May 20, 2008 | General

Baggers & Colorizers

BioCycle May 2008, Vol. 49, No. 5, p. 32
Manufacturers and equipment purchasers offer guidance on evaluating options to expand markets with value-added products.
Rhodes Yepsen

Colorizing mulch is a quick way to diversify a product line, meeting demand for colors that are popular with professional landscapers and households. Once a mulch or compost operation has built up a reputation for quality product, adding a bagger enables retail markets to be tapped. For the third article in BioCycle’s “Nuts & Bolts” series, we contacted bagging and colorizer manufacturers, as well as recent purchasers of these categories of equipment.
An important aspect of buying any equipment is accurately assessing the size and sophistication that an operation needs. The range of available sizes and degrees of automation are especially prevalent with baggers and mulch colorizers. Mulch producers can purchase a color pump from several different companies that fits onto an existing grinder or screen, which is relatively inexpensive, or they can go for a dedicated colorizer. Bagging equipment ranges from small manual models that can be pulled behind a pickup truck, to whole bagging lines that are indoors and move massive volumes from bulk material to wrapped pallets.
Jeff Hansen, President and Owner of Hansen’s Tree Service in Missouri, expects to be producing between 60,000 and 75,000 tons of mulch and compost this year. He purchased a Colorbiotics Sahara III, with a 300 cubic yard (cy)/hour production rate, and uses the Starburst colorant. “We looked at other colorizers, but found Colorbiotics to be the best option for us,” says Hansen. “It’s computerized and very efficient in terms of pounds of dye per yard. Although colorized mulch involves more steps, it brings in significantly more profit than selling only natural mulch.” (For more on Hansen’s Tree Service, see page 37).
Although a machine with that throughput and computerization is ideal for an operation the size of Hansen’s, it’s not one size fits all. Mike Fowler started E-Z Tree Service in Chicago in 1992, shortly after yard trimmings were banned from local landfills. Previously, he worked at a resource center, supervising a composting project, and realized that with the ban there would be a fair amount of wood that area composting facilities would have trouble handling. E-Z Tree Service processes 20,000 to 30,000 cy/year of material with a Morbark tub grinder. Fowler bought a Rotochopper CP 118 to regrind and color some of the mulch, after testing the market by selling someone else’s product. Fowler notes that for an operation of his size, many machines on the market are too big. “I don’t want to make a month’s worth of mulch in two hours, and then have it stockpiled. For us, this is the right tool for the right job.” He estimates E-Z Tree Service sells 8,000 cy/year of colored mulch, 10,000 yards of natural mulch, 2,000 yards of topsoil and some playground mulch.
E-Z Tree Service also purchased the Rotochopper Go-Bagger 250. “We just want to bag and sell the mulch at our own business, not stores like Home Depot,” notes Fowler. “It’s a way to move extra product.” In addition to its portability, “the four yard hopper is big enough that we can load it with a large front-end loader, which meant we didn’t have go out and buy a Bobcat,” he says.
In contrast, Dan Banfe, CEO of Reliable Wood Products in New Jersey, had an entirely different set of criteria in mind when his company began evaluating bagging options. He describes the driving force behind purchasing a fully automated Premier Tech bagging system. “We didn’t have any bagging equipment, and wanted a full-service package,” says Banfe. “We toured the Premier Tech plant and were impressed with everything, especially the way bags are turned – unlike other companies, which have a robotic arm, Premier Tech has two twin belt turners.” Reliable Wood Products purchased a hopper, form fill seal (FFS) bagger, flattener, palletizer and a stretch wrapper. Incoming wood is ground, colored, aged and sold wholesaled to retailers.
Amerimulch manufactures a range of colorizing equipment, from color pumps to freestanding machines, as well as its own line of colorant, Heartland Enriched. One feature of the colorant is that it is a nonsettling liquid. “This is a major breakthrough for the industry, because iron oxide tends to settle, and the operator has to mix the liquid before every use,” explains Matt Cox, Western Regional Sales Manager. “Part of my job had been to train people how to mix, but they usually didn’t do it. Now customers can just ‘plug and go.'”
Customers often ask about water usage. “If you’re adding a lot of water to the mulch it gets heavy, which leads to shipping loads that are less than full,” says Cox. With rising fuel costs, this is an understandable concern. Customers also ask about fuel efficiency and horsepower (HP). In response, Amerimulch describes its three series available: The Spitfire Color Pump is low HP, and attaches to a grinder or screen. The Mite Series is high energy, high HP. And the new series, the ColorTrom, has half the HP of the Mite for the same production, and uses less water. It also has a live bottom hopper with straight sides, designed to eliminate bridging.
