Added efficiency

Features - Equipment Focus | Balers

A new two-ram baler at Balcones Resources’ MRF in Austin, Texas, increases production efficiency.

October 7, 2020

Photos courtesy of Balcones Resources Inc.

Balcones Resources Inc., which is headquartered in Austin, Texas, opened its material recovery facility (MRF) in that city in 2012. Although it is the newest of the company’s MRFs, the Austin plant was beginning to feel the effects of changing market conditions, rising labor costs and an increase in the incoming volume of material.

To address those changes, Balcones partnered with CP Group, San Diego, to upgrade the 100,000-square-foot single-stream MRF, which handles residential and commercial material. That upgrade included replacing its existing REB-2 two-ram baler from Bakersfield, California-based Sierra International Machinery with a REB-4 model, which Sierra introduced to the market in 2018.

“We wanted more production efficiency through faster bale production,” says Brent Perdue, general manager of Balcones’ Austin MRF.

With the increased throughput of the company’s upgraded single-stream processing system, Balcones Resources needed a baler that would be able to keep up to ensure maximum productivity at that facility.

Efficiency upgrade

Perdue says the company’s new baler includes a number of features designed to improve efficiency. Chief among those features are dual-compression doors that are engineered to eliminate roll-back, hydraulic and shear shock, shear jams and bridging to produce denser bales using fewer strokes and shorter cycle times, according to the baler manufacturer.

The dual-compression doors use 110 tons of force per door to push material below the cutting knife and into the charging chamber, according to Sierra. When the doors are fully closed, a minimal gap requires shearing, reducing the area to be cut by 90 percent and allowing for an overall reduction in shear and hydraulic shock, which reduces stress on the blades and structure of the machine in addition to reducing energy costs associated with shearing.

“The precompression flap doors hold down material when the ram is engaged,” Perdue explains. Because of this technology, the company can get more material into the baling chamber at one time and less material must be sheared. “You get less wear and tear on the shear blade because of that,” Perdue says.

Balcones has seen its bale production increase since adding the new baler in Austin. Perdue says the MRF is baling old corrugated containers (OCC) more quickly with the new machine, having increased production by 10 to 15 percent. In December 2019, the Austin MRF baled in excess of 3,300 tons of OCC using the baler.

OCC is not the only commodity Balcones is baling with the new machine. The company also uses the machine to bale containers, including aluminum, tin, polyethylene terephthalate, high-density polyethylene, bulky mixed rigids and Nos. 3-7 plastic. “The precompression doors are nice for mixed rigids,” Perdue says, as they provide enough force to counteract the memory of these containers.

Balcones’ Austin MRF baled 600 tons of containers using the REB-4 in December 2019, he says. The MRF’s plastic bales, which Perdue characterizes as “heavy and dense,” can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. The integrity of the bales also facilitates loading and storage, further increasing the efficiency of the MRF.

In addition to baling OCC and containers, the baler condenses residual material that comes off the processing system, he says. In December 2019, Balcones’ Austin MRF baled 1,700 tons of this material.

The installation

“The footprint is about the same,” he says of the REB-4 compared with the REB-2, which helped to facilitate the two-day installation process.

“We had to bring in additional electrical,” Perdue says, “but we knew that was going to be the case and had that in place” prior to the installation.

A crane also was needed for the installation. “We arranged the crane, but they took the lead on managing the install,” he says of Sierra.

"We wanted more production efficiency through faster bale production.” – Brent Perdue, general manager at Balcones Resources’ Austin, Texas, MRF

The REB-2 baler had to be removed and relocated to Balcones’ Dallas MRF to make room for the REB-4. He says the Dallas MRF handles roughly one-third of the volume that Balcones processes in Austin. “It’s a good fit for them,” he says of the 7-year-old machine. “It still works perfectly fine.”

While Perdue says he was “nervous” about the Austin installation, he adds that it “was on time and went really smoothly.”

The disruption to Balcones’ Austin MRF was minimal given Sierra’s adherence to the timeline for the installation, he says.

Following the installation, Perdue says it took a couple of days with the help of a technician from Sierra to get the new baler “dialed in.”

He explains, “There was a little bit of a learning curve because there are different controls and settings, but it is not steep.”

Balcones has dedicated baler operators on each of the two shifts that it runs. They simply have to choose a “recipe” based on the commodity being baled, Perdue says, and the baler automatically adjusts the pressure rating.

Ongoing operation

Prior to every shift, the baler operators grease the precompression doors and ensure the unit’s photo eyes are not blocked. They also examine hydraulic lines for leaks.

“Each baler operator will blow out the accessible parts with an air hose so they can reduce dust buildup,” Perdue says. “They also wipe down hydraulic hoses, while maintenance will clean out debris.”

Balcones performs scheduled monthly maintenance on the baler and addresses any additional concerns staff may have noticed, he says, taking the machine out of service for the day to do so.

“We do the vast amount of service in-house,” Perdue adds.

He says Balcones’ Austin MRF has realized its objective of installing a baler that can keep up with the increased throughput it is seeing from its upgraded processing system. “We wanted to perform to the max.”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. issue of Recycling Today. The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at