Things to Evaluate When Considering a Recycling Retro-fit

Jeremie Bourgeois, Eng.

As a recycling plant manufacturer, we receive various types of calls from different recyclers for more information on our products and services. We also receive inquiries on the recycling markets tendencies. One of the most frequently asked questions is: can my current installation be retro-fitted? Every situation has it differences, regardless of the material that is to be processed. There are a few elements that must be analyzed in order to determine the feasibility of a retro-fit. The following is a brief list of the points you need to evaluate prior to determine whether a retro-fit is the right decision for you and your company.

Retro-Fit or New Installation?

There are several advantages in considering a retro-fit as opposed to a completely new installation. A retro-fit allows the maximum of existing equipment to be reused or reallocated; therefore, reducing the amount of required investment. Since the retro-fit is normally done in phases, it allows for a maximum amount of continuity in your operations and minimizes the work stoppage and down time.

What is the Projected Outcome?

A retro-fit can be requested for many different reasons:

  • To increase the processing capacity, to automate certain sorting procedures

  • To adapt equipment for the sorting of different materials

  • To replace or move existing equipment and optimize production

  • To add a new processing line in the existing installation, etc.

It is imperative to determine the desired outcome in order to find the correct solution. Then, a plan can be determined that will meet your needs. A typical example would be a desired increase capacity of 15 to 25 tons per hour.

What Reference Documents are Available?

A retro-fit is designed to reuse the maximum amount of existing machinery and equipment. It is therefore essential to have the most amount of information possible on the existing installation:

  • Are there plans available for the equipment?

  • Do you have the plans for the foundation and structure of the building?

  • Are the lighting and the fire systems visible on these plans? If so, are they in paper or electronic format?

  • Are the plans legible and up to date?

Even if all these things are available, an onsite inspection is usually required to simplify the work at hand. This is needed simply because either the plans are not up to date or they do not exist (in some cases, the engineer or architect can be called to send a copy where needed). If we have to take an onsite reading, it can be done either by hand (tape measure and laser level) or with 3d scanners. A 3d scan allows you to accurately measure all of the equipment and the building. Once the scan has been performed, the file is then transferred to a computer where we can process all the virtual measurements. Regardless of the way the measurements are taken, it is very important that the plant is as clean as possible with as little accumulated debris. The technician will use his time much more effectively this way.

In What Condition is the Existing Equipment?

When planning a retro-fit, an assessment of all of the existing equipment is necessary to ensure that they can be used efficiently in the new layout. If not, is it possible to repair or to modify them so they can be reused? It is of the upmost importance to verify the structural integrity of the equipment, as well as, the mechanical and electrical components. If a longer conveyor is needed, verify that the motor has sufficient power to handle the new length. The same question needs to be answered when there is a change in the processing capacity. This would be the perfect time to fix damaged conveyors, replace worn rubber stars mounted on shafts for all star screens (these are widely used in the industry to screen the fines out) and do a complete maintenance on all of the equipment.

What Are the Different Limitations? (Building, Electricity)

Once you have evaluated your requirements and your existing installation, determine your best solution. It is here that you must use your formidable abilities to get into the minute details to propose the most feasible and optimal answer. The main limitations are usually because of accessibility to the equipment and its components. Can the cranes get access to the equipment that needs to be moved? Does some equipment need to be modified to get access to other pieces of equipment that need to be changed or modified? Is there enough clearance to accomplish all these tasks? We try to avoid modifying the existing structure (opening walls, pits and foundations) because, this would require other specialists and it can become quite cost prohibitive.

While a feasible solution is being found, address the electrical supply and control concerns. Do you have enough electrical supply? How will the new machines interact (if adding to an existing plant) with the new equipment? In certain cases a new control panel will be added for the new equipment and communication will be established with the old panel. In other circumstances the whole panel will have to be replaced which will raise the cost of the retro-fit.

Finally, figure out how the equipment will be handled and stored before during and after the retro-fit. Who is responsible for the disposal of the equipment that will no longer be used? Where will we store the equipment that is to be reused? Where will the new equipment be stored until it is ready to be installed? Try to move things around the least amount possible and coordinate with the plant operator.

Can Normal Operations Continue During the Retro-fit?

Yes they can. This is the number one concern of most plant operators. The materials still come in whether you are operating or not. Down-time can be minimized in order to allow the plant to operate to a certain extent during the retro-fit. It can be planned in a number of phases and it can be planned during the night or weekend so as to disturb production the least amount possible. Coordination and communication are the key elements to a smooth transition. The retro-fit will certainly impact your operations and at a certain point they will have to be completely stopped if only to safely hook up the electricity. It is also possible that after the installation is done some impromptu stops are required to fine tune the line. This happens quite frequently when two panels are hooked together and the communication between the two must be harmonized.

Some Examples of Retro-fits

A very popular example of a retro-fit is the addition of an optical sorter to replace a manual sorting conveyor. Each plastic has its distinct properties so determine which ones are to be sorted optically. In 95 percent of cases, PET, HDPE (colored and clear) and mixed plastic are sorted. The optical sorting technology is able to sort PP (Polypropylene, which has a higher reselling value when separated from the #3-7 mixed plastics) separately and aseptic and metal containers.

Another very popular example of a retro-fit is adding a bag-opener at the beginning of the recycling process. The bags are mechanically opened therefore eliminating the need to have manpower at a station that can be easily automated. The bag openers are easily integrated into existing systems. They come with their own control panel so they just need to be hooked up to the existing communication system. This procedure can usually be done over a weekend if its placement is easily accessible (usually at the beginning of the chain).

Every Retro-fit is Unique

Each retro-fit is unique and each solution is distinct. A new installation is a lot easier for the manufacturer and the installation crew but, a retro-fit is more cost-effective and time for the operator. A retro-fit is much less expensive and requires much less down-time, which makes it much more advantageous when feasible.

Jeremie Bourgeois is a mechanical engineer for OEM Sherbrooke (Sherbrooke, QC)

After graduating in 2005 from the University of Sherbrooke, he worked at Cascades and Norampac as maintenance and project manager prior to working with Sherbrooke OEM.

Jeremie joined Sherbrooke OEM’s team in 2007, starting as an estimator/project manager and now is in charge of the marketing and business development. He can be reached at (819) 563-7374, ext. 242, via e-mail at[email protected]or visit the Web site at