To look at it today, one would be hard-pressed to recognize the scrap tire industry as the same one that, as recently as 15 years ago, was shredding tires and throwing the resultant material into the ground. At that time, size reduction for disposal was the overriding concern: Make the product small, alleviate the mosquito problems that accompanied tire stockpiling and maximize landfill volumes.
Today, with a growing demand for crumb rubber, scrap tires are a valuable commodity, and it’s a whole new ballgame.
As markets for that crumb continue to mature, many equipment manufacturers, with the design of newer, more innovative equipment, are helping their customers transition to supplying those emerging markets.
CONTROLLED GROWTH. When Utah Tire Recyclers Inc. (UTR) was established in 1990, it was focused solely on shredding tires for landfill purposes. However, good management practices and some fortuitous contacts led to steady growth, with the company eventually operating plants in Salt Lake City and in Des Moines, Iowa. Today, UTR processes in excess of 3.5 million tires annually at its Salt Lake location and has become one of the western United States’ premier manufacturers of high quality crumb rubber.
According to UTR Vice President Rob Jahries, the company’s processing equipment, specifically its size-reduction equipment, has led the way in its transition to a crumb rubber specialist. In one specific area of the company’s operation, in fact, effective grinding has resulted in a much cleaner, more valuable end product—and a new revenue stream.
"Demand for product has changed over the years, driving the direction our business has taken," Jahries says. "But a real constant throughout our evolution has been the role the equipment has played. At the outset, we relied almost exclusively on a low-speed, high-torque shredder to downsize whole tires: first for landfilling then about five years into our operation, as chips for fuel." He adds, "In fact, a shredder is at the front end of our crumb line today and we still generate a good deal of 2-inch chip product for use as boiler fuel in area plants."
Jahries continues, "In 2001, driven by state of Utah incentives, we decided to manufacture a crumb rubber product and added a secondary grinder to separate the steel from the rubber, as well as a granulator. Finally, when the need for fine grind material rose to the forefront, we added powderizers." He adds, "We feel we have the best equipment in place today to create the range of materials we do."
That range includes material sized from a 2-inch chip down to a minus-40-mesh fine grind. End uses for the material are equally varied, covering everything from fuel chips to crumb rubber for use in asphalt production, as underlayment for football fields, for molded products, in horse arenas, as playground material, for running tracks, as tiles for weight room floors and more.
FEELINGS OF SEPARATION. While each piece of equipment in use at UTR plays an integral role in the creation of the final product, certain elements of the processing line have proven particularly beneficial from a performance standpoint and for the value they bring to the business. One such example, says Jahries, is UTR’s Grizzly Grinder from Granutech-Saturn Systems, Grand Prairie, Texas.
"The Grizzly plays a key role in our overall process in that it is the best piece of equipment I’ve found for separating the steel from the rubber as it downsizes the material. The company touts its Grizzly as being able to create product that is 95 percent steel free," Jahries says. "That’s an understatement; our material coming out of the Grizzly is consistently between 97 percent and 98 percent free of steel."
Although such a degree of cleanliness is important in reducing wear on downstream equipment as well as for the overall purity of the product, Jahries says that freeing all that steel has provided some additional unforeseen benefits.
"In the past, due largely to the low price of scrap metal, we had no market for the steel we recovered from the Grizzly. In fact, we were forced to pay to dispose of it," he says.
"With the high prices scrap is fetching today, we suddenly find ourselves with a valuable commodity—and a new revenue stream." Jahries adds, "We even added a briquetter to get the steel into a form which better suits the scrap customer’s needs. There’s no better example of how a single piece of equipment can positively impact an operation," he says.
AN INTANGIBLE VALUE. Jahries says that, while the new shredder’s performance-based contributions to UTR’s crumb operation are invaluable, the solid relationship he’s established with its manufacturer also affords a number of intangible benefits.
"I’d like to think we have a great relationship with all our equipment suppliers, but it is particularly strong with Granutech-Saturn," he says. "Our first piece of equipment was a Saturn shredder, and we’ve been a customer ever since. That rapport has resulted in their helping us over the years in a number of areas, not just with grinding or powderizing related issues, but with everything from air systems to material handling to magnets. Jahries continues, "They bring a wealth of scrap tire processing expertise to the table and they’re willing to share that knowledge with us whenever we need it. That’s been a valuable resource to have available."
PUSH TO EXPAND. The headaches associated with operating two plants so far from each other (Utah and Iowa) prompted the company to sell its Des Moines site in 2002. Today, UTR operates solely out of a 15,000-square-foot facility and is in the final phase of adding 7,500 square feet of space to accommodate a secondary processing line.
"The new building will be adjacent to our current plant and will essentially be identical in design," Jahries says. "That would involve a shredder/classifier feeding the Grizzly, feeding the granulator, feeding the powderizers, with appropriate metal and fiber separation at various points throughout. The resultant material is either shipped by trailer, as in the case of the fuel chips, or bagged, as in the case of the crumb and fine grind."
UTR is currently running 24 hours per day, five-and-a-half days per week just to keep up with demand. Jahries says that he feels having the new facility online should not only allow for a modest upturn in production, but that it also should help to alleviate some of those workload issues.
"This industry has been more robust in the last two to three years than at any point in our 16 years of operation," he says. "The price of fuel today has made the TDF market extremely solid, and new products for the crumb material seem to arise almost daily. So we are in a very nice position of being prepared—and equipped—to meet all those needs," Jahries adds.
This article was submitted on behalf of Granutech-Saturn Systems of Grand Prairie, Texas.