If Athens Services learned just one thing when choosing equipment for a new material recovery facility (MRF) back in 2013, it was this — it never hurts to try something new.
The family-owned waste collection and recycling company has been operating Cat® equipment at its southern California facilities for more than two decades, but had never put a wheel material handler to work — not until the Cat Waste team recommended one for the Sun Valley operation.
“The material handler wasn’t even on our radar until Caterpillar mentioned it,” says Riel Johnson, director of resource recovery for Athens Services’ MRFs. “Our tipping area is somewhat constrained, making it not ideal for a wheel loader. The idea that another machine could do the work of a loader without taking up as much space was very appealing.”
So the Sun Valley team took Caterpillar’s advice and paired an M322D Wheel Material Handler with two M966 XE Wheel Loaders and one 938 Wheel Loader. Five years later, they’re “very happy” with that decision. We asked Johnson to tell us why.
JOHNSON: We called Caterpillar in for a consultation before we opened the Sun Valley facility. We knew our volumes and material types, and we’d made some assumptions about equipment types and sizes, but we wanted to double check that they were the right ones. Our goal was to be as efficient as possible with our equipment selection, so we went to the experts for advice.
JOHNSON: It all comes down to space. We don’t have a lot of room to work, and the material handler takes up just a small circle on the floor. It does a lot of pre-sorting of materials, loads our waste processing system evenly and frees up our loaders for other work. It’s a very good front-end piece of equipment that allows our whole system to function more efficiently.
JOHNSON: It uses very little fuel compared to a loader. There’s no tire wear. It has great visibility for the operator, so he can pick and sort material easily. We’ve equipped ours with a rotating grapple attachment that lets the operator flip items around, pull them out and toss them to the side. That means our guys don’t have to pull them out by hand, which is a safety benefit.
More uptime is another big advantage. Because the operator running the material handler can pull out undesirables, those items aren’t getting into our waste processing system and causing damage. We’ve seen it all here — from boa constrictors to headstones and everything it between. Being able to pre-sort with the material handler saves on maintenance and labor costs, and it improves productivity.
JOHNSON: A couple of our guys had some excavator experience, so they were familiar with the basic operation of the machine. Caterpillar also provided a lot of front-end training. They came to our facility several times to make sure our operators knew how to handle the machine properly and set it up so it was stable. They even talked to our maintenance team about some steps they could take to keep the material handler up and running.
JOHNSON: We did have some overheating issues initially. Our building is fully enclosed, and there’s not much air flow. It can get well over 115 degrees inside. Caterpillar came out numerous times, tried different fixes and eventually solved the problem. Now they’ve introduced the next generation of material handlers with a completely different cooling package. We got a chance to demo one of the new machines, and it works great. It’s nice to see an equipment manufacturer that listens to its customers and makes changes based on our feedback.
JOHNSON: Absolutely. I turn to the Cat Waste Group often when I run into an issue. People will come to me with a question, and I’ll say, “I don’t know the answer, but I know who to ask.” Or I’ll have an idea about something we want to try, and I’ll call Caterpillar to see if they think the machine can handle it. It’s great to have them as an expert resource we can tap into. I call them at the craziest hours, and they always answer. That says a lot about Caterpillar.
Would your operation benefit from a material handler/wheel loader set-up? Would you like expert advice on choosing equipment? Your local Cat dealer can connect you with the Cat Waste team.