Tuesday | 24 September, 2013 | 2:07 pm

Stacked savings

By Nick Wright

Briquetting machines crunch scrap into easy-to-handle pucks of metal

September 2013 - The beauty of the video game Tetris is that once a solid line of blocks are formed, they disappear. If the same effect could be rendered by piling scrap metal together, service centers and fab shops alike would shell out capital investments left and right. The reality is there will always be scrap in some form. No matter how manageable it’s made or tightly it’s compressed, it won’t instantly vanish. But one company’s scrap machine isn’t too far off from making that happen.

RUF Briquetting Systems, based in Germany with a U.S. office outside of Cleveland, manufactures advanced machines that compress scrap down to hockey puck-like round blocks, called briquettes, making scrap disposal, transport and recycling later on simple. Briquetting is nothing new—the technology has been around in some form for more than 50 years. Its evolution since has made it cheaper and faster, particularly for the aluminum industry. 

Many companies in the aluminum world recycle their scrap in chip form. Those chips can be monetized through recycling, but recycling aluminum chips isn’t totally painless. For one, they’re light and can be hard to transport. Removing solvent or oil associated with manufacturing operations is difficult, too, leaving companies with wet chips to handle. Some recyclers won’t take wet chips, or charge a fee.

On the other hand, briquettes are stackable, which makes use of all the free space in a transportation or material handling setting—think Tetris. 

“Metal briquettes are typically bulk loaded into trailers or roll-off containers and shipped to the foundry or scrap yard from the producer,” says Greg Tucholski, president of RUF.

These briquettes, according to RUF, benefit not only the producer looking to untangle itself from messy, unruly chips, but the aluminum industry downstream. In terms of weight, briquettes produce more aluminum after being melted entirely than chips. Briquettes average 120 pounds per cubic foot versus 15 pounds per cubic foot for chips. 

One reason smelters opt for briquettes is chips tend to burn while dense briquettes melt down more like a solid. With one of RUF’s briquetting machines, removing lubricant or saw cutting coolant, for example, keeps companies from hiring a third party to do it. That liquid can be recycled. Plus, wet chips can drip from a truck onto the road during transport, leaving a trail of liability issues.


Savings in ammo

Ultimate Training Munitions, based in the U.K., manufacturers training ammunition and safety equipment for armed forces and law enforcement globally. Its U.S. plant in Branchburg, N.J., contains 10 machines in  a 60,000 square-foot-facility for ammunition, weapons conversion kits and safety equipment. In production, UTM creates tons of turnings as precision munitions and components are machined and finished with high-speed aluminum turning processes. As you can imagine, plenty of lubricant is used on the aluminum, which saturates the turnings.

This caused headaches for UTM because it had to put waste in hoppers, where the scrap would partially drain before being collected and sold for pennies to scrap companies. UTM turned to RUF’s briquetting machine after seeing it at a trade show. UTM’s moisture content threshold for getting ideal chip return is 2 percent. With the briquettes, UTM’s chips have only 1.1 to 1.8 percent moisture, which boosts chip resale revenue by about 50 cents per pound, according to UTM. The company’s scrap revenue has grown by 250 percent since bringing in briquetting machine, which paid for itself in six months.

The installations for the systems are typically compact for a small footprint. For example, small capacity machines are 40 inches by 28 inches or 84 inches by 84 inches on medium production machines, says Tucholski. He recommends 3 feet of clearance around the machine for maintenance and operation. 

The machines compress chips by pressing them to a controlled density before a main pressing ram moves the material into a mold. This forms the briquette into its shape and density. A reciprocating mold slides sideways and the briquette is popped out by parallel ejectors as a second briquette is formed. Briquettes are then ready to be stacked and hauled away. It’s not quite Tetris, but it’s pretty close. MM


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