With more than 70 locations in the East and Midwest, the scrap processing challenges facing OmniSource, Fort Wayne, Indiana, are many and diverse. As the company's downstream processing lines expanded to handle an array of jobs from sorting ferrous and non-ferrous metals to dealing with auto shredder residue (ASR), the complexity became greater and the pace of technology development increased.
No business likes to throw away money. However, in the late 1990s at some of its North Carolina and South Carolina operations, OmniSource discovered it was doing just that. At the time, most recyclers focused on recovering ferrous metals downstream of auto shredders. The technology to sort ferrous was proven, and markets were plentiful. Other materials were simply landfilled.
"When we started running our shredder 15 years ago, we had no idea we were throwing away 15 percent metals. We only cared about the ferrous," says Dan Mihuc, Project Manager at OmniSource. As a result, OmniSource, along with other major operations, sent millions of tons of valuable non-ferrous metals to landfills.
"Now that we have the technology to grab that fraction, we are looking at the landfill grid, seeing that we can recover it, put it through the non-ferrous plant and earn 'free money,' so to speak," Mihuc says.
Mihuc's job is to design, budget and implement these separation plants. "Ten years ago, a non-ferrous plant consisted of an eddy current," he recalls. "That was a big deal."
Mihuc started out as a shredder engineer. "My job was to focus on the shredder itself- design, build, maximize efficiency, increase uptime- everything about operation and maintenance of shredders," he says.
As the industry focus changed from ferrous to non-ferrous recovery, his responsibilities followed that trend, always searching for the latest and most robust equipment.
Today, sorting technology is enhanced by vibratory equipment from General Kinematics (GK), Crystal Lake, Illinois. GK pioneered the application of vibratory technology to enhance separation, and increase recovery of recyclables using low-energy and low-labor requirements.
At a typical OmniSource processing plant, after the material is shredded, the line starts with a GK Under Mill Oscillator (UMO). "Once we made the decision to buy a GK UMO or feeder, we rarely have to touch it. The maintenance is very low," Mihuc says. "We haven't seen any issues with the unit's structural integrity."
Reliability is vital because of the mixed nature of the material. "We find everything from car hub caps to fine machine shop turnings in the same load," Mihuc says. His job is to process those loads.
Typically, the company dumps the material in the yard, sifts through it with a magnet crane and tries to figure out how to package it so a buyer will see value in it. No two days are the same.
"The first real problem we had to solve was how to achieve a gamma shred," Mihuc says. Gamma-Tech uses gamma rays to detect the amount of copper in the ferrous shred and requires a very precise and metered flow of materials.
OmniSource went to the GK lab to learn how best to present these materials and explore various processing ideas. "We thought we wanted to put a FINGER-SCREEN™ in because we wanted to screen out the higher copper content pieces from the small cast pieces and things that would shatter and break rotors," he recalls. "Through a couple of days of testing at GK, we discovered what size we needed."
The next challenge was to meter out the tangled ferrous shred in a uniform, and controlled way to properly feed the analyzer. "Before you know it, you have something somewhat homogeneous that someone can do something with," Mihuc continues. "We now have two of those systems- one in Fort Wayne and one in Indianapolis," he says. "GK helped us through sizing, what worked best, what potential efficiencies could be. Everything is working great today."
As OmniSource moved into processing ASR, today a sizable portion of the business, Mihuc faced multiple challenges including handling wet material.
OmniSource's solution was to expand with multi-line, multiple sorters for the various sized non-ferrous commodities. Associated with each sorter is a GK vibratory High Stroke Feeder with a unique inertia absorbing base to eliminate the transient vibrations. "We are continuing to develop and refine our current ASR practices," Mihuc says.
The non-ferrous reclamation industry right now is just like the computer industry. Every 18 months there is something new. "The technology is progressing that rapidly. We have sites in the Southeast that have been operating for just four or five years and already they are outdated," Mihuc says. "It looks like we are driving a Model-T Ford!"
Most advancement he sees is with sorter technology. "We really have to concentrate to keep up with the technology changes. It's amazing! If we don't keep up, we'll be left behind."
It is an exciting time for OmniSource. Mihuc says he sees the sky as the limit. "It's pretty wide open. We are getting ready to implement some further expansion around the company," he says.
That is a major business shift from when the Rifkin family started OmniSource in 1943. Then, back in 2007, Steel Dynamics, a long-time partner bought the Rifkin's out. The strategy was to try to have all of OmniSource's ferrous yards feed into the Steel Dynamics mills.
"We aren't even getting close to meeting the demand of what those mills can eat up," Mihuc says. "It's just huge."
OmniSource today focuses on its North American operations, while Steel Dynamics has operations in Canada and Mexico, including mini-mills.
OmniSource is strongly invested in highly technical, highly intelligent separation equipment. Mihuc sees the trend accelerating. "It is still escalating and the equipment is going to get smarter and better."
Mihuc has worked with GK since he began his career with OmniSource in 2004. He was part of a shredder focus group and best practices team called the "Shredder Council." Originally, Mihuc says, "We choose GK because we knew it offered longevity, robustness and reliability."
Soon OmniSource realized GK made a lot of other technology and had a broad base of expertise to share. "GK has proven to have great customer service and communication. It is a collective effort between us and GK."
He also sees a lot of room for refinement and improvement of the non-ferrous systems. "The machines will be smarter than they have ever been," he predicts. It was not that long ago that a "zorba" non-ferrous mixed metal would come out of an eddy current, producing a package that OmniSource would ship to China, where it would be hand sorted.
"Today we can do that here," Mihuc says proudly. "We are starting to refine those different packages and get a lot more specific on valuable fractions like the stainless. And it is amazing how clean those shipments are."
The further classifying of materials with the use of the GK DE-STONER® Air Classifier/Density Separator along with Fluid Bed drying technology may be the next creative solutions for metals recovery.