Significant increase in the value of aluminium swarf thanks to briquetting process - Case Study

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Courtesy of Ruf Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG

The GLEICH group increases its profitability by compressing 3,800 tonnes of swarf each year

Should you just send the metal swarf created during manufacturing to the scrap dealer or should you increase its value by selling it for profit? The GLEICH group discovered the answer to this around ten years ago. Since then, the family-run business has been turning its aluminium swarf into briquettes. These are easy to transport and can be very efficiently melted down. This has proven to be such a cost-effective solution that GLEICH, the specialists in high-quality aluminium cast plates, has over the years commissioned six briquetting machines supplied by RUF, and every year they compress on average 3,800 tonnes of swarf.

The company was founded in 1980 by Christel and Günter Gleich in Kaltenkirchen, in the Schleswig-Holstein area of northern Germany. At that time, the founders themselves operated the machinery, buying in aluminium rolled and cast plates and cutting them to suit their customers' specific requirements. In the early 1990s, the owners expanded their company to focus on the design, production and sales of their own G.AL® Aluminium Cast Plates. Today, GLEICH employs around 160 staff and is one of the world's leading companies in this particular product sector. Its success has been largely due to its top-quality products, manufactured using efficient processes and state-of-the-art technology. It produces cast plates made of aluminium wrought alloys that are extremely homogenous and have very high dimensional stability. The primary material of these alloys consists of aluminium rolled ingots that are cast under contract by foundries based in Western Europe, in line with Gleich's own in-house standards. They are cut into plates and then precision-milled on both sides to create the final plates.

But there is much more involved than just cutting and milling these special types of semi-finished aluminium products. The company's depth of expertise is shown in the procedure it has developed to heat-treat the aluminium ingots after delivery to its works. This treatment is carried out in special annealing furnaces, giving the G.ALR products their special characteristics of extremely low tension, homogeneity and almost isotropic material characteristics with outstanding strength.

It is only in this way that the manufacturer can produce extremely precise forms, gauges and jigs or other devices in an economical way. Head of production, Andreas Sieg, explains the background: 'If there is tension or instability in

the primary material as a result of unprofessional heat treatment, it can lead to uncontrolled distortion in the finished components during machining. This would really be a death knell, not just for precision tools but for any components manufactured from this material.'

Loose swarf is difficult to handle and recycle

In total, the GLEICH group processes around 25,000 tonnes of aluminium each year. Swarf is a by-product of cutting the plates. A 17-meter-long bandsaw produces plates from ingots weighing up to 18 tonnes. Large amounts of aluminium swarf are also created during precision milling of the cast plates, customized cutting using circular saws and the CNC production of finished components. The company now has six RUF machines so that almost 100% of the swarf can be sorted and pressed into briquettes . around 550 kg per hour, 3,800 tonnes per annum.

This is extremely efficient in terms of the bottom line. Loose aluminium swarf is also a valuable raw material, but it is difficult to recycle because of its bulk. It takes up a lot of space during storage and transportation. And, most importantly, melting it down just results in a loss because a large proportion of the swarf swirls upwards and burns up in the melting furnace. Compressing the swarf means that GLEICH can avoid this 'burn off' and also remove the storage and transportation problems. This results in higher profits, as Managing Director, Christel Gleich, explains: 'The briquettes that we make in this way can then be sent to the foundries that supply us with aluminium ingots. This recycling process saves a great deal of energy and resources. Everyone is a winner, and it is an important part of our company's environmental policy.'

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