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Disassembly line: at a time when many electronics recyclers incorporate some degree of shredding into their business models, Intercon Solutions is focused solely on demanufacturing.

Shredding can offer a cost-effective processing solution for end-of-life electronics. However, the process doesn't always ensure that electronics recyclers will yield high-quality secondary materials of optimal value. While demanufacturing can help to optimize the value of the materials recovered for recycling, the process is labor intensive, which naturally drives up the processing costs.

Despite the higher labor costs incurred through demanufacturing, Brian Brundage, CEO of Intercon Solutions, Chicago Heights, Ill., says the process is well worth it, as the company is able to mitigate its customers' concerns about data and environmental safety while finding domestic markets for all of its secondary materials.

While resale of electronics could help to offset the costs associated with IT asset disposition, Intercon Solutions has decided not to include this option among its service offerings. "None of our materials are resold or remarketed as reusable items; they are simply used for base metal or raw material values," Brundage says.

The company has opted to forgo the resale option in favor of mitigating the potential risks to its clients. "There is no way, once you've resold something, to control that asset," he says. "We do business with a lot of OEMs. They want to be sure that their recycling reputation is in good standing."

Intercon Solutions Director of Corporate Recycling Timothy Osgood says, "We understand that donations, reuse and refurbishing are forms of recycling; however, none of these can guarantee that the latter users/owners will be environmentally responsible." He adds, "One break in any part of the environmental responsibility chain can lead to potential liability somewhere down the road, be it from an asset tag ending up in a landfill, data being compromised on a hard drive or lost profits from someone else selling your product for a discount on the secondary market."

In addition to safeguarding the company's clients, Intercon's approach to electronics recycling also has an economic benefit, according to Brundage.

"Intercon has also taken steps to add labor instead of robotics and/or shredders, increasing both productivity and employment rates," he says. "We prefer to perform our demanufacturing process by hand, eliminating inherent hazards associated with mechanized equipment, airborne pollutants and the contamination of recyclable material," Brundage adds.

This has been Intercon Solutions' philosophy from the start.

THE PHILOSOPHY. Intercon Solutions was formed in 1987 by current Chief Financial Officer Howard Gossage. The company was originally based in California, which Gossage thought would be an ideal location in light of the state's heavy involvement in the technology sector. However,

Brundage says, the logistics involved in shipping heavy electronics to California from across the country actually worked against the company, which would benefit from a more central location. Therefore, Intercon Solutions relocated it processing plant and headquarters to Illinois in 2001, settling into its current Chicago Heights location in 2005. "Being centrally located in the Midwest gives us a good location in relation to our customers," Brundage says.

Intercon Solutions' Illinois ISO 14001-2004-certified plant measures more than 225,000 square feet and houses a main demanufacturing line for smaller electronics and five more specialized demanufacturing stations, including one for mainframe and telecommunications equipment and one for hard drives.

"In many cases we have clients that want specific processing done," Brundage says. "We will tailor a work station around that requirement."

Osgood adds, "Because we strive to continually improve our efficiency and processes, our clients receive the highest assurance protecting against environmental liability, as well as protecting data security and market share. From individual end users to manufacturers, small businesses to large corporations, we work with everyone to provide customized recycling solutions."

The company employs approximately 20 people at its Chicago Heights plant (each of whom have had a background check) and receives an average of 10 25,000-pound tractor-trailer loads of material per week. Brundage estimates that Intercon Solutions processes roughly 1.3 million pounds of material per year from a combination of Fortune 500 companies, large and small corporations, municipalities, government agencies, manufacturers, educational institutions and individuals, yielding $1.5 million in annual sales.

In addition to its Chicago Heights headquarters and processing facility, Intercon Solutions has staging locations in California, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Canada and the UK where material is unloaded from clients and prepared for shipment to the Illinois plant for processing.

The electronics are labeled and sorted by originator or by type. Prior to the demanufacturing process, employees further sort the equipment, a step that helps to speed up processing. Employees then disassemble each device into its component parts in preparation for raw material extraction.

THE PLEDGE. Brundage says Intercon Solutions decided against the shredding option because it compromises the value of the recovered material and can make it more difficult to find markets for. "Historically 60 to 70 percent of the shredded material is easily recyclable, and you can move it right away." The remaining material requires further processing, however, at additional expense, or may end up in the landfill, Brundage says.

