Landscapes, Demolitions, and Profits

June 6, 2012

The growing demand for recycled building materials is developing into an exciting and profitable market for building, construction, and landscape contractors. According to one industry study from the Freedonia Group, the global market for construction aggregates is expected to increase 5.2% annually through 2015. Global consumption of asphalt is also on the rise, and forecasted to advance 4.1% annually to 2015.

The demand for landscaping products is projected to increase 7.6% per year through 2015 in the US. Concrete products and other hardscapes will see the fastest growth, and, finally, the US demand for green building materials is projected to expand 13% annually through 2015. The largest value gains will be from concrete products featuring recycled content (e.g., fly ash, blast furnace slag), which will surpass floor coverings to become the largest green building material segment by 2015.

All told, there’s solid value in those crumpled chunks of concrete, asphalt, brick, and mortar, but along with the rise in demand, there has been a steady rise in the costs associated with getting recyclable construction material to treatment facilities, and therein lies an opportunity for savvy contractors to cut out the middlemen and process their recyclables onsite. With the wide variety of crushing and shredding equipment on the market, there’s a machine to fit tasks of almost any size, from small enough to fit a skid-loader, to 60-ton behemoths that process over 1,000 tons of material per day.

If you’re a smaller operation having your own crusher helps in competing against the big guys, according to Anthony LaFata, owner of LaFata & Son Inc. in Guilford, CT.

“We were spending about $400,000 a year seven years ago on trucking, but by introducing attachments such as the MB Crusher crushing bucket and other screening attachments we spent $19,000 on trucking last year,” says LaFata. “Yet the number of jobs we did last year was greater than any year prior to seven years ago. This crushing bucket has really given us the edge. If I can beat somebody by 10 grand on a job because I don’t have to pay all those trucking fees and I can generate a usable product onsite it keeps money in my company.”

LaFata does both residential and commercial excavation and concrete work, plus demolition, and keeps his crusher busy an average of 25 hours a week, turning concrete, asphalt, brick, and mortar into usable product on location.

Contractors like the fact that the MB Crusher replaces the bucket on an excavator, notes Miriano Ravazzolo, president, MB America, in Reno, NV. “Our product is an attachment, and you don’t need a permit for any extra transportation to move it around. You can just have it on the same trailer as the excavator. So there is a higher level of flexibility,” says Ravazzolo. “The reason it’s so effective is because it works from the power of the hydraulics of the excavator. Any excavator can handle the pressure. The key is a very unique application of force where we use powerful flywheels to make the momentum to power the jaws at the peak point of pressure. So the excavator’s hydraulics are driving the big flywheels and the jaws crush the material. In fact, we can crush everything, including granite.”

Thanks to the phenomenon of YouTube, it’s possible to see the MB Crusher in action (as well as most of the products covered here) and it’s quite intriguing to see the bucket pick up a pile of concrete columns and turn them into rubble. As for the rebar that can be so troublesome, it falls out of the bucket in pretty much the same shape as it was while embedded in the concrete. Four model sizes range from the BF60, for small jobs to the BF120, for excavators 28 tons and larger. The company also makes an iron separator and a screening bucket.

“When conditions demand large volume and hundreds-of-tons-per-hour production, high-capacity jaw or tub crushers make the difference in profitability, says Bill Royce, regional sales manager, Mobile Crushing and Screening, KPI-JCI, Yankton, SD. “We supply recycling customers such as demolition contractors handling different types of materials from construction and demolition, such as ripped up roads,” says Royce. “And then there are guys who take portable equipment to building sites, such as a structure that needs to come down, and the equipment has to go in there and perform and it has to be easy to use from the customer standpoint.”

Credit: CW Mill
The HogZilla 1464P is powered by a 1,000-horsepower Cat 3412.

Royce notes that the company offers Vanguard jaw crushers, Kodiak cone crushers, plus two lines of horizontal shaft impactors, the Andreas (up to 450 tons per hour), and the New Holland (up to 1,250 tons per hour). In all, they represent 40 years of research and development, with much of the focus on making the machines simple to operate. For example, the Vanguard’s jaws use a dual wedge system that makes the settings easy to adjust. Whereas older models required the time-consuming replacement of shim packs, the latest Auto Wedge System takes just minutes to make an adjustment.

