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Tuesday | 30 April, 2013 | 9:59 am

Chewing through metal

By Nick Wright

Above: Workers feed all parts into the shear by hand. Larger, odd-shaped scrap might take a couple of cuts before it’s broken down in size.

With its 90-ton shears, scrap company finds one bite is enough to cut down industrial metals

April 2013 - A July 2003 paper published in the Journal of Zoology found that American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) can bite down with a fearsome 2,125 pounds of force. That’s about the force of a dropped car. In large scrap metal processing operations, one would think an alligator would be sufficient. 

Because that’s not the case, a mainstay on the front lines of a scrap facility is the shear, a hulking industrial monolith that can digest cars. But for smaller shops that want small, powerful machines rather than giant, bulky equipment, heavy-duty hand-fed alligator shears are the way to go.

A couple years ago, Kovalchick Corp., Indiana, Pa., needed to boost its scrap-cutting muscle. It had shears for chopping up scrap, such as reels of steel cables and poles from utility companies but sought additional machines with a small footprint. After receiving an ad about shear options from Sweed Machinery, Gold Hill, Ore., who had previously supplied Kovalchick with an ACSR linear scrap separation system, Kovalchick responded.

mm-0413-scrap-imag1Nate Kovalchick, COO and an owner at Kovalchick Corp., asked Sweed about its alligator shears, specifically one with 16-inch blades and 90 tons of cutting force. 

“I called the president of Sweed and said, ‘We’re going to buy more of these shears, but it doesn’t look like you have the size we need,’” he says.

However, the 16-90 was still in its design and prototyping stage, hot on the heels of Sweed’s existing 10-27 and 16-50 shears.

Sweed’s president told Kovalchick it would manufacture the first one for Kovalchick, if the company agreed to buy one. Sweed knew that not only would Kovalchick put the first generation of its 16-90 shear “through its paces” but also would provide reliable feedback on how it worked, says Ryan Evans, mechanical design engineer at Sweed.

Sweed delivered the first 16-90 Alligator shear, then a second and a third—each with improvements, according to Kovalchick’s feedback. 

Powerful jaw

Along with utility scrap, Kovalchick cuts a regular stream of metal from heavy industrial operations: coal mines, fabrication plants and rock quarries. It turns machinery assets that have been removed from service into recycled metal. From utility customers, the cables Kovalchick cuts can be 8 inches in diameter. Its existing shears help unspool and cut the fat steel into manageable lengths.

“The new shears had to keep up with the operation that our older shears were capable of doing,” Kovalchick says.

In this instance, the shears act as big scissors, tearing metal into smaller pieces. “Our guys process on their shears every type of metal—copper, aluminum, stainless—anything that would come through a typical scrap operation,” he adds.

Metal is fed into the open blades and stabilized by notches in the bottom blade. Although the blades are 16 inches, the cutting opening envelope is 10 inches by 133⁄8 inches when the jaws are fully opened. Operators typically hold the scrap in place by hand and actuate the 10 horsepower, hydraulically driven top blade with a foot-pedal control. The blade comes down and, alligator-like, chomps through square and round steel bar up to 13⁄4 inch thick and flat bar up to 1⁄2 inch by 9 inch thick.

The 16-90 is the most capable of the three Sweed alligator shears, in terms of strength and capacity. At Kovalchick, the Sweed shears cut copper, brass, aluminum, wire or pipe scrap; ferrous material is processed separately with other equipment outside. For example, the shears won’t cut locomotive rail; that would require 1,000 tons to 2,000 tons of cutting force, Kovalchick explains.

Nonferrous material enters the processing warehouse through one of two ways. 

If Kovalchick buys a bundle of copper and brass, for instance, it goes directly into the processing warehouse for the Sweed shears to cut. If it’s a general load of mixed scrap that has some steel embedded, metals get separated manually at the outside scrap yard using mobile excavators. Then, the nonferrous material goes to the warehouse to be processed by the Sweed shears. 

