Creative Scrap Handling Dumped for Safer Solution

July 1, 2009
Poor scrap handling can lead to injury, workers' compensation claims and even litigation. Recycling scrap at its point of generation via scrap choppers eliminates the hazard.

Dave Sheehan of the Bradbury Co. keeps a clean shop floor for a reason. In fact, he has a couple of reasons — saving money and keeping the area safe.

For some dock and production floor operations, literally thousands of linear feet of scrap — typically in the form of plastic or steel strap and edge trimmings — are generated per hour that must be properly disposed or, better yet, recycled. Whether from high-volume warehouse pallet deliveries or “edge trim” waste, this scrap is dangerous. It can injure workers and lead to missed workdays, workers' comp claims and even litigation.

When large volumes of scrap are generated, some operations employ “creative” solutions for disposal. These can range from piling scrap in a corner until it's unmanageable and then manually moving it to a dumpster or other location (which doubles worker exposure to the material); having employees bend the strap into more manageable sections before throwing them in a hopper; or using equipment such as scrap winders to wrap the scrap into a steel ball.

Many of these techniques, however, can pose serious worker safety issues. Scrap steel strap or edge trimmings can cut and puncture when it “catches” those nearby; steel strap can spring back with the fury of a whip after it's bent; and steel and plastic strap piled in a corner can lead to trip and fall accidents.

Vehicles, too, are not immune to the danger: Many have been put out of commission thanks to flat tires or entangled axles due to improperly handled scrap.

As a result, some manufacturers are dumping these more “creative” techniques for the safest option: handling the scrap at the point of generation, where it's created. This involves scrap choppers that neatly cut the scrap into small, manageable pieces that can easily and safely be recycled by employees.

“Improved scrap handling at our facility has reduced the chance of injury, which reflects in our safety record,” says Dave Sheehan, a senior engineering project manager at Bradbury Co. “We've had no scrap-related workers' comp issues relating to scrap choppers in 15 years.”

The Bradbury Co., based in Moundridge, Kan., is an OEM of specialty machinery that processes coiled steel. Manufacturers depend on Bradbury Co. to build them safe, efficient production lines to create products such as gutters, garage doors and building siding. In constructing and testing the equipment onsite before shipping it to end customers, Bradbury Co. often produces edge trimmed steel scrap from master coils. This scrap must be safely and efficiently removed from the production line.

Over the years, the company has purchased about 40 scrap choppers from Sweed, a Gold Hill, Ore.-based manufacturer of linear material reduction equipment. Sheehan found these scrap choppers not only improve plant safety but also the bottom line, while helping make production a cleaner, greener operation via streamlined scrap recycling.

“We found the choppers could deliver ROI in a few months with better, more efficient plant operation,” Sheehan explains. “They've paid for themselves dozens of times at our customers' sites over the years.”


Before turning to the scrap choppers, Bradbury Co. faced a less satisfactory situation in removing edge trimmed steel scrap from previous production lines.

“With scrap winding machines, operators would wind linear scrap into sharp-edged ‘scrap balls’ which they'd change up to 20 times a day,” explains Sheehan. This put them at added risk of injury and slowed production.

The scrap winders sat out in aisle ways, taking precious production space. They required safety fences in case the linear scrap broke, allowing steel ends to fly around. Operators had to strap each bulky scrap ball to a crane for removal to a dumpster outside. In addition, the scrap balls took up a large amount of dumpster space, leading to high disposal fees.

“We tried bouncing a 3,000-pound steel plate on the end of a forklift to flatten the scrap balls to fit more in, but that didn't work well,” says Sheehan.

When Bradbury Co. integrated scrap choppers into production lines, it optimized the handling of linear scrap at its point of origin. As operators feed steel scrap into each chopper, it automatically is cut into small pieces that drop into a bin for storage.

“Instead of handling sharp-edged scrap balls up to 20 times a day, operators haul safe, chopped scrap at the day's end,” says Sheehan. “The scrap choppers are 90 percent more labor-efficient than scrap winders, and provide about 15 percent more production, since there's no line stoppage to change out scrap balls.”

Since the scrap choppers nest into existing production equipment, they occupy about a quarter of the space of the scrap winding equipment, according to Sheehan. “With the added space, it's easy to stage materials for more efficient assembly,” he says.

“Our customers went from paying scrap disposal fees to getting paid for higher value chopped scrap,” he adds. “The choppers have helped our customers stay safer, more productive and more competitive over the years.”


Kentwood Packaging Co., a full-range packaging supplier, also has enhanced plant safety and production with fast payback on scrap choppers that encourage recycling.

Rich Wilson, general manager of Kentwood Packaging's Grand Rapids, Mich., plant, says the compay's Safety Committee and Cost Reduction Team met success with the choppers. “Since putting them in, we've had zero trip and fall incidents, and we achieved ROI in under 6 months, including saved labor and other efficiencies.”

Prior to using the scrap choppers, Kentwood Packaging wanted to improve its handling of a large volume of plastic strap, which suppliers use to secure bales of corrugated sent to the company. Trip and fall accidents, the committee determined, usually were linked to items lying on the floor, such as straps or pallets.

“As we opened corrugated bales, we'd generate thousands of linear feet of plastic strap an hour,” says Wilson. “Previously, we collected the straps, wadded them up and shoved them into bins. But they'd unfurl and pop out, presenting a potential trip hazard. We didn't want the straps collecting at the feet of production staff or tangling in vehicle or fork truck axles.”

Bins and bins of plastic strap were stacked around the plant. When one spilled, staff had to pick it up.

“Several times a day, our machine operators had to stop production to empty a dozen bins of plastic strap into a 40-yard dumpster outside,” says Wilson. “It was a very manual, time-consuming operation.”

Since the bulky plastic strap was difficult to compress, it quickly filled the large outdoor dumpster, requiring high waste hauling disposal fees.

The company purchased three Sweed scrap choppers, now used at plant machine centers to good effect.

“As soon as the straps come off, they're fed into a chopper,” says Wilson. “There's no litter on the ground, no trip hazard, nothing to walk around. It's a safer environment for employees. Eliminating one workers' comp claim could pay for a chopper, and the process should cut insurance premiums.”

Since the plastic straps are chopped and stored at the point of origin, virtually all handling is eliminated. Because the chopped scrap is space efficient, the bins at the machine centers are handled just once a week by forklift.

“What was a labor intensive operation is now hands-off after the straps are fed into the chopper,” says Wilson. “We're saving about 1,000 manhours annually.”

Instead of disposing the plastic straps as waste, the chopped plastic material is sold back to the manufacturer for about $1,200 a year. With the plastic straps out of the waste stream, about six 40-yard dumpster pickups are eliminated per year, netting the company about $2,500 in disposal savings annually.

Since the scrap chopping has made storing plastic straps unnecessary, it also freed up about 150 square feet of production space. This allows more efficient staging of production materials and new, value-added processes such as lamination and hand production.

“The choppers have helped us become safer, greener and more profitable, which sets us apart from the competition,” says Wilson.

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, Calif. Sweed is a world leader in linear material reduction equipment in a range of industries. For more information, visit or call 800-888-1352.

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