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From Spreadsheets to Software

Auto Shredding

L. Gordon Iron & Metal, Statesville, N.C., finds operational efficiencies with the addition of Ferrex Engineering’s newest computer software program.

Megan Workman October 3, 2013

When L. Gordon Iron & Metal, Statesville, N.C., purchased its first auto shredder in 1976, employees recorded a day’s workload by hand on pages and pages of spreadsheets. More than 35 years later, workers at the nearly century-old family-owned business have finally put down the pens and pencils and now rely on a computer software program to collect and record the shredder’s pertinent production information.

Barry Gordon, a fourth-generation family member who is plant manager of ferrous operations, says up until a few months ago, he spent from one to two hours per day writing down the 80/104 Metso Recycling-Texas Shredder’s various output numbers—total weights of materials processed and amount of fluff generated, among numerous other figures—on spreadsheets. And Gordon is just one of 10 shredder operators at the North Carolina scrap company who spent time handwriting such statistics.

“We did a simple spreadsheet form where everything was done by hand and not with a computer program. It worked great, but was extremely time consuming,” Gordon says.

He continues, “Ferrex [Engineering] offered a program that would show you, while the shredder was running, what’s going on plus the simple numbers; and it’s all done by a program. Now I’m spending 10 minutes going over the day’s run.”

Ferrex Engineering, Ajax, Ontario, introduced its newest software package designed for auto shredder operators this year. The RDL (recycling data logger) is shredder optimization software that provides real-time insight and can produce reports that track the productivity of the shredder and determine if there are any areas causing problems, the company says. RDL includes production scheduling, real-time productivity, equipment monitoring, preventive maintenance, density analysis and other tracking and reporting features.


Black and White

Ferrex says its RDL package allows shredder operators to increase their plants’ efficiency. Gordon agrees. L. Gordon’s shredder supervisor has worked with the company for 25 years and has “very rarely used a computer in his life,” Gordon says.

After about three days of working with the RDL, the supervisor plugged in data on the computer like a professional. “He learned it quick,” Gordon says. “He pushes a button on a screen up in the tower and probably spends 20 minutes a day putting the data in.”

The shredder supervisor admittedly had quite a bit of help, Gordon says. Ferrex sent a program developer to L. Gordon’s site for five days to not only customize the company’s new system but also to train employees on how to use the software. “He was fantastic,” Gordon says.

The Power of Engines

Barry Gordon, L. Gordon Iron & Metal’s plant manager of ferrous operations, says the introduction of the auto shredder was “a real good thing, not only for us, but the industry overall.” Shredders have improved in a number of ways since their inception, including varying engine styles to run the large machines.

At the Statesville, N.C., scrap company, Gordon says the electric motors the company uses in its shredder today have been much cheaper to maintain than the diesel engines and natural-gas-powered motors it used in the past. L. Gordon had its diesel engines converted to natural gas, but when those motors needed an overhaul, Gordon says, after crunching some numbers, it was cheaper to buy brand new electric motors than to fix the older gas engines.

“Electric motors are simpler, and there are a lot of good mechanics and technicians out there to work on them,” Gordon says.

In 2010, Quad Plus, Joliet, Ill., replaced the gas engines powering L. Gordon’s auto shredder with a 4,000-horsepower DC shredder drive. The new power system included two 2,000-horsepower motors, mounted in series, and DC drive cabinets that control the motors and transformers.

“We were after reliability, and that’s why we went with electric motors,” Gordon says. “The cost to run them has been much cheaper and the maintenance has been much cheaper, probably half the cost of natural gas engines.”

The technician programmed three key inputs into L. Gordon’s system: every type of commodity it could potentially run through the shredder; more than 100 different maintenance issues the shredder could run into; and every possible breakdown the machine could experience. The company’s shredder—with a 4,000-horsepower DC shredder drive, including two 2,000-horsepower motors mounted in series, and DC drive cabinets that control the motors and transformers—processes automobiles, appliances and light iron, among other commodities, Gordon says. “The idea of measuring everything is important; but, not only is it measured, the information also is captured and relayed in a simplified form.”

