The lay of the land

A number of factors contribute to the efficient layout and operation of a scrap yard.

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It takes a lot to run a scrap yard as efficiently as possible, and the layout of the yard plays a key supporting rule. Things like traffic flow and regulatory obligations can be easier to deal with if a company is establishing a new facility. These areas can be somewhat more difficult, however, if a recycling company is looking to upgrade an existing facility. Addressing these areas takes consideration.

According to CEO Greg Dixon and Executive Vice President Jim Wiseman of Lexington, Kentucky-based Smart Recycling Management, a consulting company that offers logistics, consulting and brokerage solutions for industrial metals recyclers, sometimes a little out-of-the-box thinking is in order when it comes to yard design. Wiseman and Dixon have more than 65 years of combined experience in the scrap metal recycling industry.

Designing the yard

When it comes to locating a new yard, Dixon says, “The first thing that I would look at would be accessibility. Do you have good access from a major road? If you have an industrial base around you that you’re servicing, you’ve got to be able to get the bigger trucks in and out easily.”

Following ease of accessibility, traffic flow within the yard tends to be one of the most important things to consider in optimizing yard design, and it can cause considerable trouble if it isn’t addressed appropriately.

Wiseman says, “If you’re starting from scratch, and you have the opportunity to set the yard up the way you want it, then hopefully you put enough thought into it.”

Dixon adds, “If you don’t have proper traffic flow, then you really get to a situation that could be a safety issue.”

For example, he says, “If you were loading [commercial] trucks in an area where you were unloading peddler traffic, and a piece of metal fell off the side of the truck when it came off the magnet, you can injure someone who is trying to bring new material to your facility.”

Dixon, who has worked for family-owned scrap companies as well as for River Metals Recycling, says, “We tried to have the peddler traffic in a separate area from our commercial and outbound traffic, so you didn’t have the big trucks in the same area as your smaller traffic.”

Traffic flow also depends on the equipment a yard is operating. Wiseman recommends relegating processing operations to the inside of the flow of traffic, with “splinter areas,” for trucks and vehicles to load and unload.

In the case of upgrading an existing facility, the options tend to be a little more limited, Wiseman says. If rerouting traffic flow is not an option, Wiseman suggests using personnel to help direct visitors.

“My mother worked for many, many years for Wal-Mart as a greeter,” he says. “In the early years in scrap yards, we had guys like that who would stand down at the truck scale, and they would radio in as to who it was, what they had. People have to be led in these facilities.”

He adds, “If they can get in and out … then the rest of it goes pretty easy.”

Recyclers may want to keep in mind that if they make upgrades to the layout of their facilities, such as paving the yard or adding buildings with the intention of processing indoors, their existing equipment may no longer be suitable. For instance, if an operation decides to pave its yard, wheeled vehicles as opposed to those with tracks might be preferred, as tracked vehicles can wear quickly and damage paved surfaces.

Ceiling height and floor load capacity are some common concerns when operating equipment in buildings.

“We only ran the smaller pieces of equipment inside the facility,” Dixon says of his previous experience working in scrap yards. “Then they would push material outside or get it to a door where a crane could reach it.”

Environmental obligations

Environmental awareness among scrap yard operators has increased as the industry has matured, and environmental regulations also have become more stringent in many cases. Wiseman recalls the early days of his career when he worked at a scrap yard where automobile batteries were smashed on concrete pads, the acid left to run off, while workers picked lead out of the remains by hand.

“If it rained enough, it would neutralize the acid,” he says.

Recyclers may want to keep in mind that if they make upgrades to the layout of their facilities, such as paving the yard or adding buildings with the intention of processing indoors, their existing equipment may no longer be suitable.

“Today, you just can’t do that,” Wiseman continues. “I think there’s a lot more caretaking today. You don’t want to do things that are going to bring the heat down on you.”

Although the regulations a scrap yard must follow will vary from state to state, stormwater runoff remains a prevalent issue, and yard operators can face litigation if it is not managed properly.

“Water may not fall directly on the product, but if it is able to get to the floor of where the product is, you still have a problem,” Wiseman says.

“Anytime you can design a yard to where you can keep any of your water runoff on your property, you will save yourself a lot of money,” Dixon says.

“You always have to plan for that hundred-year flood that you hope never comes,” he adds.

Retention ponds that are planted with absorbent grasses and plants can help with stormwater management.

Regarding incoming material, foresight is often the name of the game when receiving potentially hazardous materials. Wiseman advises keeping an eye on incoming material to determine whether the facility is equipped to deal with it.

“If it’s still on the truck, then you’ve got options,” he says. “Once you’ve got it on your property, then your options have changed.”

Good neighbors keep clean houses

Efficiency may very quickly become academic if the scrap yard is not properly maintained and if established idustry and environmetnal standards are not met to satisfaction.

Despite a yard’s efforts at maintenance and being good stewards of the environment, neighbors may still find plenty of opportunities for grievances. In cases where economic development causes a residential area to absorb the yard, it might make the most financial sense to move on, Dixon says.

Although the regulations a scrap yard must follow will vary from state to state, stormwater runoff remains a prevalent issue, and yard operators can face litigation if it is not managed properly.

When that is not an option, he says, “I think you just have to be conscientious of what’s around you and structure your site to the best of your ability to have the least impact on your neighbors.”

In such situations, he recommends a buffer to inhibit pollutants and noise. Planting trees helps to reduce dust and smoke pollutants, as well as to camouflage the property to an extent. Misting systems also can be used to reduce the amount of dust that leaves the property, Dixon says.

“I always like it when you can design something so it looks like it fits,” he says. “It takes care of any immediate issues that your neighbors may have.

“As much as we like scrap yards, they’re not the most attractive neighbor,” Dixon continues. “If there are items you can put under roof to lessen the impact, that’s a good way to go.” However, he says, this might not be an inexpensive solution.

Conscientiousness is equally important when dealing with customers. “I always kind of felt like there wasn’t enough customer service,” Wiseman says of the scrap industry in general. “That’s changed a little bit.”

He adds, “People will come back to you as long as they’re treated fairly.”

Organizing the scrap yard effectively is the most obvious way to be mindful of customers, as well as of employees. Even seemingly small things can make a big difference. Wiseman recalls working in a yard in Atlanta, where renovating the break room made a pronounced difference to the employees’ demeanor.

He says good customer service extends beyond having an organized and efficient yard.

“In the last place I worked, we decided to bring a hot dog guy in on Saturdays. If you sold scrap there, you’d get a ticket that allowed you to get a free hot dog. It was amazing how that boosted Saturdays, because people would come down there looking for the hot dog guy. Who doesn’t like a good hot dog?”

The author is an intern with the Recycling Today Media Group. He can be reached at dhale@gie.net.

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