Cox notes that the mulch colorizing business on the West Coast is still relatively new, compared to the East Coast. He finds he’s selling a lot of the Spitfire color pumps, instead of the more expensive stand-alone equipment. “For under $20,000, mulch processors are able to get started in colorizing without a huge investment, and are still able to process a large volume – about 200 cy/hour,” he says. On the East Coast, he continues, the market is further along and people are willing to spend more for a stationary machine.
In general, he adds, the downturn in the building industry has meant less clean wood is available for the mulch industry. Operators now are using more green waste and pallet debris. Another change is with the increasing boiler fuel market. “In Washington State, the boiler fuel market is skyrocketing,” says Cox. “Natural bark was the landscaping material of choice, but now everybody is selling bark to boiler plants, getting $65/ton.” This has created a boon for mulch colorizing businesses, with producers coloring mulch from land clearing operations.
Bandit Industries offers the Color Critter II, an attachment for its Beast Recycler chippers, with liquid and granular coloring options. The Color Critter uses a minimal amount of water, says Jason Morey of Bandit, reducing the mess associated with liquid coloring systems. The colored mulch comes out dry to the touch, ready for immediate bagging.
Because the Color Critter is attached to the chipper/grinder, coloring can be completed during the finished grind. The control system of the colorizer runs off of the grinder’s electrical system, so it automatically regulates the flow of colorant with respect to the speed of the infeed conveyor. “When the infeed conveyor slows down, the amount of colorant dispersed is reduced, and when the conveyor stops, so does the colorant,” says Morey. The colorant flow also can be adjusted by turning a knob on the control panel. On average, the Color Critter II uses about $3 of colorant per cubic yard of finished product.
Colorbiotics offers a full line of colorizing equipment, from the Infusion color pump to the Sahara stand-alone models. “Efficiency is the most important factor to evaluate when buying a colorizer,” says Kent Rotert of Colorbiotics. “The customer buys the machine one time, but has to buy colorant for every yard they make, so maximizing efficiency of the colorant is the most important factor. Water efficiency is also key.” Water dilutes the colorant, as well as help spread it over the wood, but it must be used in appropriate amounts. Too much adds weight to the product, can make the color look washed out on the wood and increases drying time, notes Rotert.
Other considerations when shopping include good customer service, especially after the equipment is sold. “After the sale, service can make or break the buyer,” Rotert explains. “We take as long as is needed by each customer to train them on proper operation, calibration of the colorant pumps and water, etc.” Rotert recommends following up several times a year, where a tech person checks and aligns the machine’s color/water calibration.
Colorizing mulch from green wood can be tricky, but is possible. “Green waste tends to naturally want to expel moisture as it ages and decomposes,” he adds. “When coloring green material, it is even more critical to utilize a colorant product and coloring system that requires the absolute least amount of water and provides maximum colorfastness.”
With regard to colorizing attachments versus a stand-alone machine, “it all depends on how much water/colorant it requires to cover the mulch completely,” notes Rotert. “A Sahara system utilizes on average 3 to 8 gallons of water and 3 to 3.5 lbs of colorant per yard to make a very high quality end product.”
Although there are many reasons that liquid colorant dominates the market, Rotert explains that powder and granular products lack resin. “Without a resin package, there is nothing to keep the colorant chemically bonded to wood.” Colorbiotics is introducing the Clean In Place tote mixer technology in 2008, which will help eliminate colorant left in the tote. “Our new Clean In Place technology uses a high pressure washing system to effectively remove all the colorant from the tote to be applied to mulch.”
Rotochopper, Inc. manufactures a full line of grinders, all of which can accommodate a colorizing attachment. It also offers a dedicated grind and color system. Vince Hundt of Rotochopper says that customers generally want to know about volume and performance with the particular raw materials that they’ll be processing. “Our high energy mill is well suited to coloring wet material,” says Hundt. “We’ve had a lot of success coloring green wood chips, such as from freshly ground forestry slash.”
As for colorant, Hundt agrees that liquids dominate the market, and explains that the polymers used in liquid colorant cause it to adhere well to wood. “Those compounds are hard to use in dry or granular forms,” he says. “And liquid is easier to manage – you can pump it with great accuracy, and the wind won’t blow it around.” In terms of matching color choices with the appropriate wood feedstock: “Dry wood will hold color well, but wood that hasn’t gone through the drying process will change as bacteria, heat and moisture interact with it, such as if it’s left in a pile.”
