In the heart of Hamtramck, Michigan, sits a bright, clean new building surrounded by freshly landscaped grounds. It’s home to a new business called the Hamtramck Recycling & Transfer Station. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be news, except that when you compare this attractive new 33,000 sq.ft. facility with the recycling business that had previously occupied the spot, you begin to get an inkling that something significant is happening in this old industrial city.
To say that the building was in bad shape is an understatement. “The whole building was in disrepair,” recalls Seth Krueger, the President of the Hamtramck Recycling & Transfer Station, “and it was a hazardous environment for the workers.”
Krueger’s father, Jerry Krueger, is president of American Community Developers, Inc. (Detroit, MI). With over 80 properties and more than 11,000 apartments, ACD is one of the nation’s leading providers of affordable housing, but Seth was looking for a new business opportunity.
“Our family has a friend in the waste business,” says Seth, “and we said to him if you ever have anything that’s interesting in the way of a business opportunity, give us a call.” Eventually, the friend reported that he and his partners were hoping to divest themselves of the old recycling and transfer facility in Hamtramck and were open to a possible buy-out.
The ramshackle look of the place and the fact that the business was operating on a shoestring would have been enough to scare off many investors, but Seth determined that this underperforming business had several things going for it. Among these was the fact that it had previously obtained the proper zoning from the City and a license from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as well as the proper permits from Wayne County.
“So in December, 2010, we agreed to take it, on a three-month trial basis, with the stipulation that we would go in there and run the operation.”
“They had no automated equipment to speak of,” says Krueger. “Theoretically they were a recycling business as well as a waste transfer station, but they were only recycling one to two percent of what they were taking in. The rest was simply compacted and hauled to the landfill or the incinerator.”
Much of the problem stemmed from the lack of adequate equipment that Krueger mentioned. Without efficient means for moving the trash through the pick cycle, it simply piled up. “The trash was 12 feet deep on a continuous basis. They pulled out the commodities that they could pick off the surface, but the rest was hauled away. It was just a mountain in there and they never made much headway on that mountain. The place was not only missing opportunities, but it was hazardous to work there.”
Despite all this, the Kruegers were attracted by the business’s potential. In a word, they felt it was the right business, but done the wrong way.
After analyzing the facility’s operations and the surrounding market during that initial three month trial period, the Kruegers decided to jump in with both feet. The first big item on their agenda: Tear down the existing structure and construct a new one. The new facility would have to have an exterior that was bright and attractive – a complement to the community and not an eyesore. And, of course the interior would have to be designed for the modern, efficient recycling and waste transfer operation they envisioned.
But, what of the heart of this new structure – the equipment that would go inside the facility? It had to be efficient, it had to be rugged, and it had to be as automated as possible. The Kruegers began by taking proposals from conveyor manufacturers and visiting several of them. One of them was Mayfran International Inc., (Cleveland, OH)
After visiting the Mayfran manufacturing plant and engineering facility in Cleveland, Krueger was impressed with what he had seen. “We saw how they put their fault bearing members together, their belts, their cleats, and we saw firsthand what gauge steel they were using,” notes Seth. “We felt confident that nothing was going to be done on a lightweight basis. They were using the right amount of steel, heavy-duty motors, and building in the ruggedness appropriate for a waste business.”
“We thought that their price was fair,” he continues, “it wasn’t the cheapest, it wasn’t the most expensive, it was reasonable.” Location, too, was a factor. “It wasn’t a factor for Mayfran since they have customers all over the country, but we were very comfortable with the fact that it’s only a three hour drive between Cleveland and the Detroit area, so if we wanted maintenance service, or if we wanted to consult face to face, it would be relatively easy.”
Mayfran won the contract to design, engineer and fabricate a 12 conveyor system for the new facility. The design phase was characterized by close interaction between the two parties. “They had, for instance, different linking systems, different belts, and different cleats, and they worked with us to help us specify the ones that would be right for our application,” says Seth Krueger. Other important questions included the width of the conveyor belt, whether or not the conveyor needed to be capable of reversing or not, whether it needed multiple speeds or just a single speed, the appropriate gearing ratios, and the height of the retaining sidewalls that would keep the waste material securely on the conveyor belt. These and similar issues were resolved jointly with an eye toward securing the right components for this particular application.
One of the most crucial areas of interaction, given Krueger’s insistence that the new system incorporate a high degree of automation, was concerning the control system. “Our electrical engineering and programming team had extensive meetings with their Mayfran counterparts,” says Seth.
The new system would employ an integrated Allen-Bradley platform, controlled by an Allen-Bradley CompactLogix PLC with a Panel View Plus Color Touch Screen, and incorporating Allen-Bradley motor starters and circuit breakers along with Power
Flex 40 variable speed drives. This powerful PLC enables the team to have a plant-wide control system that integrates safety, motion, discrete and drive capabilities in a single controller.
The Hamtramck Recycling team worked with Mayfran to customize the start-up and shut down sequence. “When you have 12 conveyors you don’t necessarily want them all to run immediately when you hit start,” explains Seth. They also customized button functions, alarm and warning symbols, and error messages. Importantly, Mayfran also provided the Hamtramck Recycling team with access to the PLC’s programming code. This allowed the team to further customize the control, and save countless hours of programming time to boot.
