MetalTech Systems company President Paul Hanna was recently interviewed by Recycling Today Magazine about the versatility and benefits of the Ballistic Separator.
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Ballistic separators have been used in European operations for decades, and U.S. companies are experiencing firsthand the equipment’s benefits relative to other screening methods.
Many recycling industry professionals would agree that a number of equipment manufacturers in Europe are years ahead technologically from their competitors in the United States. Some of the equipment recently being introduced in North America has been running successfully in operations in European countries for more than two decades.
This sentiment is true for ballistic separators, screens that are used to separate the incoming mixed material streams at single- and dual-stream material recovery facilities (MRFs) as well as in facilities handling municipal solid waste (MSW), industrial and commercial waste and other streams.
Providing multiple separations in one machine, the ballistic separator can identify and sort commingled postconsumer plastics and ferrous and nonferrous metal items from paper, old corrugated containers (OCC) and film as well as from fines.
To separate the flat, 2-D material, such as paper and OCC, from 3-D, rigid items, including plastic containers and bottles and metal cans, from fines, such as broken glass, a ballistic separator bounces the materials as its paddles move. As the 2-D material floats toward the top of the separator, the 3-D items roll down, while fines fall through a screen.
Brian Schellati, director of research development for recycling system designer and supplier Van Dyk Recycling Solutions, Stamford, Connecticut, says Van Dyk’s machine is called a Lubo Elliptical separator “because the motion of the typical ballistic separator uses paddles that move like the peddles of an elliptical exerciser.”
Schellati says machines designed to separate 2-D and 3-D materials are “critical” to many recycling systems as they make downstream sorting more efficient.
“It’s been a very proven technology in Europe,” Schellati says, adding, “One of Van Dyk’s strengths is bringing European technology and applying it with what we do in the U.S. and Canada.”
Chris Hawn, North American sales manager for Machinex Technologies Inc., the High Point, North Carolina-based U.S. subsidiary of Plessisville, Quebec-based Machinex Group, acknowledges, “The ballistic separator machine originated in Europe.” He says, “After recognizing ways that it could be used in North American recycling applications, we began R&D on our own unit in 2010.”
Amut Group, headquartered in Novara, Italy, recognized the need for ballistic separator technology in North America as many polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bales from MRFs had large volumes of fiber mixed in and, therefore, introduced its Elliptical Separator to its clients’ PET recycling plants in the last year, says Amut North American President Anthony Georges. The company first manufactured its machines nearly a decade ago, and has installed them around the world, “but for MRFss in North America, we just started to move into that field last year,” he says.
Georges continues, “What we’ve seen is that the existing MRF technology that’s been delivered from the present manufacturers doesn’t do a good enough job sorting out the materials in the PET bales for our existing client; and, hence, we decided to bring the next level of sortation technology here to North America.”
For MetalTech Systems, Pawleys Island, South Carolina, which engineers, builds and installs complete recycling systems and is involved in the metal casting industry, becoming familiar with the European market was necessary for learning the ins and outs of ballistic separators, according to company President Paul Hanna. He explains because ballistic separators were initially designed and manufactured in Europe more than 20 years ago, starting there for groundwork made sense.
“Europeans are about 15 years ahead of us in recycling,” Hanna says. “Understanding the European market and what they were doing was important.”
Lack of wrap
For starters, Hanna says Europeans haven’t used disc screens for more than five years, while a number of American manufacturers still do today. Disc screens use lines of multiple rotary shafts with discs that sit at a defined interval, varying by size and distance between the shafts. Materials are transported by the rotation of these disc-fitted shafts.
“The replacement of disc screens is one of our target markets,” Hanna says of MetalTech’s strategy. “The Europeans haven’t used disc screens for years; they use exclusively ballistic separators.”
Most U.S. manufacturers of separation systems for recycling applications incorporate screens such as disc screens; star screens (which are comparable to disc screens but use star-shaped discs arranged on rotating shafts); vibratory screens; finger screens (a vibrating screen that prevents clogging); and drum screens (cylindrical bodies with screen apertures around their circumference).
