There’s more than one way to compact car hulks to transport them efficiently. Whether you choose a crusher or baler/logger will depend on your budget, volume, and other metal processing needs.
By Kenneth A. Hooker
Car hulks stripped of their salvageable and salable parts—such as wheels, engine blocks, transmissions, wire harnesses, and catalytic converters—and ready for the shredder might first get compacted, facilitating their transport and preparing them for the shredder infeed. The two principal compaction tools are crushers and baler/loggers.
Car crushers or flatteners can be the simplest solution. Typically, these machines compress the hulks in one direction until they’re flat enough to stack several of them on a truck bed for transport. Baler/loggers, on the other hand, exert pressure from multiple directions to produce tighter, denser, more self-contained units you can load even more efficiently. Each type of equipment has benefits and drawbacks that scrapyards should consider based on their end-of-life vehicle volume and other processing needs.
The Case for Crushers
Many industry professionals consider car crushers entry-level equipment for getting into car processing. With a base price of $125,000 to $150,000, crushers are only about a quarter of the cost of baler/loggers that can handle car hulks. On the other hand, they cannot process other types of scrap, so car crushers are more limited than baler/loggers.
Car crushers “are the ‘go-to’ piece of equipment for newcomers or small auto recyclers that are not looking to evolve into the scrap metal market,” says the sales manager for a Midwestern manufacturer. A sales associate for an East Coast equipment dealer echoes that assessment, calling them “a viable option, especially for scrappers just starting to process vehicles and maybe not able to afford a baler.”
Most crushers are portable, in that you can tow them or move them from place to place on a truck bed. This allows you to dispatch them to local auto salvage yards to flatten car hulks as needed. From there, you can haul the crushed cars back to your own facility or another yard for shredding.
The car crushing process starts when the operator loads the car hulks ready for flattening into the crusher bed using a grapple or forklift. While most crushers have an operating control panel mounted somewhere onboard, many also come with remote controls that allow the operator to run the crusher from the cab of the machine used to load it. One company’s machines, for example, are “electronically activated by a remote control held in the palm of your hand. It will do everything including turn the engine on and off when you need it,” the company’s sales manager says. Hydraulic pumps, usually powered by diesel engines, supply the pressure a crusher’s rams use to flatten the car.
Crusher configurations vary considerably among manufacturers. Some feature a single flat ram that exerts downward pressure evenly from above; at least one has hinged rams at each end that fold in and flatten the front and rear halves of a car hulk. The East Coast dealer explains that his company’s machines “are vertically fed so that gravity takes the vehicle through the crusher itself, crushing the hood of the car. Then the crushing ram picks up, moves a little way toward the front of the car and crushes it, and then processes it on through, so you can stack another car on top.”
One Midwestern crusher manufacturer offers a side-fed unit with a 10-foot-high opening and automatic cycles for flatten, rock, and up as well as manual up and down. “The rock cycle would come in after you’ve put in your third car—it’s called ‘tucking your load.’ The lid comes down and it crushes, and then one side stays down and holds while the other side goes up, to tuck in the edges of the load,” says the company’s sales manager.
This side-fed unit also features a patented high-speed oil bypass system that cuts the typical cycle time in half, to about 60 seconds, the sales manager says. Another company specifies a 49-second cycle time for its side-loaded crusher. Cycle times for vertical crushers can range from 100 seconds, noted by a Chinese manufacturer, to 3 to 5 minutes for the East Coast equipment dealer’s flatteners.
Crushers typically can handle five or six cars at a time, as well as larger vehicles such as vans, buses, trucks, and farm equipment, according to manufacturers’ specification sheets. These fairly basic machines have simple but important maintenance needs, manufacturers and dealers say. If you follow the recommended maintenance regimen, you can expect crushers to deliver long and reliable service.