“When you talk about the demolition guys, the buildings have to come down based on a schedule, and when a crusher breaks down, especially in a demolition environment, everything stops and the material starts piling up,” says Royce. “And cities are much more sensitive to dust and noise. Going back to the demolition contractors, they’ll take down things like auto plants and factories. From a development side, many of those become greenfield and brownfield sites, and you’d better have the Tier Four equipment in place and a permit that moves with the machine, and also a bag house for dust suppression and noise control.”

Good maintenance is critical in tough environments such as demolition jobs. “Contractors can come up against intense heat and cold and dust,” says Royce. “And if you’re working with asphalt, it can be a very nasty environment, so you’re talking about daily maintenance checks. You need to check your hydraulic and filtration systems, and the radiator fins on the diesel to make sure they’re clear. There’s a lot of vibration, and they can be dusty, and when you’re inducing electronics into that environment, you’ve got to keep an eye on them.”

Choosing the right size machine and options such as tracks or wheels can be daunting. But Royce has some good advice, “A demolition customer is going to look at the environment, and if they’re taking down buildings they’re going to want the mobility of tracks. Now crews are going to ultrahigh reach machines and taking buildings down story by story for nine and 10-story buildings. Whether it’s a trailer-mounted unit or it moves on tracks, they have to ask, “˜how many tons will be processed per day?’ If they see themselves doing different types of work, the impactor can control the size. Another consideration is transportation, because demo guys move around a lot and they have to watch the weight restrictions. We build our smallest jaws on the 2640 and then go all the way up to the 3065, so the larger unit has more production and less scrap. But you need a trailer to accommodate that machine and you need to get it permitted. Our smaller demolition guys lean towards the 2640 or 2650, which are more mobile. A super-regional or big national player will often look to rent from a dealer and weigh the options of trailering the equipment or renting it locally.”

Mobility can make the difference when a contractor has to work in a city environment, as well as what comes out of the exhaust pipe, says

Credit: Trendsetter Construction Inc.
Trendsetter’s Komatsu excavator keeps up with HogZilla’s appetite.

Alexander Taubinger, managing director and sales manager with the Rubble Master Americas Corp. in Valparaiso, IN. “We have focused on the recycling industry for the last 20 years and most of our customers have a lot of inner-city jobs and some residential with tight spots, so they need highly mobile and versatile equipment,” says Taubinger. “One of our main goals is the ability to be residential friendly. All of our equipment is diesel electric, and that’s different from other manufacturers. These are very fuel-efficient with low emissions, and that’s becoming more and more of an issue. The diesel electric in our biggest crusher burns 6 gallons an hour, and it’s much less than a typical excavator. One of our customers was crushing at Ground Zero a couple months ago you can imagine the restrictions they have for New York City downtown, yet he was the only one who was able to meet the restrictions.”

According to Vincent Veniero, a partner at DAG Mobile Aggregate Recycling Inc. in Lyndhurst, NJ, the company’s Rubble Master RM 80 burns about 40 gallons of fuel in an eight-hour day, and it’s a breeze to operate. “Rubble Master supplies technical support when you purchase the product, and they stay with you about a week to get you up and running,” says Veniero, “and you can always call if you have questions after that.” As for advice, Veniero notes that stuffing overly large material is mistake. “You can’t just put oversized pieces into the machine. It runs more efficiently when everything is sized properly so you get more production. Use a breaker or pulverizer if you need to.”

Simplified maintenance is also important for efficiency, and with a color-coded system using just three colors, Rubble Master may have achieved the easiest system possible. Its manual has instructions for checking the color-coded maintenance areas on the crushers, addressing things such as air and oil filters, lubrication points, and fluid levels. It’s all designed to be easily done by an operator. “Operators love having simple procedures, and having a three-page checklist that’s color-coded with green, yellow, and red areas on the machine allows you to start the morning by checking the key spots on the machine, and then there are some easy maintenance points that are very easy to accomplish. So you don’t need to have a full-scale serviceman onsite.”