The reports that Gordon prints after a day’s work make “everything black and white instead of a theory,” he says.

But he and other executives at the company don’t have to wait until the end of the day to see how the shredder is operating. Because the software is connected to the Internet, Gordon and four other managers with the company have access to real-time data on their iPhones, while three additional executives view the information on their computers.

Gordon best describes the simplicity of having the shredder’s daily statistics at his fingertips this way: “I’m in the office and I can watch what’s going on in the operation from my laptop or my cellphone and I can see the shredder is running. If I’m at the beach, I can say, ‘What are they running today?’ And I can see what they’re running, how many hours they ran, what their breakdown actually is and tonnage of the shredder that day.”

He adds, “I wear a lot of different hats, looking after lots of different parts of the operation, and I can’t stay at the shredder all day. I can help supervise the operation from my desk, which is kind of cool. What it’s doing is improving communication.”

Gordon says the new software keeps the scrap company’s shredder workers on their toes, too. Before the company installed the software, employees would sometimes give excuses about why work wasn’t getting done. Now, L. Gordon can clearly see how many minutes the machine was down and what caused the breakdown.

“It now takes an hour and a half to change hammers and in the past it took three hours,” Gordon says.

“The bottom line is how [RDL] has helped,” he continues. “The shredder is running more efficiently, and the employees like it. It’s been a motivating factor. They say, ‘I’m working hard, and the company is able to see what I’m producing.’ They’re better informed.”


Forecast and Goal
As much information as the RDL records, Gordon says the best feature of the software is being able to forecast. It helps him calculate how much time is spent on fixing maintenance problems so workers can reduce that time later.

The RDL software ranks the shredder’s breakdowns in a “top 10” list, which has been unexpectedly useful for the company. If a problem remains on the breakdown list for some time, Gordon says that is a red flag that it needs to be addressed promptly. “One of our top problems could be a stop up in a chute, and we could say, ‘Well, we have to get this fixed.’ It has given me more information.”

He adds, “We have a forecast and a goal. We know what the shredder’s capabilities are.”

Now that the shredder is running more efficiently, Gordon says workers are shredding all scrap the company buys. They are able to track how much tonnage the shredder produced, encouraging employees to shred more the next month.

L. Gordon is saving money on less overtime and maintenance repair hours, he says. “It just decreases your cost. You up your amount of tons you run in a month over the amount of hours you have in a month.”

He continues, “We’re getting everything shredded as it’s coming in and we don’t have a stockpile of appliances at off-site locations, unless we have a major breakdown.”


Over and Above
Advanced separation technologies and automated feed systems are available for shredders, but L. Gordon has focused on shredder software and on improving its downstream recovery system. The scrap company added oversized magnets and oversized conveyor belts as well as an updated air classification system to “improve the capabilities of our downstream,” he says.

“It’s over and above what’s required,” Gordon adds. “We put in a super downstream, which can clean the material even cleaner than what the machine requires.

“There’s so much new technology we’re not using,” Gordon says.

While L. Gordon hasn’t taken advantage of much of the latest technology available for shredders, its recent switch to the RDL software may be revolutionary for the company. “I would say it’s revolutionary in the way you can communicate the information. You’re not looking through tens of pages of spreadsheets and trying to figure this out. You get a simple report that you can print out.”

L. Gordon executives were skeptical of the new software at first. “It sounded good in theory, but I didn’t believe it was going to work,” Gordon says. But, he adds that he is looking forward to further incorporating the system into the company’s operations, which has been “a motivation factor” for everyone involved.

He continues, “With the new technology, we’re hoping there will be fewer maintenance issues, problems will be solved quicker and communication will improve, not only from the front office but internally in the plant.”

 

The author is associate editor of Recycling Today and can be reached at mworkman@gie.net.

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