Taking calculated risks

Grant Milliron of Milliron Recycling, Mansfield, Ohio, has reaped the benefits of gambling on scrap processing technology.

Grant Milliron, owner and president of Milliron Recycling, Mansfield, Ohio
Photo by Vicki Blayney

Grant Milliron says he doesn’t believe in luck, only blessings. While the owner and president of Mansfield, Ohio-based Milliron Recycling has gambled with new equipment installations at his 42-acre scrap yard, these investments have been well-researched and, more often than not, have paid off for the company, which has a 64-year history.

From the very beginning, Milliron has taken calculated risks and put in the hard work necessary to run a successful business.

From auto salvage …

Milliron Recycling’s history traces back to February 1954, when Milliron was just shy of his 19th birthday. (He’s 83 now.) His father, William Grant Milliron, partnered with him on a new business venture, giving him $500. Milliron combined that money with $500 he had saved to buy 12 cars and a 1936 Ford truck with a hand winch, opening an auto salvage business, Milliron Auto Parts, at a 1-acre site he leased in Mansfield.

For three years, Milliron worked nights and weekends at this business in addition to full-time at a steel mill. In 1957, his dad concluded that their new business might not make it and decided to move back to California, Milliron says. That’s when Milliron says he decided he was going to quit his full-time job at the steel mill and put all his effort into making the fledgling business a success.

“I worked seven days a week for seven years,” he says. “I invested all of the sales back into inventory.”

The company grew organically until 1974, when the energy crisis changed the dynamics of that business “overnight,” Milliron says, as people reduced their driving habits and motor sales dwindled.

Milliron Recycling is preparing for the installation of an EtaRip preshredder from Metso.
Photo by Vicki Blayney

… to scrap processing

With automobile sales declining in the mid-1970s, Milliron says, he knew he needed to diversify. He bought a 60-foot scale, a shear and a hydraulic baler and entered the scrap business. He had the capability to process 20 tons per day when he first started. By 1999, Milliron Recycling had upgraded to a Harris 2229 baler that could process 40 tons per hour, he says.

In 2000, Milliron decided to add an automobile shredder manufactured by Texas Shredder, San Antonio, which has since been acquired by Finnish company Metso. It would take the company two-and-a-half years to obtain the air permit it needed for the shredder and then Milliron would have to overcome zoning issues, which meant the shredder was not up and running until 2004.

“Our business model revolves around the shredder operation,” he says. “We do not aggressively go after unprepared P&S (plate and structural) material. We’ve made major investments in mining above ground.”

Milliron says he considered adding feeder yards but decided against going that route. “I looked at two locations, but the good Lord kept me from buying.”

While Milliron Recycling purchases a good deal of its shredder feedstock from within Ohio, the company also sources material from as far away as the East Coast, he says. It purchases roughly 30,000 tons per month just in the form of shredder feedstock. “We have a big machine with a big appetite,” Milliron says of the company’s 6,000-horsepower shredder, which is equipped with a 98-104 rotor. “It took us a long time to get to this volume,” he adds. “We’re about to the sweet spot right now.”

Milliron Recycling also strives for diversification in terms of consuming customers, Milliron says, which include export and domestic consumers for the nonferrous scrap it processes. “Before we had this kind of showdown with tariffs, we tried to split it 50/50,” he says of export and domestic sales. By making a quality product, Milliron says all markets are open to the company.

The company has been producing twitch rather than zorba since 2010. This furnace-ready shredded aluminum product is created by further processing zorba through Milliron’s dry media separation plant.

Milliron says his company has been able to produce twitch that meets China’s specifications, having had five major purchases go through China Certification and Inspection Group (CCIC) since September with “no problem.” Recently, the company has taken orders for 20 more loads.

Regarding the disruption China’s scrap import policies have had on nonferrous scrap metals, he says, “It will take a while, but scrap will find a home somewhere and at some price. I still believe that.”

Some of these homes may be in emerging markets, Milliron says, adding, “You may need 10 customers instead of one.”

He says he believes the Chinese government is right to crack down on questionable scrap imports; however, he adds, “They went too far, too quick. Everyone got painted with the same brush.”

The company’s ferrous scrap is sold domestically, mostly within Ohio, Milliron says. Milliron Recycling generally supplies five or six mills per month with this material.

Milliron has kept up the tradition he started with his former auto parts recycling business by reinvesting in Milliron Recycling.

Photo by Vicki Blayney

Continual investment

Milliron says he loves equipment and being a hands-on business owner. “I manage my business by walking through the yard, looking at every pile of every product we produce to make sure it is ready to sell. I’m what you might call a quality inspector.”

He says he tells his employees often, “The quality we make today guarantees our revenue tomorrow.”

During those walks, Milliron also is paying close attention to other details, such as how many crane booms are moving. “It’s the details that make you a success.”