Basic crusher maintenance consists of “greasing, cleaning, removing loose scrap, and general diesel engine care,” says the Midwestern sales manager. Another company’s rep agrees that constant greasing is important because crushers have many moving parts. He also recommends frequent inspection to keep ahead of issues. “The engine is serviced at normal service intervals: an initial 250 hours for break-in, and then every 500 hours after that,” he says. “We recommend changing the filters on the system every 500 hours, and changing out the oil every 1,000 hours, depending on the condition of the oil. Beyond that, it’s just greasing and keeping it as clean as possible.”
You also need to watch for stress cracks because “there’s a lot of metal-on-metal” contact, he adds. “If you stay ahead of them, you [do] some preventive welding, then you don’t have any problems down the road.”
These reps say well-maintained car crushers can last for decades. One knows of units still working in the field after 25 years, while another says his company’s first crusher, sold in January 1996, is still working well for its original owner.
Car crushers are a mature product category, most manufacturers and sellers agree, noting that significant design innovations have been limited in recent years. “This market seems to be driven mostly by price,” says the Midwestern manufacturer’s sales manager. “Therefore, a lower-cost, no ‘bells-and-whistles’ version might be popular. Due to the changes in the market and [the fact that] most yards now have their own crusher, the old [practice] of mobile crushing crews is dying. Therefore, higher volume capacity is not as critical as it was maybe 10 years ago.”
Though the basic crusher designs have largely remained the same, manufacturers say they have refined their products. “The changes we’ve made are very few in terms of the actual mechanics,” says one sales manager, but “we have upgraded to better pumps, better cylinders, better hoses, etc., when better products became available.”
Customers—and their insurance providers—have appreciated new safety features that make this company’s crushers easier to operate and maintain, he adds. For example, ground-accessible lock-outs make it easier and safer for workers to grease the slides for the crusher’s lid, he says. “Plus, if there are eyelets or bushings at the top of the lid where the cylinders hook on, those need to be greased as well,” he says. “Until about four years ago, you’d have to have a guy climb up to where the lid was and shove a big iron bar through to lock the lid out. … So [now] you [can] run the lid all the way up, then pull the pin and pull the bar out, and you’re locked out. That way, they can crawl up into the chamber and grease the slides without having to crawl all over the machine.” Workers also can access grease stations for the lid from the ground, providing additional safety during maintenance, he says. “When the lid is all the way down, again, you don’t have to crawl all around a greasy machine in winter weather or wet weather to grease the upper eyelets and cylinder hookups. You can do it from the ground on a two-step stepladder. … There’s no reason for you to climb up a high ladder or platform except near the front, when you’re servicing the filters on the engine.”
Such proactive steps for improving the crushers’ safety could help a scrapyard’s bottom line, he suggests. “One thing insurance companies are interested in is how safe you can keep the operators working on and around these machines.”
While price and durability are two car crusher strengths, one weakness is the additional requirements the federal government places on the transport of crushed cars. In 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration changed cargo-securement rules to impose stricter requirements on trailers carrying crushed or flattened cars, calling for a minimum of four tiedowns per vehicle stack or containment walls that extend to the full height of the load. “With a flattened auto, you tend to have more chunks and pieces falling off in transit,” says a Texas-based shear/baler/logger sales manager. “To haul flattened cars, you have to wrap safety nets around them to keep pieces from falling off the truck.”
The Benefits of Baler/Loggers
At prices ranging from about $400,000 to $650,000, baler/loggers require a much larger investment, but they also offer scrapyard operators some significant advantages over crushers, the manufacturers and sellers say. These machines can bale white goods and other materials in addition to logging or baling car hulks.
Auto bodies are now more typically logged for shredder feeds rather than baled, the Texas shear/baler/logger sales rep says, noting that bale settings work better for other, cleaner materials, such as white goods and tin scrap. “Scrapyard operators may have customers that will accept those bales and dump them right into a furnace without even going through a shredder,” he says. “Bales may go through a larger shredder or they may be marketed directly or exported to a mill.”
