Contractor’s grinder upgrade opens doors for new opportunities

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For Jim Soukup, president of Soukup Construction, Inc., upgrading his grinder fell into the category of a “no-brainer.” A combination of less-than-ideal performance and growing maintenance costs made their existing grinder inefficient, if not altogether ineffective. Making the move to a bigger, more productive unit, a Morbark Model 4600 Wood Hog horizontal grinder, has not only vastly improved their ability to process the waste they generate as part of their operation, but also presented new grinding opportunities that Soukup has already started pursuing.

A Move for the Better
Soukup Construction is a Sioux Falls, SD-based subcontractor, specializing in earthwork, highway construction, site preparation, and demolition. Established by his father in 1964, Jim Soukup says the company has since become one of the area’s larger subcontractors dealing with these specialties.

“My dad is still active in a gravel pit operation we have not far from here. He recognized early on that the bulk of new work was coming from the Sioux Falls area, so he relocated the company from Scotland, SD to here in 1972. I took over operations in 1989 and have tried hard to continue what he started: making ourselves known as the area’s go-to source for the earthwork and site prep part of the business.”

Change in Direction
Because that work invariably entails the removal of trees, Soukup looked for a piece of equipment that could effectively process the trees they took down. They purchased a grinder in 2000 based on the belief that they could use that piece of equipment not only for the wood waste they would generate, but also for asphalt and other materials.

“In retrospect it was not the best purchase we could have made. Because it was designed to handle a host of different materials, that grinder had an infeed hopper that did not accept tree waste very efficiently at all. And shortly after we put it to work, we found that it was actually underpowered for doing asphalt grinding. In fact, as time went on, we grew increasingly disappointed with the power it was putting out as whole. Even though we ruled out processing any asphalt with it, we still envisioned doing some sizeable volumes of wood waste, and that was not going to happen with this unit. It became obvious that we needed a grinder that was suited specifically to processing wood waste — in volume — quickly and efficiently, and in doing so, give us a lower cost per hour of operation.”

Soukup did a good deal of research on his own and in 2003 contacted representatives from Morbark about the purchase of a horizontal grinder.

“Based on what we knew we’d be feeding it on a regular basis and the areas in which we often have to work, we felt a horizontal grinder was a better fit for us than a tub grinder. In January of this year we took delivery on a Morbark Model 4600 Wood Hog and the upturn in production has been impressive, to say the least.”

A Look at the 4600
The grinder Soukup Construction put into service is powered by a 525 Hp CAT engine — an increase of 100 hp over the previous unit they were using. However, adds Soukup, there are a number of additional features that have made the 4600 Wood Hog such a nice fit and solid performer in the firm’s operation.

“The grinder is powerful; that goes without saying. Based on a combination of the added horsepower, a rotor that has far more teeth for grinding than what our previous unit had, and a much more efficient infeed capability, we have seen production rates rise by about 150% over what we were getting in the past.”

The rotor to which Soukup refers is 31 3/4” in diameter and mounted on a 6” shaft — far heavier than their previous grinder’s rotor. It is equipped as standard with 36 T-1 steel fixed hammers measuring 1 1/4” thick with 2” wide double-edged tungsten carbide impregnated cutting tools. In addition to the features cited by Soukup, the Model 4600 offers a 40” X 57” infeed opening, an 8 1/2 cubic yard infeed hopper, a live chain bed to maximize infeed capabilities and a 36” wide stacking conveyor which can stack material to a height of 14 feet. Additional features include a hydraulic reversing fan to keep the radiator debris-free, a magnetic head pulley for removal of metal from the discharge stream, and a six-function remote unit that allows the grinder to be operated from the cab of the loader.

“We also had to consider the issue of maintenance costs,” Soukup adds. “Because the old unit had to work so hard to try to maintain production, it was really taxing the machine and that, in turn, was keeping maintenance costs way up. The Model 4600, because it was designed for this type of work, is a heartier machine and stands up to the rigors of grinding much better. Regular maintenance is all we’ve encountered thus far, so we envision the savings in that area to be substantial as well.”

Broadening Horizons
Changing grinders has had a profound effect on Soukup’s approach to the wood waste facet of his business. Material that was at one time seen as a nothing more than a necessary evil — just a part of doing business — has been re-examined of late. What Soukup is seeing in a new light, is the potential both the grinder and the material it creates are offering.

“Traditionally, we have made our ground mulch available for free to area landscapers — in fact, we are still doing that today. However, we’ve begun to look at a number of options that the Model 4600 is making available to us. For example, there are not a lot of grinders like this operating in South Dakota, yet there are a good many municipalities that take in green waste from their residents. It’s just not feasible for these towns to own a grinder to process that waste, so we are looking into the possibility of contract grinding to these municipalities, perhaps on a bi-yearly basis. That is fairly simple for us to do given that the Model 4600 is road-legal in this state and extremely easy to set up and tear down.”

Other options Soukup is considering include creating a number of different types of mulch and marketing it to companies in the area.

“Any number of possibilities are really available now with the new grinder,” he says. “I’ve really been impressed with how it has performed for us. However, I’ve been equally impressed with how well Morbark has treated us as a customer. We bought the 4600 Wood Hog as a used unit from the company, yet we are getting excellent support and service, just as if we had bought it new.”

Big Projects Made Small
Soukup says material from his projects is processed directly onsite if the volume is large enough, or, if the volumes are small, taken to a staging area and stockpiled.

“It’s all a matter of economics,” he says. “It just doesn’t pay for us to haul the grinder to a site unless the volumes warrant it, so we stockpile debris at a specific site and then come in and process the larger pile. One wouldn’t think that a company of our size would have huge grinding opportunities, but in the past we’ve had jobs in which we were grinding at one site for about 200 hours. But we’re hoping that’s a thing of the past; with the new grinder a job of that size can now be done in half the time. We see it making a big difference for us down the road.”

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