Efficiency Hits Home Like A Ton Of Briquettes

As a manufacturer of aluminum extrusions offering a range of fabrication and machining processes for aluminum-based products, the company is now turning its aluminum chips and scrap into briquettes, thanks to a new chip handling system that includes the FastPac Briquetter compacting unit from Mayfran International.                                                   


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Though there are no alchemists on the payroll, AACOA, Inc. (Niles, Michigan) has an exceptional ability to turn aluminum into gold. As a manufacturer of aluminum extrusions offering a range of fabrication and machining processes for aluminum-based products, the company is now turning its aluminum chips and scrap into gold, thanks to a new chip handling system that includes the FastPac Briquetter compacting unit from Mayfran International.                                                   

AACOA’s 120,000-square-foot production facility houses two automated 2,500-ton extrusion press lines producing standard profiles such as L angle, T- and I-bar; round and hexagon bars; round, square and rectangular tube; and H- and U-channel pieces; as well as custom profiles from a variety of aluminum alloys. Each press line can produce profiles of as high as 10 inches in diameter from billet sections of as high as 8 inches in diameter. Each line requires the continuous operation of five billet saws and two finish saws. These saws produce mounds of fine chips. 

The facility also provides fabrication of aluminum components and offers CNC machining, production sawing and miter cutting, milling, piercing and punching, as well as assembly, welding, bending operations, in-house die and fixture construction, and modeling/engineering services. The combination of five fabrication saws also contributes a lot of shavings.

“It all adds up to about 35,000 to 40,000 pounds of aluminum chips and scrap per month,” says AACOA Plant Manager Dave Sheaks. “So we needed an efficient handling system. We were able to see a compacting system in operation at another company and made the decision to acquire one. The next decision was which one to purchase.”

AACOA contacted Mayfran. Its application engineers were able to demonstrate the operation and performance of the FastPac Briquetter System at the Mayfran facility, but using AACOA’s aluminum chips and swarf. 

“Mayfran did a fine job working with us, analyzing the entire process and providing solutions where needed, including incorporating shredders for the long strings to facilitate the compacting operation,” Mr. Sheaks states. “They worked out a special hopper design and screw conveyor concept that feeds the FastPac to ensure optimum performance, and made sure that everything operated as we expected, before and after installation.”

In operation at the saws, the lightweight chips are first collected by cyclonic-type vacuum units, shredded as necessary at the secondary sawing, and deposited in dumpsters. These dumpsters, when filled, are moved to the briquetter’s hopper where the load is dumped. Mayfran also included a sensor in the feed area of the compactor to monitor the chip flow, actuating the auger if the system needs more chips, or signaling a stop to prevent overflows in the feed chutes.

“Once a load of chips is in the FastPac hopper,” Mr. Sheaks notes, “one only needs to push a button and walk away—operation is automatic. The unit is small enough to be put in just about any convenient location and works so well you don’t even know its there.”

The chip handling system was developed to work with all types of metalworking chips, strings and nests, fines and sludge, and transform them into dense, dry and compact briquettes. Typical applications of the briquetter systems result in volume reductions of six to eight times that of the unprocessed materials. 

“We were getting about 20 cents per pound before installing the FastPac,” Mr. Sheaks says. “Now, the 2-inch-square by 3-inch-long pucks bring in about triple the price. We hit the payback amount in about 13 months. That’s pretty good for a new machine that doesn’t actually produce a product.”
The system eliminates the need for large areas to be set aside for scrap storage by helping users keep better track of scrap volumes and weights, and by providing a cleaner and safer work environment.

The FastPac System incorporates a dual-stage compacting process and dual-action compression/ejection cycle that requires less horsepower, thus lower energy consumption and operating costs than other machines and contributes to faster payback.

The operational sequences include a preliminary compacting step where a pre-charge chamber is fed by the auger helping to eliminate possible air pockets and gaps and ensuring that maximum chip volume and density will be achieved during the second briquette compacting stage.

When the pre-charge chamber is loaded, a secondary piston is activated to provide preliminary compression. This load is then transferred to one of two compression die chambers where the system’s main compression piston transforms the loosely packed material into a dense block. Simultaneous with the forward movement of this primary piston, an ejector pin propels a briquette located in the opposite die chamber and formed during the preceding cycle through an offload opening to a chute. As the primary piston retracts, the die chambers slide to reposition the just-emptied chamber for the next compression cycle while the second chamber with the completed briquette is set in position for ejection. 

Meanwhile, the screw feed and pre-charger have already begun subsequent steps of loading and pre-compression for the next cycle. This dual-stage, dual-action operation, unlike other systems typically requiring multiple strokes, means a briquette is formed with every machine cycle. This results in the systems’ ability to maximize output capacity while minimizing horsepower requirements and energy consumption.

From a maintenance standpoint, Scott Van Paris, maintenance manager at AACOA, boasts of the FastPac’s dependability. “The system is very reliable and takes care of itself,” he remarks. “We get a very consistent 3-inch puck slug that weighs about 1 pound, so it’s simple to track amounts. The FastPac generates about 40,000 pucks per month, and to date, we’ve pressed almost 1,002,600 pucks during 4,200 hours of operation with very little maintenance required. Even the mold to shape the pucks is holding up well, we may not have to replace it for at least another year or more.”

During the compression operation, as the FastPac System “squeeze dries” the chips to remove coolants, the excess fluid drains from the compression chamber and is collected in a tray below, making it available for immediate reuse or further filtration.

According to Mr. Sheaks, the briquette machine has contributed more than just monetary gains. “It’s easy to review the numbers—the dollar figures—and feel good about the increased rate of payback,” says Mr. Sheaks. “But, in addition to higher price-per-pound scrap values, we’ve found that the entire handling system has contributed to a cleaner chip processing operation and cleaner production areas. It’s also virtually labor-free since it requires no additional personnel to operate beyond those who would normally be collecting and transporting chip materials, and so far, has also been maintenance-free.”