The dos and don’ts of baler maintenance

Avoid unnecessary downtime by properly maintaining your baler.

When you first look at the equipment that is used in a material recovery facility (MRF) or in another type of recycling, scrap metal or waste processing facility, you see loaders, forklifts, conveyors, screens and of course balers. Other than the fixed sorting and separating equipment in a recycling plant or MRF, most of the equipment can be rented or in some cases purchased new or used with little turnaround time. Even if you are in a labor jam, you can bring in temporary workers. However, it is difficult and not too common, if not impossible, to rent a baler.

Balers, if not maintained properly, can cause long, extensive periods of downtime, especially in the case of needing hard-to-find or not readily available parts, like cylinders, motors, pumps, valves or liner plates. Therefore, balers need to be properly operated and maintained for a plant to produce efficiently and consistently.

Dos and don'ts

Here are some basic dos and don’ts regarding baler operation and maintenance.

  • Do keep your baler clean and inspect it often. Don’t neglect completing inspections. Your baler operator(s) and/or maintenance personnel should be, at a minimum, following the guidelines spelled out by the equipment manufacturer as it relates to daily, weekly, monthly and annual inspections and preventive maintenance. Balers get hot, and dust is an insulator, so keep it clean and take precautions to ensure the cooler and the motors are cleaned daily.
  • Do purchase and maintain an inventory of spare parts. Don’t wait until the last minute to order critical spares that might keep your plant down longer than you would like. Downtime is a subject worthy of its own story, but the bottom line is the only people making money when your plant is down are your vendors and potentially your competition. Don’t get caught with your baler down because you don’t want to invest the extra money into spare parts inventory. Ask your baler representative what recommended critical spare parts you should have on hand and what the lead times are on the larger items.

In the case of cylinders, you could wait weeks to have one manufactured or repaired, which does not include shipping time if there isn’t a shop in your city. Find out the expected life of major components, such as cylinders and electrical and hydraulic components, and use that information to help you decide which parts to stock or where they might be readily available locally. In addition, find other operators that might have the same machine and, if it can be accomplished, partner up on certain parts.

Remember to include in your spares inventory parts for the wire tier. Whether it be a combined tier on a single-ram extrusion baler or a tier made by a separate manufacturer and integrated into your two–ram baler, it is important to maintain a sufficient inventory of the most common wear parts and, again, those that have the longest lead time. Once more, if you are not sure what parts to have on hand, speak with your baler manufacturer, a representative of the manufacturer or directly with the wire tier manufacturer’s service and parts representative.

  • Do plan preventive and anticipated major maintenance. Don’t wait until the baler breaks to make necessary repairs that can be prevented by performing routine maintenance. Based on volumes of materials processed, your baler is going to need major work done at some point, such as being relined. This can take from three to seven days depending on baler type, size and the condition of the machine at time of reline. This is not an “if” scenario but a “when” scenario and not planning for it will only cost you more money.

Preventive maintenance on your baler does more than keep your baler operating properly, it also helps to ensure safe operation. A typical preventive maintenance program should include daily, weekly and monthly inspections of various components. Each inspection, regardless of the schedule, should start with safety in mind.

In addition to safety and helping to avoid serious break downs, routine preventive maintenance will help to increase the life expectancy of your machine along with ensuring consistent production of bales at the expected weight and density.

Examples of items to inspect daily are:

  • hydraulic fluid levels;
  • hydraulic oil temperature;
  • hydraulic hoses;
  • filters;
  • cylinders;
  • pumps, valves, hoses and pipes;
  • motors and conduit for damage;
  • photo eyes and/or proximity switches;
  • the wire tier’s cutter, twister, track, springs, knotter and the feed to the tensioner;
  • twister pinions and bushings;
  • cleanliness;
  • safety guarding; and
  • radiator or cooling device.

Items to inspect weekly include:

  • cylinder housing areas for debris;
  • e-stops for functionality;
  • bale chamber for debris buildup;
  • floor for integrity;
  • ensure warning stickers are in place;
  • motor couplings;
  • oil tank magnets;
  • hydraulic oil filter;
  • hydraulic oil temperature;
  • bearings in drive unit;
  • limit and proximity switches;
  • electrical components;
  • bottom track cover;
  • clean and lubricate track assembly;
  • clean and lubricate knotter;
  • track springs for proper tension, wear;
  • bale wire covers; and
  • safety guarding.

Items to inspect monthly include:

  • shear knife clearance (gap);
  • floor, sides and platen wear plates; and
  • hydraulic system pressure.

It is important to ensure the baler’s hydraulic system is operating properly. Have the hydraulic fluid analyzed frequently. Follow your OEM’s specifications or those of the fluid producer. Most OEMs recommend maintaining an oil analysis program.

  • Do train your operators how to operate your baler properly. Don’t assume that because the employee was a really good loader or forklift operator that he or she will make a good baler operator. Even with newer balers being more automated, the individual responsible for that baler’s operation needs to understand implicitly how it operates. Poor operators will only end up heading toward a poorly maintained piece of equipment, thus adding to the overall cost of maintaining the baler.

In addition, a baler’s hydraulic system operates under high pressure and extreme temperatures. These factors are exacerbated by the typical facility’s environment. Operators must be trained properly and should complete daily inspections or some type of inspection that assures his or her accountability. The operator should keep the baler clean and monitor bale weights to ensure correct density and weight.

  • Do take care of your baler as if it is the heart of your operation. Don’t take it for granted that it will take care of itself. A well-maintained baler will continue operating efficiently and profitable for decades.


The author is with Midwest Recycling Service and Sales (MRSS), Cartersville, Georgia, and can be contacted at

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