Impressive levels of capital investment have been made in automobile and metals shredding equipment in the previous several decades, but that doesn’t mean shredding has monopolized the scrap processing sector.

Recyclers in the United States and around the world continue to buy and operate metal shearing and baling equipment, feeding stationary shears (also known as guillotine shears) and portable shearing, baling and logging machinery.

While shredded metals have become benchmark scrap grades in both the ferrous and nonferrous sectors, savvy operators continue to watch market pricing and their own operating costs to help determine when it is appropriate to divert materials from the shredder and instead feed metal shearing equipment.

A market-ready product

Steelmakers that operate electric arc furnaces (EAFs) have shown a preference for shredded scrap (provided the chemistry is right) as a dense feedstock that is well-suited to the EAF melting process.

That has by no means eliminated sheared scrap from the mix of ferrous grades regularly purchased and consumed by steelmakers and iron foundries, however. Among the “cut grades” commonly in the mix are those involving plate and structural materials, often derived from the demolition process.

The benchmark No. 1 and No. 2 heavy melting steel (HMS) grades also include materials that have been sheared by either a stationary, portable or scrap-handler-mounted shear. The two HMS grades can be the purchase of choice for many overseas buyers of U.S. ferrous scrap.

The president of a scrap recycling company based in the southeastern U.S. says, “Our focus on heavier scrap grades makes [a stationary shear] the right piece of equipment for us.”

Like many recycling firms that operate shears, the company does not engage in the competitive auto hulks sector and instead focuses on sourcing scrap from demolition contractors and other segments.

California, Maryland-based Super Salvage is another firm that concentrates on “heavier scrap,” which prompted the company to buy and install a stationary shear made by the Germany-based Danieli Henschel division of Italy-based Danieli-Centro Recycling. The company worked with Danieli and Owings, Maryland-based ProWare Systems to complete the shear installation in 2015.

The cut grades produced by shears generally must be sold at a lower per-ton cost than shredded ferrous scrap, and the spread can vary significantly depending on scrap flows and other market conditions.

In March 2018, according to transaction figures collected by Pittsburgh-based MSA Inc. through its Raw Material Data Aggregation Service (RMDAS), domestic steel mills paid an average of $21 more for No. 2 shredded scrap compared to No. 1 HMS.

The March 2018 $21 spread was slightly wider than in most previous months, but it was in line with a 5-to-6 percent difference in the values of the two grades that has been the trend in 2017 and 2018.

Knowing they are likely to receive less for prepared scrap if they shear rather than shred, processors are interested in the per-ton operating costs of this equipment.

Maintaining a long-term attitude

Alfred A. Nijkerk and Winand L. Dalmijn, in their 1995 book, Handbook of Recycling Techniques, trace the history of the guillotine shear to the French Revolution-era capital-punishment dispenser but also more directly to smaller alligator shears.

The Dutch writers and researchers point to rising wage scales and an abundance of post-World War II demolition (air raid and battlefield) scrap in Europe as giving rise to larger stationary shears.

Unlike the gravity-driven French Revolution guillotine, the new, larger shears draw upon the power of hydraulic cylinders, pumps and fluids. By the 1990s, according to Nijkerk and Dalmijn, “hundreds of hydraulic guillotine shears [were] in operation in almost as many scrap yards around the world.”

Those units, the authors write, ranged from 125 metric tons of hydraulic cutting force to up to 3,000 metric tons. Shears in the 750-to-1,200-ton range were by then, and remain, among the most common.

Jeff Ham, who is based in Nashville, Tennessee, for Georgia-based Harris, contends that “a guillotine shear in the 1,000-ton range is a vital piece of equipment in a scrap yard” and is particularly well-suited for steel beams that comprise part of the plate and structural grade of ferrous scrap. He adds, “This machine will process scrap at a much lower cost per ton than processing it through a shredder.”

While cutting torches also can be used to cut steel beams into smaller sections, “A shear can take [part of the] burden off of torch crews,” he adds.

Ham says stationary shears provide advantages to the operator—in some aspects in direct contrast to circumstances caused by shredders. “A shear is not a difficult machine to maintain,” he says. “The quality and condition of the knife blades, as well as the adjustment of them to maintain the proper knife gap, is the primary maintenance concern on a shear. Wear liners and normal hydraulics maintenance also are considerations.”

How long shear blades last “depends primarily on what type of material is being processed, how often the baler or shear is being operated as well as the operator’s ability to spot and avoid undesirables or ‘unshearable’ items, causing premature blade failure,” says Dave Blount, a sales and business development manager with Bettendorf, Iowa-based Asko Inc.

Before they reach the end of their lives, some shear blades can be flipped or rotated, perhaps after 80 to 120 hours of operating time, Blount says. The blades typically should be inspected weekly or at intervals recommended by the shear’s manufacturer, he adds.

A regular inspection process “can take just a few minutes or up to a half hour,” Blount says. “The blade change process can typically be finished within two hours, depending on what else is required.”

Blount adds that, unfortunately, “Not all processors follow recommended maintenance programs.”

Delaying shear and blade maintenance can lead to complications in the maintenance process (once it gets underway) or can result in declining shear performance or even catastrophic failure.

If they are well-maintained, however, shears can be hardy pieces of equipment with long service lives. The recycler in the Southeast who operates a stationary shear was able to run one such model for 40 years. Super Salvage, before purchasing its Danieli shear, operated a previous stationary guillotine shear for 28 years.

As the world’s scrap industry has become increasingly global and grown tremendously by volume this century, the hydraulic guillotine shear has not lost its place in the scrap processing industry.

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted via email at btaylor@gie.net.