Nearly a decade ago, when Dallas-based Champion Waste & Recycling Vice President Paul Kuhar was searching for equipment that could handle his construction and demolition (C&D) recycling facility’s material handling needs, an excavator seemed like the right choice.
“In C&D, a lot of times the [excavators] we saw … were always perched on debris piles,” Kuhar says. “A lot of people we talked to said that was the best way to process material because the machine is elevated, and you can see what and how you’re loading material. We weren’t really fans of that approach; but, that seemed to be the norm, so we went with that. But what we quickly realized is that we didn’t need to be perched on piles. We were going to feed from the ground.”
In the company’s Celina, Texas, C&D facility, operators had been loading from the ground directly onto Champion’s screening equipment. However, this setup made it difficult for operators to accurately account for the amount of material loaded onto the system because the placement of the cab interfered with their view.
“Our setup posed challenges because the excavator would be fully extended, and the operator couldn’t see where he was loading, so he would either overload the system, or he would underload the system,” Kuhar says.
Though they made loading challenging, the company stuck with excavators for years. Then, in 2015, Kuhar learned about material handlers, which are designed to handle material rather than to dig.
With a 60,000-square-foot material recovery facility (MRF) dedicated to commercial recycling in Dallas in addition to the 65,000-square-foot C&D MRF the company operates, Kuhar wondered whether material handlers would be a better fit for Champion’s operations than the excavators he was using.
He picked the brains of scrap yard operators, who were the primary users of material handlers at the time, along with C&D operators who had added these machines to their fleets.
Through these discussions, Kuhar says he became convinced adding a material handler to the company’s fleet could be a shrewd move.
After diligent research, he says he settled on a Sennebogen 821 E material handler, which Champion first debuted at its commercial MRF in Dallas. Sennebogen is based in Germany with North American headquarters in Stanley, North Carolina.
Suitable testing ground
The Sennebogen 821 E-series material handlers have a reach of nearly 43 feet. Perhaps just as important, the handlers’ cabs can lift hydraulically up to almost 9 feet, allowing operators to get a better view of where they’re loading. Additionally, the machine has four different types of attachments available, offering users the versatility to handle different materials and tasks.
Kuhar says the Dallas MRF proved to be an optimal place to test the machine’s versatility and flexibility.
“The way we load material there and the way that facility is set up, it’s harder to load with the front-end loader,” Kuhar says. “Our commercial facility is very unique in the way we’re set up to load material. We don’t have the ability to have loading ramps and different docks and things like that.”
He says operators quickly found the material handlers to be a better fit for the facility than the excavators they were used to. Kuhar says the machines offer a panoramic view of the facility, and they feature joysticks to control the material handler’s arm.
“The material handler gave us the ability to load material a lot easier,” he says. “It has the raised cab, so the operator can see inside of the trailer that he’s loading. Plus, it’s a wheeled machine versus a track machine, so it’s less wear and tear on our paved surfaces there.”
After realizing improved efficiencies at its commercial MRF, Champion purchased another Sennebogen 821 material handler the following year for its C&D MRF.
While Kuhar says excavators are typically the primary equipment used to load material at C&D MRFs, the company’s operators were interested in switching to the material handler.
“We made the switch initially and bought a material handler for our Celina C&D facility,” he says. “We demoed it, we tested it out. … But it was something different, something new, so there was a learning curve there.”
Kuhar says the excavator that operators were previously using had a grapple bucket and only moved in a straight line. After converting to the material handler, the operators began trying two new attachments—an orange-peel grapple and a clamshell grapple—both of which featured 360-degree articulation.
“Sometimes you get rebar, wires, things like that. And, so, with the five-finger orange-peel grapple, we’re able to grab the material. And, since it articulates 360 degrees, you can spin the grapple around, detangle some stuff [and] kind of fluff up the material,” Kuhar says. “We tried both attachments, and our particular operators liked the five-finger-type grapple better than the clamshell.”
Operators also had to get used to being in an elevated cab in the new material handler as opposed to close to the ground where they were constantly staring up at the bucket on the excavator, which blocked their field of vision. However, over a few weeks, operating the material handler became second nature, Kuhar says.
All in all, he says it only took operators about a month to surpass the learning curve and get used to the new piece of equipment.
“The operators really liked the fact that they were able to be elevated in the cab,” Kuhar says. “It’s like a bird perch. They can get up there and they can see all the material. They can see how they’re loading it. Your line of vision is much better, and the ability to have that articulating 360-degree motion with the attachments allows you to do some different things that you normally couldn’t do with an excavator.”
Champion now operates a total of three material handlers: Two are at the C&D facility, each running nearly 10 hours per day, and one is at its commercial MRF, running nearly eight hours per day.
“The advantage for us really has been ease of loading,” Kuhar says. “The operator is elevated in that cab, he can see all the material, he can load more efficiently [and] he can pick out things.”
He adds that using material handlers makes prescreening easier, as operators can remove large items that otherwise would damage the processing equipment.
The improved visibility with the material handlers has helped to reduce damage to other equipment, too. Kuhar says even the best operators would sometimes damage crossbeams for auto-tarp systems on transfer trailers when using excavators simply because their view was obstructed. Now, operators have a clear view nearly everywhere they’re working thanks to the added lift from the material handlers, which has helped cut down on accidents.
“The excavator has its place in the C&D recycling world, and we still use it, … but the precision with material handlers is a lot better—at least from our standpoint,” he says. “There’s always going to be a debate amongst companies about what is the best option; but, in our opinion, we’ve been really happy with the friendliness of how our material handlers can load, and the operators really enjoy it.”