Pay now or pay later

Features - Baling Equipment Focus

Buyers of two-ram balers have several ongoing and longer-term cost factors to consider when making their purchases.

February 8, 2017

Automotive oil filter maker FRAM selected an effective and memorable advertising campaign in the 1970s with its “You can pay me now or pay me later” TV ads. The ads featured an auto mechanic pitching the long-term savings implications of maintaining the presence of a clean, effective oil filter in an automotive engine.

Makers and sellers of two-ram balers can point to this same logic when it comes to some of the considerations that go into buying this critical piece of capital equipment.

Recycling plant operators who handle nonferrous metals, rigid plastics and other materials that are ideal for the two-ram baling process could, of course, shop for the lowest upfront price. According to equipment providers contacted for this story, however, a number of operating costs and maintenance factors call that strategy into question.

The ongoing battle

The price recyclers receive for their baled, outbound shipments can be affected by the material’s quality, but it is largely dictated by regional, national and global commodity pricing. If a profit is to be made, it results from not overpaying for material and by keeping operating costs low.

In the baling process, numerous factors contribute to a recycler’s monthly operating costs, and equipment providers say paying advance attention to these facets can be critical when recyclers shop for and buy balers.

“Energy, bale wire, labor, scheduled, preventive and long-term maintenance considerations, such as relines, all factor into the true cost of a baler,” says Bob Koch, sales director at Cleveland-based OBC Inc., which offers equipment made by American Baler Co., IPS, Max-Pak and several other manufacturers.

In much of North America, energy costs are not the highest priority, Koch says. “I think everyone is different when it comes to energy costs; everyone may care about those costs, but not everyone places the same priority on it,” he comments. “It may be a regional thing, where certain states have higher energy costs than others.”

“Energy is a factor, but it’s pretty far down on the list,” says Jason Sroka, a vice president at Ely Enterprises, Lorain, Ohio, which provides balers and other recycling equipment. “In most cases, the electrical cost is one of the lowest cost items in the operation cost equation,” he adds.

Energy costs can be a consideration for operators of the largest two-ram balers, says Roy Daily, CEO of Himes Service Co. (HSC), Robinson, Texas, which installs, services and relines balers.

“Twin motors in a two-ram baler are more efficient and consistent than a single motor, so this is often a consideration when looking at larger balers,” he says. “This enables the operator to shift the work load at slow times, reducing electrical draw.”

Sroka points to reining in labor costs as a factor recyclers most often inquire about. “Labor is the key cost to focus on. That is why you’ve seen so much automation in two-ram balers over the last 25 years. Units prior to the early ’90s required an operator sitting at a station to monitor and cycle the baler as needed. Now, with optical sensors, transducers and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), everything can be operated via a touch-screen monitor. The operator selects a grade and lets the baler do the thinking.”

The third major, unavoidable cost for two-ram balers involves the wire that helps keep those bales solidified, stackable and shippable.

Fit to be tied

“The goal with any tier is to tie the maximum amount of material with the minimal number of ties,” Sroka says. “This directly affects your cost per ton to operate.”

Koch comments, “I think the goal is to just not waste wire. Be efficient with the number of ties for each bale, depending on material, and make sure ties don’t break or the tier doesn’t malfunction.”

Wire-tier malfunctions are traceable directly to another ongoing operating cost—maintenance—the equipment providers say. “My experience has been that the tiers work very well if maintained properly. A good baler operator can be the difference in not wasting wire,” Koch says.

A good wire auto-tie system, Roy Daily says, “eliminates added labor costs, increases safety and offers bale weight consistency and consistent volume and production rates.”

Grant Daily, a territory manager with HSC, adds, “An auto-tie system takes 10 spools of wire at a time, while a two-ram requires one spool at time. The advantage of the two-ram configuration is that the operator can adjust the number of ties thrown via programming that enables optimal use of the wire. Where OCC (old corrugated containers) or paper might require five ties, with a quality two-ram baler, the recycler can adjust to two ties for aluminum cans.”

Plastics recyclers have another option to consider. “There are now plastic strappers available for most two-ram balers,” Sroka says. “This is a costlier alternative, but some [plastic scrap] consumers don’t want any metal on the bale, so some recyclers will go with this alternative.”

“Wire tiers are the Achilles heel of most two-ram balers,” Sroka adds. “This isn’t the fault of the tier: It can almost always be traced back to poor maintenance or housekeeping.” (Fortunately, he says, most of his customers do not fall into this category.) “Additionally, poor quality wire will affect the tier’s performance,” Sroka says.

On the wire tying front, he also refers to consolidation in that equipment sector. “After the acquisition of L&P by Accent Wire, the options are fewer,” he remarks. “Accent is far and away the leader in the field. Fortunately, they are a very customer-focused business and are working diligently to make it a better experience for the recyclers using their products.”

Nonetheless, Sroka adds, “I expect that, like any industry, the merger of these two companies will ultimately [draw attention] from a new competitor. After all, that’s what happened 10 years ago. Accent perceived a void in customer support from L&P and decided to build a better mouse trap. In the end the market benefited by having two competitors fighting for market share.”

Fast forward

It may seem a shame to think about the machine’s first major overhaul when buying a baler, but equipment providers say, in the case of two-ram balers, it can be a prudent thing to do.

“With a two-ram baler, the most expensive maintenance item the baler owner will have to perform is a reline,” Koch says. “Certain balers may be more durable and wear slower than others, so, for those machines, a reline would not have to be done as frequently. This can be a long-term savings when considering the cost of a baler.”

Tade Mahoney, director of sales and marketing at American Baler Co., Bellevue, Ohio, says recyclers shopping for balers can benefit from understanding the difference in the quality of metals used in the parts of a machine that will face pressure in the compression process.

“The type of floor and side liner plate material in the charge box and press box is critical,” he says. “Plate steel with a higher Brinell rating will provide the longer liner life,” he adds. (The Brinell hardness test is an indentation hardness test designed to provide information relating to the tensile strength, wear resistance, ductility or other physical characteristics of metallic materials, according to Pennsylvania-based standards organization ASTM International.)

Mahoney adds, “Companies that supply high-quality plate with high Brinell ratings are helping the customer manage wear and maintenance costs. Customers need to pay attention to liner plate quality and rating.”

He says American Baler uses Hardox 500 steel produced by Sweden-based steelmaker SSAB.

SSAB markets Hardox 500 as “a bendable and weldable abrasion-resistant steel, with a nominal hardness of 500 [on the Brinell scale].” SSAB says the plate steel is “suitable for applications that demand higher wear resistance. Hardox 500 increases payload and increases service life.”

The combination of durability, labor and maintenance costs, wire consumption and energy issues all come into play when selecting the right two-ram baler model, equipment providers say. They add that most of the recyclers they know are well-aware of this.

“The majority of our customers are very good operators,” Sroka says. “They understand that if you can eliminate labor via automation then you’re saving money. They also look at maximizing bale weight. This saves handling cost [and] wire cost, and you can maximize your warehouse space by storing more material in equal or less space. These may seem like minor savings, but, when you extrapolate these savings over a 20-year span, you’re typically looking at tens of thousands of dollars saved.”

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at