Saving on maintenance is part of the company’s philosophy, as is helping contractors get maximum returns on their efforts when recovering recyclables. “We’re not just selling yellow iron,” Taubinger explains. “The Rubble Master concept is to assist the contractors in setting up their operations and helping them to create a business plan, because there are a lot of newcomers, and as contractors they were used to ripping something out, putting it on a truck, and dumping it somewhere. But now they’re under pressure because of the tipping fees and expensive transportation and fuel fees and then purchasing the aggregate. But if you do this right, there is a lot of room to improve your bottom line and profits.”

We’ve talked about solutions for construction related recycling, but how about the growing trend in recycling organic materials such as landscape? Actually, it’s already a huge industry, but the market for biomass as an energy source means even more business, says Ryan Marshall, an application specialist for the Vermeer Corp. in Polk County, IA. “We’re starting to see the industry enter the biofuel market. There’s different types of biomass, and we have the ability to grind that material down to a specified product, and it can be used for burning. Or there’s also material such as corn stalks, and these are being used after they’re ground up. Also, our whole-tree chipper makes chips and you can use these for logs that aren’t kept in a forestry situation.”

Reducing logs to chips in high production volumes takes some serious horsepower and feed capacity, and those are just two of many features in Vermeer’s HT 6000. “The new model is the HT 6000 Tier 4, and two screens inside the unit are adjustable so we can bring those screens away from the hammer mill in case we have some opportunity for contaminants to come through, and that’ll avoid damage,” says Marshall. “But if you know you’re in a clean environment, you can move the screens down and get better production. And, of course, it stays ahead of the emissions regulations. Customers are very safety conscious, and we have a thrown-object deflector. It’s a safety device, so if contaminants enter the machine, a shield will fall down and deflect it from shooting off.”

Vermeer offers a wireless remote control that allows the operator to control most functions from up to 300 feet away. “It’s a remote and a transceiver that can read live data for engine parameters, hydraulic pressures, and other functions in real-time, and that’s very unique for this industry,” says Marshall. “So you’re watching the data as your machine works. Most of the machines have a guy in an excavator feeding them, and he can command those functions without having to get out of the excavator.”

With both horizontal and vertical-feed grinders in a wide variety of sizes and horsepower ratings, Vermeer has something for almost every requirement, but Marshall advises contractors to sit down and see what looks good on paper by using Vermeer’s presales worksheet. “We go through all the significant cost factors that help the customer understand the cost to run and own the machine. We also offer training and recycling specialist.”

In some cases, the best solution might be the new HG4000E, an electrically powered horizontal grinder. The machine uses a 300-horsepower motor connected to a patented duplex drum cutting system with reversible hammers and cutter blocks that offer almost double the life of single-sided designs. “With everybody thinking about fuel costs we offer an electric grinder in different horsepower ranges,” says Marshall. “Now a lot of times in a land clearing operation, you’d need a power supply, but for the contractor that takes all the material back to their site it’s a great option.”

Serious brush and forest clearing can mean handling some extremely large trees and logs, and efficient production requires a large-capacity feed system, notes Joe Glover, operations manager of recycling, at Trendsetter Construction Inc., White Oak, TX. For Trendsetter, the 15-foot-diameter tub on the Hogzilla, model TC 1564, allows for fast loading and grinding. The Hogzilla is made by CW Mill Equipment Co. Inc., Sabetha, KS, and Trendsetter has purchased four of them. “We’ve had our current Hogzilla for about a year,” says Glover. “We try to trade them in about every three years because we want to keep newer machinery. The Hogzilla has been a great product. It’s strictly for woodwaste, and with that 15-foot tub we’ve got some stumps and removals that we can barely pick up, but we set them in the tub, and it hasn’t let us down yet.”

