Nearly a decade ago, when Dallas-based Champion Waste & Recycling Vice President Paul Kuhar was searching for equipment that could handle his construction & demolition (C&D) recycling facility’s material loading needs, an excavator seemed like the right choice.

“In C&D, a lot of times the [excavators] we saw … were always perched on debris piles,” Kuhar says. “A lot of people we talked to said that was the best way to process material because the machine is elevated and you can see what and how you’re loading material. We weren’t really fans of that approach, but that seemed to be the norm, so we went with that [and purchased an excavator]. But what we quickly realized is that we didn’t need to be perched on piles. We were going to feed from the ground.”

In the company’s Celina, Texas-based C&D facility, operators had been loading from the floor directly onto Champion’s finger screen. However, this setup made it difficult to accurately account for the materials loaded onto the system due to the placement of the cab.

“Our setup posed challenges because the excavator would be fully extended and the operator couldn’t see where he was loading, so he would either overload the system or he would underload the system,” Kuhar says.

Though the equipment had its limitations, the company stuck with excavators for years. But around 2015, Kuhar started hearing buzz about a newer piece of equipment that could handle a versatile set of needs: material handlers.

With a 60,000-square-foot material recovery facility (MRF) dedicated to commercial recycling in Dallas in addition to the a 65,000-square-foot C&D MRF the company operated, Kuhar wondered whether material handlers would be a better fit for Champion’s needs. He picked the brains of scrap handlers, who were the primary users of material handlers at the time, along with C&D operators who had taken the plunge in adding these machines to their fleets. Through these discussions, Kuhar says he became convinced adding a material handler to the company’s equipment fleet could be a shrewd move.

After diligent research, Kuhar settled on a Sennebogen 821 E material handler, which Champion first debuted at its Dallas commercial MRF.

Suitable testing grounds

The Sennebogen 821 E-series of material handlers have a reach of nearly 43 feet. Perhaps just as important, the cabs can lift hydraulically up to almost 9 feet, allowing operators to get a better view of where they’re loading. Additionally, since the machine has four different types of attachments available, it offers users the ability to handle a variety of different materials and jobs.

According to Kuhar, the Dallas MRF proved to be an optimal place to test the machine’s versatility and flexibility.

“The way we load material there and the way that facility is set up, it’s harder to load with the front end loader,” Kuhar says. “Our commercial facility is very unique in the way we’re set up to load material. We don’t have the ability to have loading ramps and different dockets and things like that.”

Kuhar says operators quickly found the material handlers to be a better fit in the facility than the excavators they were used to. Kuhar says the machines offer a panoramic view of the ground in the facility, and they feature joysticks that move with the seat for simple control of the material handler’s arm.

“The material handler gave us the ability to load material a lot easier,” Kuhar says. “It has the raised cab, so the operator can see inside of the trailer that he’s loading. Plus, it’s a wheeled machine versus a track machine, so it’s less wear and tear on our paved surfaces there.”

After realizing improved efficiencies at its commercial MRF, Champion purchased another Sennebogen 821 material handler the following year for its C&D MRF.

C&D facility

While Kuhar says excavators are typically the primary equipment used to load material at C&D MRFs, the company’s operators were up for the challenge in switching to a new material handler.

“We made the switch initially and bought a material handler for our Celina C&D facility,” Kuhar says. “We demoed it, we tested it out. … But it was something different, something new, so there was a learning curve there.”

Kuhar says the excavator that operators were previously using had a grapple bucket and only moved in a straight-line motion. After converting to the material handler, they began trying out two new attachments—an orange peel grab and a clamshell grab—that could articulate 360 degrees.

“Sometimes you get rebar, wires, things like that. And so with the five-finger orange peel grapple, we’re able to grab the material, and since it articulates 360 degrees, you can spin the grapple around, detangle some stuff, kind of fluff up the material,” Kuhar says. “We tried both attachments, and our particular operators liked the five-finger-type grapple better than the clamshell.”

Operators also had to get used to being in an elevated cab in the new material handler as opposed to being close to the ground where they were constantly staring up at the bucket on the excavator that blocked their vision. However, over the course of a few weeks, the difference became second nature for the team’s operators, Kuhar says. Despite the changes, Kuhar says it only took operators about a month to surpass the learning curve and get used to the new piece of equipment.

“The operators really liked the fact that they were able to be elevated in the cab. It’s like a bird perch. They can get up there and they can see all the material. They can see how they’re loading it,” Kuhar says. “Your line of vision is much better, and the ability to have that articulating 360-degree motion with the attachments allows you to do some different things that you normally couldn’t do with an excavator.”

After proving itself in the company’s commercial and C&D facilities, Champion purchased one more Sennebogen. The company now has three total: Two at the C&D facility that each run nearly 10 hours a day, and then one at the commercial MRF that runs nearly eight hours a day.

“The advantage for us really has been ease of loading. The operator is elevated in that cab, he can see all the material, he can load more efficiently, he can pick out things,” Kuhar says.

He adds that material handlers make prescreening easier, as operators can pick out large material that would otherwise damage the screen.

The material handlers have reduced damage to other equipment, too. Kuhar says even the best operators would sometimes damage crossbeams for auto-tarp systems on transfer trailers when using excavators simply because their line of vision was blocked. Now, operators have a clear view nearly everywhere they’re working thanks to the added lift from the material handlers, which has helped cut down on accidents.

Even with the transition, Champion hasn’t completely abandoned the company’s excavators. Kuhar says they still come in handy in a pinch, but that it is unlikely Champion will deviate from the material handlers being the company’s workhorse anytime soon.

“The excavator has its place in the C&D recycling world, and we still use it, … but the precision with material handlers is a lot better—at least from our standpoint,” Kuhar says. “There’s always going to be a debate amongst companies about what is the best option, but in our opinion, we’ve been really happy with the friendliness of how our material handlers can load, and the operators really enjoy it.”

The author is an assistant editor for Waste Today and can be contacted at tcottom@gie.net.