separators and what Wendt Corp. calls proprietary separation equipment.
“This installation puts North America back in play,” says Tom Wendt, president of Wendt Corp. “This is an upgrade that allows for significantly increased domestic sale of copper, not just for export,” says Wendt of the opportunities available to Upstate Shredding.
Throughout the past 15 years, however, even as the volume at Chinese plants scaled up, plant owners did not rush to embrace the labour-saving automated systems that have long been preferred by company owners in those other parts of the world.
According to Ulrika Persson, global marketing manager with Denmark-based wire and cable processing equipment maker Eldan Recycling A/S, nonferrous scrap recyclers in Asia’s fast-developing economies have recently been stepping up their investments in automated equipment.
“During the last few years we have noticed a large change in the [sales] leads from Asia,” says Persson. “They have become more focused on larger production systems with specific production requirements, rather than small-scale systems at a lower price.”
In late 2013, Zhang Wensheng, president of Tianjin Xinneng Renewable Resources Co. Ltd. in that Chinese city, traveled along with a colleague to visit Eldan Recycling’s office and plant in Faaborg, Denmark, after ordering its second automated wire and cable processing system.
Tianjin Xinneng’s second wire and cable system was a model capable of processing up to three tonnes of material per hour. This is at the upper end of Eldan’s product range, which Persson describes as including “production capacities from 250 kilograms to 8,000 kilograms per production hour.”
President Zhang and his colleague, a vice president with Tianjin Xinneng, “often travel the world to visit their suppliers of both scrap products and processing equipment,” according to an Eldan news release.
In Faaborg, the duo was able to inspect their new three-tonnes-per-hour cable recycling line prior to shipment. “We are very proud that Mr. Zhang and Mr. Wang found time to visit our factory in Denmark,” says Henning Nørgaard, an Eldan Recycling territory manager.
The copper chops being prepared by Tianjin Xinneng will need to meet a purity specification in line with its role as feedstock in the company’s smelters.
In addition to having purchased automated European-made wire and cable processing equipment, Tianjin Xinneng also operates Spanish and Italian copper smelting equipment.
“When processing scrap cables into copper, the purity is very important and the Eldan equipment ensures up to 99.5% metal purity,” says Eldan of the unit it has sold to Tianjin Xinneng.
In addition to preparing copper chops for its own smelters, Tianjin Xinneng also produces aluminium chops for sale and a chopped plastic product made from the jackets of the wire and cable and is involved in several other recycling sectors.
The company, which is in its second generation of family management, operates from a sizable facility with nearly 300,000 square metres of space. Workers there process and dismantle many kinds of scrap in addition to wire and cable, including waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), end-of-life vehicles and plastic scrap.
Although the company employs about 2,000 people, it has nonetheless been seeking out processing equipment from around the world. Among the nations represented with equipment onsite at Tianjin Xinneng are Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and Taiwan.
Before ordering the three-tonnes-per hour cable recycling plant that is on its way, the company acquired a pre-owned Eldan cable recycling plant and began to use it. “They are satisfied with the performance of the line, and what is more natural, when the activities are expanded, than to buy the second line from the same manufacturer?” asks Nørgaard.
Zhang says he was impressed with what he saw of the equipment design and manufacturing process in Faaborg. “We were happy to visit the Eldan factory to see how the Danish people develop, design and produce all the equipment in their facilities,” he comments. “All machines were tested to our full satisfaction during our stay and we now look forward to receiving them in our factory in Tianjin.”
Eldan staff members say they expect to take part in more installations in Asia like the one in Tianjin as scrap processors in nations with rapidly developing economies seek labour-saving automation.
“Together with our Beijing-based agent Ferrostaal, we have already sold more recycling lines into China,” says Eldan Recycling Managing Director Dr. Toni Reftman.
Says Persson, “Information travels fast and the market for recycling equipment has become global, which means the customers become more well-informed and selective. Quality in all ways is most important.”
Equipment makers will likely help that information travel by staying involved in emerging markets. “Eldan Recycling has sold cable recycling equipment all over Asia, and we continuously expand our network there by attending exhibitions, summits and meeting industry interest organisations,” says Persson. “We see great potential in the region.”
The author is editor of Recycling Today Global Edition and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.