The 12 conveyor system was installed in 2012. The conveyors feature heavy-duty hinged steel belts with 6-inch flanged rollers. The frames are of heavy-duty steel construction. “They were up and running within a couple weeks after installation,” notes Seth. “They weren’t all fully tested out and tightened up yet at that point, but they were functioning.”
“For instance, during this testing period one of the motors was functioning but not in the way we had expected. Mayfran agreed and said yes, they would replace it, but keep the one you have until we can ship you the new one. So, instead of having to ship the old one back, wait, and be down for weeks, we were able to keep running. When the new one arrived we installed it and were down for only three hours. They understand the need for businesses to keep going.”
“We got our final clearance from the DEQ in December 2012 and we were cleared to accept waste,” says Seth. “For the first few months we were doing test loads and getting our procedures tight as we ramp up to full production.”
Already, though, the Hamtramck Recycling & Transfer Station is recycling about 50 percent of the material that comes in – a far cry from the one to two percent recycling rate at the old facility. Their goal is to recycle an even greater percentage in the future.
The process at the new facility begins with the arrival of trucks with mostly industrial and commercial waste -- little consumer-generated waste is handled at the plant. The trucks are automatically logged and weighed by proximity readers on the in-bound scale. The same process applies in reverse as the trucks pass over the out-bound scale. Everything at the plant has been designed in an effort to minimize the time the haulers must spend on site.
First, of course, the trucks unload their cargo into an in-ground receiving pit. Here a Mayfran conveyor, two and one half feet below floor level, lifts the waste 18 feet above grade to a mezzanine-level conveyor. The waste is carried at a waist-high level in a depth of roughly three inches past the workers stationed along the length of the conveyor who pick the recyclable commodities.
“Keeping the waste flow at three inches allows the workers to actually see the commodities they are supposed to pick,” says Seth. “It’s a far cry from the 12 foot deep trash piles of the old facility”.
Workers drop the recyclable commodities into the appropriate chutes in the mezzanine floor above a series of bunkers located below. The items picked and separated include paper and cardboard, several kinds of plastic including hard plastic and plastic film (shrink-wrap), as well as colored plastic film and various metals.
When full, the bunkers are emptied into a Mayfran conveyor that leads to the baler. The bales are then shipped to the appropriate mill. The paper and cardboard goes to a paper mill, which grinds and mixes it with virgin material, and puts it back into the consumer product stream. The plastic goes to a plastic mill where the same process is repeated. The steel goes to a scrapyard, which recycles it to a steel mill.
What percent of the incoming material ends up in a landfill?
“We made a commitment to being landfill free,” says Seth. His statement gives an inkling of the passion that animates Krueger; a desire to have a profitable business, surely, but a feeling that businesses should have a positive impact on the communities in which they operate. “It is part of what we do and who we are,” he adds. “We try to do the right thing.”
“We pull wood out to use as mulch bedding or for power plant fuel,” says Seth. A large percentage is sent to the Genesee Power Station, a cogeneration plant located in Flint, which burns it to create electricity. “It is another way to keep this material out of the landfill”.
Residual waste that is not recycled is sent to the Detroit Renewable Power plant as refuse derived fuel. This is also a cogeneration plant, creating electricity and steam for a number of buildings in downtown Detroit.
The Kruegers’ “do the right thing” approach is reflected in the staffing of the new plant as well. They partnered with ACCESS, a Detroit area nonprofit organization to assist in staffing. Among its many programs is their “Earn + Learn” program that targets young urban men between the ages of 18-24, recently incarcerated adults and chronically unemployed adults. This program includes four weeks work readiness training, followed by part-time employment while attending and educational program such as GED, short term Vocational Skills training or an accelerated 1-year certification at a community college. The program also includes coaching and support services such as transportation assistance, tools, and work experience to help get participants on track to a successful career path. “They help us identify candidates after they had provided them with some training, including OSHA training, at which time we were able to hire them for positions that don’t require previous work experience ,” notes Seth. “We have about 25 employees at the moment that have completed the ACCESS program.”
“They’re all from Hamtramck,” he continues, “and most walk or ride their bike to work. This fits in with what we are trying to do — create a local workforce where job creation is very important. We really want to be a part of the community here.”
And, as for their connection with Mayfran, the Kruegers are convinced they did the right thing in this area as well. As Seth relates, “They addressed all issues that arose, all the normal bumps in the road that you have with new equipment. They were right on top of it, they were timely, and they were very reasonable and fair in addressing them.
Mayfran International is one of the world’s premier manufacturers of at-the-machine chip and coolant conveyor/separators and central filtration and processing systems for metal cutting and grinding manufacturing, scrap handling conveyors and handling systems for the metal stamping and fabricating industry and conveyors and related equipment for solid waste and recycling operations. Its service and product offerings encompass complete analysis, design and engineering, and construction of application-specific and standard systems. Further information regarding Mayfran and its products can be found at www.mayfran.com.