Recent equipment investments he’s planning for Milliron Recycling have had him in his office more often than he would like these days. But that means he’ll soon have new equipment that he’ll get to learn the nuances of, including an EtaRip preshredder from Metso. Milliron Recycling will be the first U.S. shredding facility to install this Metso technology. This unit will not be installed inline with the company’s auto shredder. While he says that would have been ideal, the yard’s layout cannot accommodate that.

Milliron says the preshredder is an attractive addition for many reasons. “We buy a lot of material from a long way away.” This material often is logged for more economical transport, and he says the company never knows what might be hiding inside those logs. “Some are also extremely dense like a No. 2 bundle,” he says.

The company was going through two shredder drive shafts per year because of heavies hiding in these logs. The shredder box also was sustaining heavy damage, he says.

The EtaRip automatically stops when it encounters unshreddables, giving Milliron Recycling employees the opportunity to recover these materials before they can damage the equipment.

Milliron Recycling also might see energy savings with the preshredder. When processed through the auto shredder, dense logs can cause power spikes. “When running smaller parcels,” he says, “there is no power surge.”

In addition to the preshredder, Milliron Recycling is investing in additional wire chopping equipment to handle the wire generated by its auto shredder. The system will incorporate two shredders, with the stainless steel being removed after the first one, Milliron says. The company has purchased the first shredder from American Pulverizer, St. Louis, but he says he’s still researching the second shredder and its components. By the time he’s finalized this installation and has the system running, which should be in six months, Milliron says, “We might even end up with a No. 1 copper chop.”

These investments are the most recent in a series the company has made in its processing capabilities in the last decade.

Milliron Recycling installed its original nonferrous recovery system, which includes eddy current separators and sensor sorting technology, at the same time as its shredder in 2004. In 2009, the company added a dry media plant equipped with X-ray and optical sorting technology supplied by Steinert and Wendt Corp., Buffalo, New York. The next major upgrade was commissioned in 2013 and involved the installation of an ICW (insulated copper wire) recovery plant that features equipment from SGM Magnetics of Italy.

In late 2016, Milliron Recycling commissioned a RecoverMax Fines Process system from Best Process Solutions (BPS), Brunswick, Ohio, which is designed to recover metal pieces greater than 1 millimeter in size from auto shredder residue (ASR) fines.

The heart of the process is a BPS RecoverMax Separator, which claims to separate metal from glass and rocks with a purity in excess of 98 percent. A final step separates high-copper zorba into a 90-plus copper and precious metals fraction to be sold as a refinery-grade product, according to the company.

The installation features a primary system before the BPS system that includes a large trommel gas drier to reduce the moisture content of the ASR fines. Milliron says the gas drier is critical to the proper functioning of the second part of the system.

“We had to go through a lot of downtime with the drier and had it rebuilt,” he says. “It’s running nicely today.”

At the time of the BPS system installation, Milliron told Recycling Today, “We tried our best to evaluate what was the best purchase to get the best recovery; we did our due diligence. We like to do our homework on every system that we are going to buy. You have to do careful evaluation before you make a commitment to these kinds of dollars.”

More to come

Given his age, one might think Milliron has retirement in mind, but he says he has no plans to slow down any time soon. “I still enjoy the business; I like coming to work,” he says. “If I were to move on, I would go on to another business. I would not sit on the couch.”

The only thing that could change his mind would be if his Operations Manager George Will decided to leave. “There isn’t anything he can’t do,” Milliron says of Will. “Without George, I would probably retire tomorrow. Like me, he comes to work every day because he likes what he does.”

Milliron also credits the success of his company to the contributions of his oldest son, Grant Milliron Jr., who goes by J.R. He has been with the company for 37 years and has done a number of jobs during that time. Today, he operates the auto shredder. “He is a vital asset because he comes to work every day, just like his dad.”

Milliron’s son-in-law Jeff DeVito, who serves as vice president, handles much of what Milliron describes as the “grunt work,” which includes hiring.

Much of his company’s success can be attributed to the dedication and hard work of his employees, Milliron says, adding, “You can have the best equipment in the world, but you still have to have good people to make you a success.” Many of the company’s employees are cross-trained and can perform various tasks.

Rather than contemplate retirement, Milliron is thinking about physically expanding the company. The preshredder and wire chopping line installations are taxing Milliron Recycling’s existing footprint to the point that Milliron says he’ll either have to add land or buy a new facility. While he says he’s found the perfect building 20 minutes from the company’s yard, he’s hesitating on the purchase because it will make being hands-on more difficult.

“I don’t want to drive to another facility or have people working off-site,” he says. “It’s one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made.”

The current market likely will necessitate additional difficult decisions as it challenges scrap processors. However, Milliron prefers to look at these challenges as opportunities to be more efficient and produce higher quality products with the help of equipment innovations.

He says, “I always look for opportunity,” though Milliron adds that doesn’t necessarily mean the opportunity to make money. “Sometimes it’s the opportunity to do something for someone else and learn new things. Every day should be a new opportunity.”

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.

November 2018
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