SweedHowever, there are exceptions. Sometimes steel can get tangled or hidden in a load of supposed nonferrous scrap. Kovalchick sends the metal through the Sweed shears’ maw anyway. Once material is inside the warehouse, it doesn’t matter what type it is. It will get processed and leave the warehouse in a processed form. That way, Kovalchick doesn’t have to handle the scrap twice.

“If someone mistakenly sends steel pipe into that warehouse, it’d go through those shears and come out processed for the right location. That’s one of the valuable things about having a shear large enough. It can do anything like that. Lots of companies only have small shears that only do copper wire or something smaller. I’m sure our guys have tried to stick something in there too big for it but I never hear them complain,” Kovalchick says.

Fine tuning

With Kovalchick’s feedback in mind, Sweed eventually transitioned its 16-90 (and 16-50) shear line over to a tie-rod cylinder and a mechanically actuated valve with a cable-operated foot switch. The dialogue between Sweed and Kovalchick regarding the prototype 16-90 shear made for quick design changes that ultimately have increased production, cut costs and provided easier in-field maintenance/repair.

Sweed gives special consideration to field serviceability of its machines, allowing replaceable parts to be easily swapped along with quick shipment of parts and consumables, says Evans. Each shear is equipped with a hydraulic level sight gauge and fluid thermometer. The 16-50/16-90 series shears also include a hydraulic fluid cooler and a high temperature automatic shutoff switch. For shears headed to hot environments (foundries, for example), Sweed specifies a flame-resistant hydraulic fluid so the shears operate at standard pressures and speeds with no de-rating.   

“Scrap recycling facilities are tough on equipment,” Evans says. “Equipment is built to withstand the abuse it is subjected to for the life of the machine.”  mm-0413-scrap-image2

The majority of Sweed’s shears are used in facilities dealing with electrical wire, recycling, auto salvage and electronic waste. The company also can tweak its machines for custom applications in fabrication, extrusion and metalworking operations to handily dispose of off-spec product.

Kovalchick currently runs one shift at its operation, which sits on approximately 50 acres, about 60 miles west of Pittsburgh. Although it’s not continually running the shears, “its more efficient to have the shears than not have them,” Kovalchick says, “instead of using hand cutters or something like that.” 

Top service

Kovalchick Corp. is one company in a group privately owned by the Kovalchick family. It consists of diverse holdings in railroad material services, steel mills, scrap operations and land. Sweed’s rugged machinery fits into the recycling portion; the company’s smaller-profile machines are non-intrusive and extremely durable. With that array of businesses, Kovalchick recycles materials that are used in its own operations. 

“We recycle others’ materials but we use a fair amount in our own mills,” Kovalchick says.

Although Kovalchick uses scrap machinery from multiple suppliers, it’s partial to Sweed because of the customer service.

“Sweed, customer service-wise, on everything we’ve done, excels above other manufactures we’ve used,” Kovalchick says.

As it is, Evans adds, customer service is at the core of Sweed’s mission statement: “We will make the customer our top priority by providing quality equipment and exceptional service while working in a safe, clean and efficient environment. 

“Sweed has an industry reputation for taking each customer’s individual needs into account for whatever machinery is being made for them,” he says. 

Each shear model has a maximum blade length, cutting tonnage and jaw opening height that limit the size and thickness of the materials being cut. So, while it can cut just about anything, it won’t cut everything nicely. 

“Some customers have found that large stainless steel fittings can damage/chip the heat treated shear blades,” Evans says. Objects with thicker crushable cross-sections absorb the shears’ cutting capacity and might need to be sheared several times.

To chew through bigger pieces, Sweed currently is designing an estimated 24-200 shear (24-inch-long blades and 20 tons of cutting force at the throat) to fill a need for heavy-duty shears that can trim objects of greater girth.

“The large shear currently being designed should fill the space in Sweed’s line of alligator shears to meet the scrap industry’s broad spectrum of demands,” Evans says.

After all the engineering changes were made on the 16-90s, Kovalchick says, Sweed’s machinery now outperforms its comparable existing machines. MM

 

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