Making considerable changes

Features - Operations Focus

MRF operators need to keep several things in mind before, during and after a retrofit.

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September 28, 2021

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There comes a time when a material recovery facility (MRF) needs to be retrofitted, which involves adding or changing the equipment that is used within the MRF. This can include replacing and/or reconfiguring the MRF’s current system by adding another infeed conveyor or another material bin. Screens, optical sorters and robotics are a few other items that can be included in a retrofit or upgrade. The age and location of a MRF determines whether it needs a retrofit, upgrade or new system.

Signs it’s time to retrofit

A MRF is probably ready for a retrofit when the percentages of the commodities it recovers start to decrease. MRF operators want to maximize the recovery of the recyclables that are in demand in the most efficient way.

One of the biggest reasons for a retrofit is to add the latest separation technologies available. MRF operators will want to upgrade to what will make the MRF the most efficient. Depending on the site’s cost-benefit analysis, it might not make sense to spend the money on the changes being considered, while other times it will make financial sense.

Recyclables generally maintain some sort of value, though commodities prices will continue to fluctuate.

The most important part of operating a MRF is minimizing the plant’s residue to maximize returns. The goal is to pull as many recyclables from the inbound material stream as possible. When your system is not doing that any longer or there are new commodities coming through your plant that are not being recovered efficiently, it is time for an upgrade.

Preparing for a retrofit

When preparing a MRF for a retrofit, the biggest factor to consider is the shutdown period, if required. Depending on the duration of the shutdown, a MRF could need to redirect its inbound material to another facility. If the MRF operator chooses not to redirect material to another MRF, a second option is to make room to stockpile the material during the retrofit.

This decision depends in part on the extent of the retrofit and the duration of the shutdown required. Most retrofits range anywhere from a two-day weekend to a 30-day shutdown.

Scheduling is a huge part of executing a retrofit in a timely manner. MRF operators should try to manage the various trades that will be involved in the project so that they complement one another as opposed to adding more time to complete the project. It’s always good to have all your permits in hand and inspections performed before even considering a start date.

The timing of the permits depends on the requirements of the locality where the MRF is based and on the scope of work being done at the site.

Also, MRF operators need to have as much of the civil work completed before any equipment is removed or installed. This usually prevents delays on the mechanical or electrical side of the retrofit.

Considerations: When preparing for a retrofit, the biggest thing to consider is the shutdown period and how long that will take.

MRF operators also will want to maintain the existing equipment as they plan for the retrofit to ensure everything is in order. They also should be prepared to tune up the equipment that will continue to be used.

That means examining belts and pulleys for the conveyors as well as having discs for sorting screens on-site so these tune-ups can be performed during the shutdown by your maintenance department or the mechanical contractor installing the retrofit.

Additionally, MRF operators will need to ensure their plants are clean ahead of the retrofit.

Facility operators also can take advantage of the downtime created during a retrofit by addressing other areas that need attention, such as painting. This and other housekeeping tasks are good to assign to employees who otherwise would not be working during the retrofit, and these tasks can take place simultaneously while the retrofit is being done.

While the facility is shut down for the retrofit, portions of the plant, such as the baling line, might remain operable, allowing some work to continue.

Other considerations

Another consideration is hiring. With a retrofit, MRF operators could need more employees to operate the facility after everything is completed, particularly if capacity is being increased. Hiring is challenging, so MRF operators will want to work ahead of the retrofit to secure additional employees who might be needed to ensure the facility can operate efficiently.

Marketing the upgrades to a MRF’s customers and community also is very important to do ahead of the retrofit. MRF operators should let the affected parties know about the changes and upgrades before and after the retrofit.

Marketing efforts can be done using social media, through advertisements, billboards, mailers or by word of mouth. Marketing also needs to be geared toward outbound material purchasers and end-users.

After the retrofit is completed, the MRF operator will need to keep up with preventive maintenance.

Additionally, the facility’s production and newly gained efficiencies should be analyzed following the retrofit to determine if the correct upgrades were made.

Operators can look at their inbound and outbound ratios versus their residue. For instance, if a MRF had 100 tons on the inbound with 60 tons for outbound, that leaves 40 tons for residue. MRF operators want to reduce the percentage of residue. Analyzing these number on an ongoing basis also helps the operator to prepare the plant for the future.

Justin Rice is president of Midwest Recycling Service and Sales in Cartersville, Georgia. Visit www.mrssinc.com for more information.