"By putting more time and effort into this type of processing, we can get the raw material recycled properly," he says.

Intercon Solutions has markets for all of the material it generates, including the plastic, which goes to two plastic lumber companies for use as feedstock. "We pay a certain amount of money to get our plastics processed," Brundage says. "We'd rather know where that material is going than take the highest prices out there." The company also pays to recycle its glass, which goes to a lead smelter.

Osgood says, "Our finished product only goes to end users that have an environmental management system in place that is in line with our own registered and certified ISO 14001:2004."

Brundage says, "The simplicity behind our process is a big sales point." He adds, "Labor is expensive. You have to have a lot of one type of material to do it successfully. We have that."

Because of the high cost of labor and the company's promise to recycle all of the material it generates, Intercon Solutions "is not the cheapest guy on the block," Brundage says. "We're not trying to be. With quality, the price tag is generally a bit larger." He says that it's more important for his customers to know that their electronics have been handled properly than to get "a couple of cents back here and there" through resale or lower-priced options that may rely on land filling or export markets.

In addition to safely recycling the material it generates, Brundage says the company's process also ensures that Intercon Solutions' customers' data will be safely destroyed. "Every client, from government agencies to corporations, that has seen our process understands that there is physically no way to get information from the drives after we demanufacture them."

The staff at Intercon Solutions opens each drive, pulls off the printed circuit board and then continues pulling apart the drive. "Once the drive has been opened up, you realistically cannot get any information off of it," Brundage says. "It is probably 99 percent impossible to put a drive back together that has been demanufactured and mixed in with thousands of other drives."

To highlight Intercon Solutions' commitment to security, the company has embarked on a security upgrade at its Chicago Heights facility using a $75,000 grant from the state of Illinois. The plant has key-card access for employees and continual video surveillance monitored by a security guard. Additionally, clients will eventually be able to witness the destruction of their end-of-life assets in the comfort of their offices using their computer monitors.

Intercon Solutions' commitment to secure and responsible recycling is foremost among the company's management staff.

THE PEOPLE. Brundage joined Intercon Solutions in 2001 when presented with the opportunity to buy into the company. In his role as CEO, he has helped Intercon Solutions embark on a five-year growth period.

Brundage has an 18-year history in the recycling industry, getting his start working for a metals recycling company owned by Jon Yob in Tampa, Fla., while he was still in high school. Brundage also helped Yob to start up Creative Recycling Systems Inc. in 1994, where he served as vice president until moving to Intercon Solutions in 2001.

Brundage says he strives to maintain a team atmosphere at Intercon Solutions, allowing "people and personality" to run the business.

Osgood is among the people and personalities at the forefront. As director of corporate recycling, he is charged with the responsibility of developing corporate-wide strategies for organizations that have multiple locations throughout North America. Osgood also oversees Intercon Solutions' sales and marketing staff.

While he says he feels proud to work for a company that puts environmental and data protection at the forefront of its business model, the job is not without its challenges. "The most challenging aspect of working for Intercon Solutions is educating clients and potential clients that all electronics recyclers are not alike and that verbal assurance is not enough to protect data security or possible environmental liability, now or 20 years from now," Osgood says.

Teresa Jarrett serves as director of operations for Intercon Solutions. She oversees the staff and handles the day-to-day tasks associated with that. She was new to the electronics recycling industry when she joined the company roughly three years ago, having worked in the customer service and e-commerce industries.

Intercon Solutions has a strong female presence on staff, with women making up about 60 percent of the company's staff, which is unusual for the recycling industry.

"I think the reason we have a high number of women working at our firm is due to the fact that we have a real 'team' atmosphere and a family-like environment," she says. "We are pretty flexible, and even when we are on the road we always stay connected. This enables more time for family when applicable," Jarrett adds.

The company's business philosophy is to put people first, according to Brundage. "We are successful because of our people and all of their unique skills," he says. "Our approach works because it is supported by our team of salespeople, customer service representatives, skilled labor and marketing specialists."

He continues, "Flexibility creates success in this industry. We have the resources, dynamic team and the desire to tailor our services to the customers' needs, creating long-lasting relationships."

The author is managing editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at
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Title Annotation:Intercon Solutions
Author:Toto, Deanne
Publication:Recycling Today
Article Type:Company overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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