Chris Ahring founded Apex Recycling Services in 1997 with a 1-ton truck, a storage unit and the idea to focus his business on buying automotive cores from local auto wreckers and resell them to parts purchasers. After more than 20 years, he is still staying true to his vision while also diversifying and growing strategically to position Apex Recycling Services to be a wrecker’s best possible partner.
Apex Recycling Services is in the St. Louis suburb of Fairmont City, Illinois. The company’s operations include a total of 40 acres, 170,000 square feet of warehouse space and 12 loading and unloading docks. Recent investments the company has made include purchasing 20 acres of additional land (doubling the yard from its previous 20 acres to its current 40 acres) on which to site its new demolition scrap service and a material handler.
“The bigger auto wreckers, smaller auto wreckers, salvage yards and recycling companies—they don’t have to sell their catalytic converters to a converter buyer; they don’t have to sell their nonferrous metal to a nonferrous buyer or their steel to another buyer; they can sell it all to us,” Ahring says. He says Apex Recycling Services is “a one-stop shop,” allowing the company’s customers a single point of contact.
Adding new services
Ahring started his business buying components from auto wreckers, including alternators, starter cores, catalytic converters, harness wires and aluminum wheels, which amounted to essentially everything on a scrapped vehicle other than the auto body.
“I started in 1997 with a 1-ton truck, going directly to the yards and buying there,” Ahring says. “A lot of these yards now ship direct to us, and we spot the equipment there at their sites.”
He says the company still picks up material from yards. “We still have trucks that run the road. I have buyers that travel and buy at their facilities, but it’s just something that has evolved over the last 20 to 22 years.”
In 2002, to accommodate his company’s growth, Ahring purchased 20 acres of land immediately across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis and near two major highways. Then, in 2012, he decided to add steel recycling to Apex Recycling Services’ offerings. That proved to be a success, so in 2016 he purchased an adjacent property, doubling his acreage and giving him rail access. Ahring says the expansion opened the doors for Apex to begin sourcing steel scrap from demolition contractors.
Apex Recycling Services previously used crawler excavators to stockpile and transload the influx of ferrous scrap. While the excavators were serviceable, Ahring says he thought a dedicated material handler with attachments would be better and more efficient. He says the visibility offered by the material handler’s fixed 4-foot cab riser makes the machine significantly more efficient for some of the jobs it is performing at the company’s yard. Additionally, the scrap handler’s straight boom and droop-nose arm assist with loading tasks.
“You can see from the top of the material handler a lot better than from the standard excavator that we were using,” Ahring says. “Time is money. We can see down into these open-top gondolas a lot better. You can see the ground a lot better.
“If an operator makes a mistake loading and has too much on an axle or misses a piece of scrap left in the trailer because he couldn’t see down in it, and then he has to go back in and reload and unload—all of that costs money,” he explains. “You need to be able to operate as efficiently as you can.”
Ahring had purchased compact equipment from Bobcat of St. Louis and developed a good relationship with the dealer. When he decided to rent a material handler, the dealer introduced him to the Doosan brand.
During the rental period, temperatures became very cold, and the Doosan DX225MH-5 material handler proved its performance and reliability, Ahring says. It performed so well that he decided to purchase the machine along with a grapple and a magnet for his growing steel recycling business.
Apex Recycling Services is split into two yards: its original yard, which accepts all incoming retail traffic, and a separate iron yard. Material is constantly being loaded in and out of the yards, which means the company’s material handler is almost always in motion.
“All of our heavy industrial or big dealer accounts come into our new iron yard, and anything small and retail we keep at the old location,” Ahring says. “We keep it separate so we don’t have retail guys and street traffic in our iron yard. The machine is used in both yards, eight to 10 hours a day.”
In the company’s original yard, operators run the material handler equipped with the magnet to separate ferrous metals from incoming material. In the iron yard, operators use the material handler equipped with the grapple to place material into the charge box of Apex Recycling Services’ 950-ton stationary shear. Once the guillotine-like shear has cut the steel scrap to specification, the material handler loads the steel into a rail car or truck to be transported to a mill.
“The operators are really happy with the material handler,” Ahring says. “They like that they can disconnect and reconnect the grapple and the magnet quickly. They like the raised cab because they can see how they need to load into the open tops or unload without missing materials.”
The company’s operators run the material handler 50 to 55 hours per week and perform daily maintenance on the machine. Apex Recycling Services depends on the DX225MH-5 to hold up because it’s become a vital part of the company’s growing business.
“I can’t sell fast enough at times, but it all depends on the markets and processing,” Ahring says. “If metal comes to the yard, it does not necessarily go back out in a 30-day period, but we are constantly loading material out. We’re constantly loading, bringing material in—the loading and unloading goes on nonstop.”