Rotochopper is introducing a new grind and color machine in 2008, the MP II. It’s a smaller version of the existing model, and ideal for regrinding and coloring chips from a land clearing operation. “At 275 HP, it’s a single axle machine that can be pulled with a dump truck and will produce 100 to 125 yards of colored mulch an hour,” says Hundt. It will be ideal for smaller municipalities that need a multi-function grinder to handle everything from green waste to pallets. The MP II is about $100,000 less than Rotochopper’s most popular machine.
T. H. Glennon Co. identifies four main criteria that customers use to determine which equipment to purchase: Total money available to invest; Quantity of mulch to be colored; If there is existing equipment to be utilized; Amount of space at the site. “The cheapest stand-alone colorizer is between $40,000 and $50,000, and goes up to $140,000,” says Kriem Michel, National Sales Manager for T. H. Glennon. “In comparison, the mulch color jet is $6,500.” The color jet can be attached to a grinder or screen, which is standard equipment at a mulch site “The only time a dedicated colorizer should be selected is if there’s no grinder available, or if the grinder is used off-site and is unavailable,” she says. “Coloring in the grinder takes place during the second grind. If you color with stand-alone equipment, the mulch has to be ground twice in most cases anyway. So why not save a processing step and color during the second grind?”
T. H. Glennon offers a mold and fungus protection additive in its line of liquid colorants, as well as fragrances. “Our Colorfast line contains a proprietary additive that protects the dried colorant film against discoloration caused by microbial attack,” says Michel. “A stockpile of mulch will not lose its color due to fungus and mold when stored over the winter, for example.” Some customers still prefer dry colorant over liquid, and may be primarily interested in turnaround time: Mulch colored with liquid takes about 24 hours to dry, whereas mulch colored with dry pigments could be sold two hours after being colored. “The advantage of using dry pigment is that it’s hammered into the wood during grinding,” says Michel. “In some cases, your coloring can take place without the need for water.” The finished mulch is therefore lighter, which is an advantage for shipping.
When matching a color to the type of wood, the common rule is that pale, clean wood, such as pallets or dimensional lumber, gets colored gold or red, whereas green wood or darker mulch gets colored brown or black. “Important here is a consistent texture, color and grade of wood,” she says. “Any variation will change the shade of the mulch.” Wood with noticeable variations is better suited for shades of brown or black colorant, where they will be covered up. New in 2008 for T. H. Glennon are a remote-controlled mulch color jet, and a DC-powered mulch color jet.
Amadas Industries manufactures a bag dosing mechanism, the central piece of equipment for its bagging line. Tiny Andrews of Amadas says that customers looking to purchase bagging equipment ask about the number of bags per minute, number of people needed for operation, what different sizes of bags can be used and general reliability or maintenance issues. Another consideration is whether the bagger can be used with existing infeed and outfeed equipment. “Our bagger is very complementary, and we work to make it fit existing equipment, no matter if it is Amadas or another manufacturer’s,” explains Andrews. There are eight pieces of equipment in the Amadas bagging line: outside hopper, infeed conveyor, bagging unit, upright bag conveyor, hot air sealer, bag turning conveyor, palletizer and stretch wrapper.
Amadas only manufactures manual bagging equipment. “If a customer wants to go automatic, we’ll help them upgrade the equipment,” he adds. Choosing automated over manual is not always about increasing the number of bags, but often concerns labor costs involved with the bagging operation, he notes. “In the bagging operations I’ve seen, with automated vs. manual baggers, there is no difference in the number of bags per day. The major cost savings arise for manual bagging equipment in areas where labor costs are high, or where reliable labor is difficult to come by. This leads to high turnover and more time and money for training.”
Creative Packaging Inc. sells a vertically oriented form, fill and seal (FFS) automatic bagging system made in Italy by B&C. According to Fred Schumpert of Creative Packaging, a central factor for bagging is the flow characteristic of the material. This is particularly important with mulch, where flow is affected by the type of wood, the grade and size of the mulch, and the moisture content. “For instance, mini chips flow well,” says Shumpert. “Cyprus or cedar mulches, on the other hand, are stringy and difficult. Assessing flow characteristics accurately is key to bagging; otherwise you won’t maximize the ability of the equipment.”