Even though the Hogzilla’s capacity is large, and it’s driven by a 1,050-horsepower Caterpillar engine, proper operation and maintenance procedures are important for maximizing production. “Your operator is the key to your production,” says Glover. “Brush and greenwaste and debris have so much memory that if you stack it too much, it will get away from you. But alternating brush with a heavier log gets you the maximum efficiency. So you need to have a competent operator that knows these things.”

Moreover, if you’re grinding at a construction site, watch out for foreign material such as metal and concrete, adds Tim Wenger, president and sales manager at CW Mill. “Unfortunately the dumpsters at a construction site can turn into garbage bins, and everything and anything ends up in there, and though a pile of wood products could be 99% clean, it’s that 1% of something else that’s a bad surprise,” says Wenger. “On a bad day you can bust up the cutter bar or damage the screens, but we have a twin disc torque converter with a fluid coupling. It’s a similar design to a wet clutch and protects an engine and hammermill from the shock of hitting a solid chunk of material.”

Keeping the hammermill in top shape is critical to production, notes Glover. “You have to keep your hammer mill balanced and clean your machine at the end of the day. If it’s unbalanced it’ll shake that machine all to pieces. This is where a lot of guys fail. I’ve seen lots of grinding operations, and if managers don’t take the time to train their operators and maintenance staff, it doesn’t take long for that machine to self-destruct. But if you maintain that hammermill your machine will purr like a kitten.”

At this point, we’ve seen some unique designs, from small units that mount like a shovel on an excavator, to very large units that grind huge stumps and logs into piles of chips. But before we come to a grinding halt (who could resist?) let’s look at a product line that demonstrates how even the smallest of contractors can offer construction material recycling services to their customers. We’re talking about a line of crushers from Komplet Recycling Systems, Rochelle Park, NJ. The company’s smallest unit is the RCB 6000. It’s smaller than a typical refuse dumpster, and weighs in at about 1,433 pounds, so a small skid-loader can move it about easily. From there, the company’s product line includes five other models, some stationary, some with tracks and remote controls.

“We purchased a machine six years ago to use for ourselves, because we had to travel 27 miles to a different county to dump off our concrete and pay to dump it then drive around the corner and pick it up and drive it back after it’s been crushed, and put it down as our base,” recalls Nick Baker, president, Komplet North America. “It can be towed on a half-ton pickup and crush and break up the materials. So we eliminated the transportation and dumping fees, and the jobs get done quicker with just five to seven gallons of diesel fuel for a day. Yet, this little machine can crush 150 tons of concrete in one day.”

Baker was so impressed with the little crusher that he became a Komplet distributor for North America. The company’s largest unit is the LEM Track 6040, a remote-controlled mobile jaw crusher powered by an Isuzu turbo-diesel engine. It uses a 600- by 400-mm jaw crusher, plus a “Grizzly” vibrating feeding system that empties to an undergrid conveyor. Properly sizing the material is important, and with only three is moving parts it’s easy to maintain, with convenient access to the oil filter and grease points.

“You can change the size of the aggregate by remote control. On the 6040, it can be adjusted from three-quarters of an inch up to 4 inches,” says Baker. “So if you have a lot to do you run the material through with the machine wide open to make big pieces. Then set the jaws to the size you want, and they’ll be just like operating with a primary and secondary crusher. I used 35 gallons of fuel and produced about 600 tons of concrete a day. We were able to sell our dump truck because he didn’t have any more use for it.”

Avoiding transportation and related costs for dumping materials is one of the more common benefits of processing recyclables onsite. But as Anthony LaFata points out, there’s more to consider. “I have my own recycling center, but then you have to bring it to the center and dump it and then bring it back, and even if I’m getting paid to do it, it’s still worth it for me to charge a customer less and do it right on the job,” Lafata says. “They understand they’re getting a break, and I make just as much money yet keep the truck off the road. If I tell a customer we can do it the conventional way or instead process and recycle it right on the spot and save them $5,000, they’re hearing that from me rather than anybody else because they wouldn’t think of recycling on a small job site. With the technology we can do that.”