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Spot on: spotting and retrieving scrap metal bins can be made easier with the right truck and the ideal container.

Efficient operations help maintain a profit margin whether scrap metals markets are booming or struggling. For scrap processors, serving their commercial and industrial customers effectively while also keeping a lid on fuel and labor costs requires constant scrutiny.

Part of that scrutiny has to go toward how many container boxes are owned, where and how they are placed and when and how they are picked up.

PROPER FIT. The number of available scrap container sizes is almost as numerous as the number of grades of scrap metal.

Whether labeled as drums, hoppers, skips, bins or containers (not to mention Gaylord boxes and other nonmetallic options), a variety of collection devices are placed by scrap companies at customer sites. Ferrous scrap processors generally require larger containers to collect this bulkier, higher-volume commodity. According to industry suppliers, certain truck styles and container sizes have tended to gain favor throughout the decades as the ferrous scrap industry has evolved.

The closest thing to a standard container size could be the 22-foot length that is common within the scrap industry. "The 22-footers have a large share of the market, and roll-off trucks are basically built for them," says Greg Brown, president of Benlee Inc., Romulus, Mich., a maker of trucks, trailers, containers and other trucking components.

Brown estimates that the 22-foot container size may have as much as 80 percent of the market share for industrial scrap service accounts. The remainder of the market can include trailers that are 30, 36 or 40 feet or greater in length, provided a scrap generator has sufficient volume and room to maneuver to accommodate such a large trailer.

Even though 22 feet long is the most common size, not all 22-foot containers are alike. "They can be built with higher walls to carry different volumes, with standard volume sizes being 20-, 30- and 40-cubic yard capacities," notes Brown.

Alexander's Machine Shop, Fort Worth, Texas, makes containers to meet customer orders, but CEO Ronnie Alexander says his customers do have their favorite specifications.

"Most customers try to adhere to two or three sizes so there is some uniformity in what they own," he says of customer habits.

Overall, he says the "vast majority" of the 22-foot containers his company fabricates are those designed to hold 30 cubic yards of material. "They have an inside height of 5 feet," Alexander says.

Selecting the ideal size container is just one of several considerations a buyer faces, however.

A MATTER OF STYLE. Determining the type or types of trucks that scrap recyclers use to pick up and transport materials can be an important decision for them.

Recyclers are universally looking for reliability and durability, naturally, but other considerations include flexibility, adaptability and maneuverability. Basically, recyclers appreciate a variety of "abilities."

Straight trucks, with a truck body affixed to the truck cab, are suitable for some recycling tasks and do not require the same commercial licensing standards as a tractor-trailer combination.

But as Brown points out, such a truck has a lot less flexibility, and when it is down and out for mechanical problems, then an entire trucking unit is down and out (there is not a detachable cab or trailer to stay on the job separately).

Trailers are available in several styles, including roll-off or hoist (and hook-lift-hoist) configurations. The job of a truck and trailer in any of these configurations is to pick up and drop off containers, both when they are empty and when they are full.

Recyclers have preferences on trailer styles based on both perceptions and experience. Makers of hooklift-hoist systems, though, say their style of truck offers practicality to its users.

SwapLoader USA Ltd., Des Moines, Iowa, says its "mount/dismount system" allows it to operate "as a true dump truck." The hooklift's "high dumping angle assures the user of the ability to dump any and all loads quickly and efficiently," according to SwapLoader.

The company's hoist trailers are available in capacities ranging from 9,000 to 65,000 pounds to go with container bodies from 10 to 24 feet in length, according to the company.

Brown of Benlee notes that buyers of hooklift trailers are to some extent limited to using equipment that matches the size of their hook mechanism, thus taking away some flexibility.

Roll-off truck trailers "are more standard in terms of boxes and systems," says Brown. He says the roll-off style also provides more flexibility because it can accommodate containers well beyond the 24-foot length. "Roll-offs can go up to 42 feet in length, so that style gives you both commonality and a bigger volume or length."

For recyclers concerned about the maneuverability of their fleets, however, 24 feet may be as lengthy as they wish to go. "A lot of buyers select their trucks because they are short and maneuverable," says Brown, who estimates that three-axle roll-off trucks probably have 85 percent of the market compared to other models.

Benlee has been trying to convince customers that its newest product, the Super Mini Trailer, offers many desirable attributes in one package. The new product has a short wheelbase and a ma neuverable turning ratio, can carry a payload of up to 37,380 pounds and is affordable, says Brown.

According to Brown, the Super Mini offers strength and flexibility without the added cost of a hoist mechanism or a straight truck. "It is more maneuverable and you can carry more, so you are able to save fuel because you are making fewer runs."

THIN IS NOT IN. No matter what style of truck or size of container it is hauling, that container will need to be sturdy to stand up to the weight, abrasiveness and sharpness of scrap metal.

Although some haulers may be tempted to use solid waste trailers and scrap metal trailers interchangeably, industry suppliers recommend against this.

"Solid waste containers are made of thinner metal; they'll work for a short time in scrap applications, but they're not meant to haul scrap," Alexander says.

Brown says solid waste trailers are commonly made with 10-gauge steel on the sides and 3/16-inch thick steel on the floors. Heavier duty scrap trailers up the thicknesses to 3/16-inch on the sides with 1/4-inch floors. "The scrap guys do use a heavier-duty box," he comments.

Titan Trailers Inc., Delhi, Ontario, Canada, has introduced a line of "extreme-duty" enclosed trailers that feature live floors designed to withstand scrap metal backhauling and other rugged applications.

Containers designed for scrap also have to be welded or otherwise fabricated together to stand up to the rigors of the scrap environment, and metal recyclers have become keenly aware of this, according to Alexander. "It used to be that buyers were interested in how quick they could get a cheap container," he remarks. "But they know now that it's a huge investment and they are willing to pay a little bit extra for a well-built container that will last for years."

How many years is not certain, but both Brown and Alexander say that well-fabricated containers can last for decades, even in the scrap industry. "We still have containers we made when we started in 1970 that are working today," says Alexander.

When asked about the life span of a scrap container, Brown replies, "Forever, more or less."

Hopefully, taking delivery on those containers will not take forever. Some models and custom models can take up to four to eight weeks to deliver, say Brown and Alexander, while Brown says he also has some common sizes ready to be shipped immediately.

For recyclers in the market for containers, there may be a lot of decisions to be made, but the good news is once their containers are on hand, they should last a good long time.


Open-topped metal containers have a lot of uses and buyers, but for certain sizes of containers, the waste and scrap industries are key market segments.

For that reason, a combination of super hot scrap markets and the hectic hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 have put a strain on the container market, according to suppliers.

Ronnie Alexander, CEO of Alexander's Machine, Fort Worth, Texas, says the lead time to ship and deliver several types of containers has become drawn out from two to three weeks to six to eight weeks during the past two years in light of the hot scrap market.

Greg Brown, president of Benlee Inc., Romulus, Mich., says the damaging hurricanes (Katrina in particular) have soaked up many open-topped metal containers.

"In about 18 months, [roll-off] box prices are going to come down, because there will be a huge surplus once the Katrina cleanup winds down," says Brown.

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at btaylor@gie, net.
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Author:Taylor, Brian
Publication:Recycling Today
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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