Many baler/loggers also have a crane or other material-handling capability built into the unit, eliminating the need for a separate piece of equipment to load car hulks and remove the logs. “We wanted the baler to be a single mobile facility so that a user wouldn’t have to depend upon other machines,” a California manufacturer’s marketing manager says. With its attached cab, crane, and grapple, users “can take it out and make multiple bales that can be loaded onto a truck, rather than just one flattened car, for example. It’s a question of convenience—having your whole toolbox in one setting and not having to send out a larger crew to handle a job.”
Baler/loggers feature multiple hydraulic rams that squeeze a car hulk from several directions to produce a compact rectangular block. Adjustable pressure settings determine the density of the resulting log or bale. “Be clear about the terminology: a log is different than a bale,” advises the Texas sales rep. “A log is usually lower density [than a bale], in the range of 35 to 45 pounds per cubic foot. It’s compact enough that you get good density and good rates on a trailer, and it makes excellent shredder feed because it’s not too tight. A bale is usually in the range of 75 to 95 pounds per cubic foot. Not all shredders can take bales.”
With a wide range of pressure settings—from zero to 4,500 pounds per square inch—the Georgia manufacturer says his baler can “make whatever density you want for the bale to go through a car shredder. … We set the baler pressure lower [about 3,000 psi] to run the bales through a low-horsepower shredder.” He says his machine’s hydraulic system has a high-volume, high-pressure pump that allows it to bale a car in about a minute. The Texas shear/baler/logger sales rep estimates that his equipment can log a car in 25 or 30 seconds.
Like car crushers, baler/loggers are subject to hard wear and need regular maintenance to ensure long and reliable service. “Because it’s hydraulic, you’ve got to maintain the quality of the oil,” says the Texas shear/baler/logger manufacturer. “Change the filters, do your normal greasing. Do overall inspections for any structural issues, any cracking or severe wear. You’re crushing metal against metal, so in a way, you’re working to destroy the machine you bought.”
Look for signs suggesting it’s time to replace a machine, such as “structural deformation, wearing through of steel parts, [or] major cracking,” he advises, adding that when your maintenance and repair costs increase, so does your downtime. With proper maintenance, however, this equipment is remarkably durable. Several of these manufacturers cited instances of their machines lasting 10 years or more in the field.
The Purchasing Decision
Which type of machine is right for your scrapyard? Obviously, cost is a significant factor. If you can process enough car bodies to keep a crusher in regular operation, and you can meet transportation-safety requirements, the lower-cost option of a crusher might be worth sacrificing the extra flexibility a baler/logger can provide.
“We have some crusher customers who only process 15 cars a week,” says one of the Midwestern crusher manufacturers. “Others are going literally eight hours a day with their crushers, and they can process one car in about a minute and a half. So there really is no rhyme or reason as to whether a company can use a crusher or not. That’s a business decision that depends on the owner’s wishes.” The other Midwestern company sales manager estimates that “processing 200 cars a month gives you a two-year payback of [the crusher’s] $150,000 purchase price, as you can save the $30 a ton you’d pay to have them processed by an outside entity.”
Size might be another consideration for your operations. Baler/loggers are larger and heavier than crushers—about 93,000–98,000 pounds compared with 30,000–60,000 pounds—but at least one baler/logger manufacturer says its lighter-weight machine is easily transportable with a container hook system or hydraulic lifting jacks. Also consider the footprint the machine will require in your yard, as baler/loggers typically are longer than crushers (50–53 feet versus 31–43 feet).
The question isn’t just what do you need, but also what will you need. By anticipating the numbers of vehicles your yard will be processing over the years ahead, whether you’ll want the equipment to be portable or stationary, and what other types of scrap materials, if any, you may want your compaction equipment to handle, you’ll have a better idea of how to make the best investment for your operations.
Kenneth A. Hooker is a freelance writer based in Oak Park, Ill.