Schumpert originally sold horizontal bagging equipment, but now exclusively deals with vertical models. “Instead of material being dropped into a hole in the bag, vertical baggers have volumetric feeders, a cylinder that fits the opening in the bag,” he says. Another feature of the vertical system is the ability to form gussets on the side of the bag, creating a square bag that is easier to stack and ship. Horizontal equipment can only form a gusset on the bottom of the bag, says Schumpert, which means they need to be flipped alternately to be stacked properly.
Options with the B&C equipment include mixers (for soil and compost) at the infeed, to stretch hooding at the end. “Hooding is very popular in Europe, as an alternative to stretch wrapping,” he explains. “If a product is stored outdoors, moisture can get into a stretch-wrapped product, messing up the ink on bags, threatening the product, etc. Stretch hooding, on the other hand, forms a bag from tubing, based on the size of the pallet, going over the pallet loader.” The hooding machine pushes the material down, and then encloses it, eliminating the need for a cap and a top sheet.
Hamer Inc. introduced the first horizontal FFS bagger to the lawn and garden market in 1994. A key question to ask when choosing bagging equipment is if it will allow for the ability to expand. “It’s important as a customer is deciding on their initial purchase that they consider, ‘Will the system grow with me, or is it limited to only doing manual bagging?'” says Dan Brown of Hamer. “This gives them the best return for their investment.” Hamer offers manual lines for customers just entering the bagging market, and automated equipment that works well as a later addition.
Brown notes that customers want to know what a realistic throughput is for the system, not just the published maximum. They also ask what causes the line to go down, and how easy is it to get it back and running. “Customers look for machines that are simple to run, and simple to keep running,” explains Brown. “We work hard to keep our machines simple, easy to learn, easy to run and easy to maintain.”
When choosing between manual and automated systems, the variety of products being bagged can be a major factor, he says. For instance, if three or four different products need to be bagged in one day, it may make the most sense to manually bag them in premade bags, giving the customer as much flexibility as they need. “The down side of this flexibility is that they end up paying a premium for their bags – premade bags are approximately five percent more expensive than roll stock bags – and they have significantly more labor in their process,” says Brown. “When a customer can standardize their production to run one product for four to five hours or for an entire shift, automation really helps them maximize production.” For example, if a company produces one million bags per year manually, adding a FFS machine to the system would be paid off in eight months, notes Brown.
Morbark, Inc. manufactures the Multibagger, which is designed for start-up bagging operations. With a 2 cubic yard hopper, it produces 300 to 1,000 bags/hour. Customers often ask Morbark about bagging speed, but also about transportation and setup time. “The Multibagger is easy to transport and only requires five minutes to set up,” says John Foote, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Morbark. “So now operators can save on transportation costs by bringing the Multibagger to the bagging site, instead of hauling truck loads of material to a horizontal stationary bagging machine.”
A gravity-fed, manual bagger, he continues, has less moving parts to worry about than an automated system. To increase speed, Morbark offers conveyor, heat sealers and scales. And, to help customers calculate whether a bagger is right for their operation, Morbark created a worksheet that balances out estimated costs and benefits of adding the Multibagger.
Premier Tech Systems offers a full line of packaging equipment, including FFS, dosing systems, bulk bagging and more. Besides volume, David Lévesque, Marketing Supervisor for Premier Tech, says that flexibility and production rate are top considerations on the customer’s lists. The Premier Tech FFS-200, a horizontal machine, has new features in 2008: panel-view color touch screen; customized wide opening with rigid opening plates and a low angle chute for improved flow and performance; easy to use film roll loading system with an increased capacity of 48 inches in diameter; heavy-duty hot air triple seal system for speed and reliability; and a top sealer pulley with closed surface, reducing dust.
Rotochopper, Inc. offers an entry-level bagger, the Go-Bagger 250, which is semi-automatic and mobile. “It’s a simple and inexpensive machine that can be towed by a pickup, set up in five minutes and doesn’t cost much more than the pickup truck itself,” says Vince Hundt of Rotochopper. “Our bagger is often used by people who already have a successful bulk business, and they buy the Go-Bagger to keep existing customers, to satisfy their market and anyone asking for bagged product.” It can be operated with one person, although for maximum production three workers are ideal. Bags can be filled by weight or volume, and can be made out of plastic or stitchable fabric.
Automation of the downstream processes becomes more important as volume increases. “If you’re filling 40-pound bags at 200 an hour, that’s 4 tons an hour that needs to be moved downstream,” he says. At that weight, automation might not be necessary, but as volume increases, items like conveyors and palletizers become extremely useful, taking a burden off of the workers. Aside from weight, a limiting factor with a small machine is how fast bags can be sealed.

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