Air separation by density also is a separation technique manufacturers have adopted prior to the introduction of ballistic separators, says Roland Zimmer, CEO of Stadler America LLC, headquartered in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Stadler America is a partnership between the Germany-based waste and recycing sorting equipment manufacturer Stadler and Zimmer America, a supplier of machinery and sorting systems for the textile, recycling, industrial cleaning and solar power industries. The company introduced its line of ballistic separators—technology it acquired from the farming industry—in 1996, Zimmer says.
Unlike disc or star screens, Zimmer says, ballistic separators do not have wrapping issues with plastic film.
The lack of wrapping is a highlight for Tallahassee, Florida-based Marpan Recycling, according to company President Kim Williams.
Marpan operates a single-stream recycling facility that processes residential and commercial recyclables, including PET bottles, ferrous and nonferrous cans, glass bottles, plastics No. 1 through No. 7, various types of paper and OCC. The single-stream facility processes 1,600 tons per 21-day month, Williams says.
To separate such a commingled load, Marpan’s system features a modified finger screen (a rod deck) with a ballistic separator from MetalTech Systems, which handles 5 tons per hour, Williams says. If the facility had more incoming material, the ballistic separator could handle the extra load in Williams’ opinion.
He says he appreciates not having to worry about film wrapping around the machine. Williams explains, “Because we bounce the material on it instead of spinning the material to separate it, it doesn’t tend to wrap things on it, and things that wrap tend to wear out the machine.”
In addition to lessening wear on the equipment, Williams says the ballistic separator has “low maintenance, which saves us money.”
Machinex’s Hawn agrees. “When applied correctly, the machines serve the benefits of a very efficient separation, minimized maintenance and no loss of efficiency over time due to wear,” he says.
At Marpan, workers grease the shafts hourly in terms of preventive maintenance, while Stadler America employees lubricate the ballistic separator’s bearings once per week.
Amut’s Georges recommends managing a central greasing system, noting that it is ideal for ensuring parts are well-lubricated at all times.
He adds, as separation screens wear over time and need to be replaced, they become more costly than ballistic separators.
MetalTech’s Hanna says the biggest advantage to ballistic separators is their lower maintenance costs. “The average maintenance cost on a ballistic separator is about 25 percent of what it costs to maintain a disc screen to achieve the same results,” he says. “At the end of the operational shift, any loose material that is still clinging to the paddles is removed, and it is done typically with an operator sweeping the unit with a broom.”
Hanna says ballistic separators are more important today in recycling systems since China introduced its Operation Green Fence in 2013, its multiagency effort to closely manage containerized scrap imports and to keep out undesirable material.
As a result, companies such as Marpan Recycling have lessened the degree of contamination in their finished bales, Hanna says. He shares that Marpan’s mixed paper stream bales sell with less than 2 percent contamination, “which, in the industry right now, is pretty much unheard of.”
Hanna continues, “The Chinese will not take material because the contamination on [America’s] end is so high. The systems out there using traditional disc screens are having trouble meeting demand for the cleanliness of the material.”
Georges agrees. “That’s one of the biggest things we’ve seen,” he says regarding the cleaner bales being produced using ballistic separators that can meet Chinese consumers’ demands. Bales with little contamination sell for a higher price, he says.
“If the MRF does a better job in single-stream sorting in the beginning of the process, then the cost to produce the final item costs less, and that’s what encourages recycling,” Georges says.
He adds that customers also are using these machines outdoors as they can perform just as well in snow, rain and heat. One customer in Alabama installed and uses its ballistic separator outside the company’s building, he says.
“We’re seeing the evolution of it is just starting to take a foothold,” Georges says of installing these units outdoors. “Frankly speaking, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the developments. It’s becoming a very versatile unit.”
Manufacturers say they are continuously working on new, advanced technology that is more efficient than the prior model.
Zimmer says Stadler America is developing its STT6000 ballistic separator, which is “even heavier and more powerful,” than the company’s earlier model.
“The trend is going toward using the ballistic separator instead of other screening technologies,” Zimmer proclaims.
Hanna adds, “Ballistic separators will become the standard for new systems as well as replacing existing disc screen technology in existing systems.”
The author is associate editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted via email at email@example.com.