Pacific Steel & Recycling, the Great Falls, Mont.-based recycling company that got its start here, is installing a massive piece of equipment in Spokane that will increase by four times the company's capacity to process scrap iron destined to be melted down at steel mills and formed into new products.
The equipment includes a guillotine shear with a side-squeeze press that will be operated with a train car-sized hydraulic pumping system, says Steve Ball, incoming manager for Pacific Steel's Spokane operations.
The side-squeeze press will compact loads of scrap iron into big metal bricks up to 26 feet long, 30 inches wide, and 36 inches tall, Ball says. A ram will push the bricks out of the squeeze chamber and through the shear mechanism, which is an oversized guillotine that can apply 100 tons of force to chop the compacted iron into sections typically 4 feet long, he says.
The processed scrap iron will be shipped to steel mills, which will melt the metal down to be reformed into new products, he says.
The primary mills to which the Spokane operation ships steel are in Seattle; Plymouth, Utah; and McMinnville, Ore., Ball says.
Ball is taking the helm of the Spokane operations, at 1114 N. Ralph, from Doug Stewart, a Spokane-based vice president of Pacific Steel, who is retiring after 38 years with the company. Ball, who has worked for Pacific Steel for 33 years, comes to Spokane from the company's corporate office in Great Falls.
Stewart says the shear will replace an aging 75-ton shear installed here in 2000.
"The new shear will cut bigger material and be a lot more efficient than 12-year-old technology," Stewart says.
He says the company is investing more than $2 million in the new equipment here.
Ball says the Pacific Steel's Spokane operations draw scrap iron primarily from within a 75-mile radius.
"The growth of business has gotten us to a place where the older technology and equipment isn't sufficient anymore," Balls says.
The new shear will raise the company's Spokane operations to a much higher level, he claims.
"This will certainly enable us to serve a larger market," Ball says. "Our demand for product will be great because we will be able to process more. It's pretty exciting for us junk guys."
The new equipment is the second of four such shears that Pacific Steel has bought to increase capacity at some of its larger scrap-iron processing facilities companywide, he says.
One new 100-ton shear is operating in Nampa, Idaho. Another is being transported to Pocatello, Idaho, and the fourth will be installed at Pacific Steel's Billings, Mont., facility.
The shear equipment was hauled here from Medina, Ohio, and components for it were manufactured in Medina and Germany.
"It's just being introduced in the U.S.," Stewart says, of the new shear technology.
The largest piece of the shear weighs 160,000 pounds and was delivered in an oversized truckload that required 19 axles, he says. It was followed by a 110,000-pound component in a 10-axle load and several other truckloads of parts.
The 2-foot-thick foundation for the equipment required 430 cubic yards of concrete, he says.
The shear will operate daily beginning as early as next week, Stewart says. It will process up to 50 tons of scrap metal an hour, with the ability to shear steel plate up to five inches thick. Such thick plate is too much for the old shear to handle and currently is processed manually with cutting torches.
The old shear will be scrapped, and portions of it will be processed through the new shear, he says.
The Spokane operation processes up to 400 tons of steel a day, although that varies depending on metal prices and the time of the year.
The steel market is recovering slowly following a steep price decline in 2008 that dragged bottom through 2009, when steel mills were operating at 40 percent capacity.
He says the market has been stable with little price changes over the last couple of years, and mills are operating at more than 70 percent capacity, although prices have softened somewhat in recent weeks.
Stewart says steel recycling makes up roughly half of the Spokane operation's revenue, with the rest balanced by nonferrous metals, consumer recyclables, and a small amount of retail sales.
Pacific Steel buys cattle hides on a year-round basis from butchers and farmer-ranchers, and the company still dabbles in furs, he says.
"We do some retail dressed goods and fur for the craft trades and Native American culture," he says. "It's not a big part of the business."
During hunting seasons, the company takes in deer and elk hides, often trading out two pairs of cowhide gloves for an elk hide in good condition, or one pair of gloves for a good deer hide, he says.
The company moved its Spokane operations in 1965 onto 6 acres of land on the east side of Ralph Street, north of Trent Avenue, from a longtime downtown location. In 1980, it bought property on the west side of Ralph Street, where it now handles all of its Spokane steel operations.
There, Pacific Steel sells to manufacturers and fabricators some new steel products such as beams, plate, and rebar, Stewart says. The company's larger distributors, such as its Pasco operation, perform some shearing, cutting, punching, and bending for customers, he says.
"Salvage is one of our niches," Stewart says. The company sorts out some used steel products, such as beams and plates, for resale to consumers.
"It's good material, but not brand new," he says.
Pacific Steel operates 42 branch offices in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota, and one branch office in Alberta, Canada.
The company has 800 employees, including 40 here.
Pacific Steel recently acquired Forest Steel Inc., of Coeur d'Alene, which also processes new steel products and collects scrap iron.
"We're always looking for growth opportunities as they arise," Stewart says.
The company has four main area competitors for scrap iron, and twice that many for nonferrous and consumer recyclables, Stewart says.
It will lose access to some consumer recyclables when Waste Management takes over curbside recycling under contract with Spokane County and the city of Spokane to implement a single-stream recycling program starting this fall.
"We'll feel it," he says of the impending reduction in consumer recyclables.
Five of Pacific Steel's Spokane employees process curbside recycling materials.
Pacific Steel will attempt to assimilate those employees in other areas, says Kevin Holcomb, the assistant manager for the Spokane operation.
The company's roots are in Spokane, where German immigrant Joe Thiebes began trading in hides and furs in the 1880s. His son incorporated Pacific Hide & Fur Depot, in Great Falls, in the 1920s, although the company had already expanded into collecting scrap metals for recycling during World War I.
Pacific Steel started selling new steel to manufacturers and fabricators in the 1950s. In the 1970s, the company launched its consumer recycling operations by taking in paper and aluminum cans.
The company has been employee owned since a few years after the founder's grandson, also named Joe Thiebes, died in 1988. About that time, Pacific Steel took on its current name.
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