Northern Metal Recycling


Jun 3, 2008

Merger of four companies produces enhanced processing capabilities, better customer service

A little more than a year ago, the companies that make up what is now Northern Metal Recycling were all in competition with one another. Each was doing its own thing with the goal of recycling more material than the other. The four firms still remain in operation, but the competition to outdo each other has faded as they joined forces under one umbrella.

The four companies that comprise Northern Metal Recycling — American Iron & Steel Company, Great Western Recycling Industries, Phillips Recycling and Metals Reduction Company — all have a long history in the upper Midwest of taking in all types of metals and turning them into a product that is sold to such customers as steel mills. Combining the four companies gave Northern Metal Recycling 12 strategic locations from which to work and more resources for each yard to add the necessary equipment and personnel to increase production.

“Each separate entity brought a certain niche, and by combining the forces of the four, we’re able to strengthen the business as a whole,” said CEO Andrew Staebell. “This was a really good move for all involved and brought together a wealth of experience in the recycling industry. It also gives each facility valuable resources that they might not otherwise have had or been able to obtain as an individual entity. Putting them all together has gone very smoothly, and they all complement each other very well. We’re very proud of how the individual leaders of each company have meshed together and made Northern Metal Recycling the strongest player in the region in terms of scope of facilities and ability.”

Northern Metal Recycling is split into three divisions: St. Paul, Minneapolis and Western, which includes locations outside of the Twin Cities. In Minnesota, Northern Metal has locations in both Twin Cities, St. Cloud, Glenwood, Wilmar and Starbuck. Additional locations in North Dakota include Bismarck and Milnor. Nearly all are served by railcar and the Twin Cities facilities are located along the Mississippi River. The company has two barge-loading facilities for quick and efficient movement of materials downriver. It also trucks materials between locations, has roll-off service and does off-site processing.

“Northern Metal services two types of customers: those who have material they want to sell to us, and customers who buy processed metal from us,” explained COO Jeff Kempin. “Those who bring us material vary from the individual who has a bag of aluminum cans to demolition contractors who have multiple loads of iron and steel. We also will go to customers’ sites and process larger material they can’t transport to us.

“On the other side of the spectrum are steel mills, foundries, smelting plants and primary aluminum plants, among others, that are buying what we process,” he added. “Our goal is to satisfy both. We do that by making sure the product coming in gets a fair price and the product going out is of the highest quality and meets the customer’s specification.”

Changing perceptions

Northern Metal Recycling Western Division President Scott Helberg said the process of bringing material in, processing and sending it back out quickly for reuse is changing consumers’ perspective of what the company does.

“For years, the common perception was that these businesses were a junkyard where people brought stuff and it never left,” he said. “We’re working hard to educate people about what we do and how it affects their everyday lives. Nearly 100 percent of what we bring in is processed and back on a truck, railcar or barge within days or weeks in most cases. Consumers are more than likely using something today that was recycled very recently. It’s really a dynamic process.”

The management team at Northern Metal Recycling credits a veteran staff for making the process go smoothly. When the four companies combined, they gave Northern Metal Recycling an employee roster of more than 250, some of whom have been in the metal-recycling industry a decade or more. In addition to Staebell, Kempin and Helberg, key individuals include St. Paul Division President Bob Kaplan, Starbuck Yard Site Manager Tonya Helberg and Western Division Operations Manager Adam Shea.

“There’s a great depth of experience here, and that plays an important role in ensuring our customers’ satisfaction,” said Staebell. “They know how to sort and process the different types of metal to ensure it has the right properties our clients need. Also, because we’re more of a service-based business than ever before, all our employees are like frontline salespeople that help us assist customers. Our employees know that the most important thing we do is satisfying the customer and they work hard at it.”

Durable equipment is essential

The metal-recycling industry demands hard work from machinery as well. For much of its equipment needs, Northern Metal Recycling turns to Komatsu wheel loaders and excavators equipped with shears, magnets and grapples.

“Each company had its own philosophy on equipment, and we’re in the process of melding those together and gleaning the pieces together that fit,” Staebell said. “One thing that was common among all of them was a positive experience with Komatsu excavators. Several of our yards have older models with a high number of hours on them and they continue to produce. Their durability is a real asset to us because we’re in a business that can be very hard on machinery.”

Kempin said that durability played a key role in Northern Metal Recycling’s decision to buy two new Komatsu wheel loaders within the past year. Working closely with Road Machinery & Supplies Territory Sales Manager Lyle Knutson, Northern Metal purchased a WA380-6 and a WA450-6, and equipped the machines with quick couplers for fast changes from bucket to forks.

“Those machines give us a great deal of versatility because we can push piles and load with the bucket one minute and the next pick up bales or storage containers with the forks,” said Kempin. “The operators like the power and smoothness and simplicity of the operation, and our maintenance personnel like how quickly they can service the machines and get them back into production. They’re very fuel-efficient as well, and with fuel prices climbing, it’s good to have machines that will keep our costs down as much as possible. As we go forward, one of the things we’re looking for is a more consistent fleet of equipment instead of a hodgepodge of brands. Certainly, Komatsu will play a big role.”

Northern Metal Recycling appreciates the role Road Machinery & Supplies plays in keeping downtime to a minimum as well. “Our maintenance staff handles most items, but we occasionally call on RMS,” said Western Division President Scott Helberg. “In our business, if a machine goes down, we need it fixed instantly so we can stay productive. RMS has responded very quickly anytime we’ve needed them. Service is another major factor in our equipment-buying decisions, and Lyle and the parts and service personnel at RMS have done a very good job for us.”

State-of-the-art shredder coming soon

Northern Metal Recycling continues to take a long look at ways it can continue to do an excellent job for its customers as well. The company is looking for other potential locations and markets to serve and is adding to existing locations.

It’s in the process of refurbishing part of its large Minneapolis location to house what will be one of the most environmentally advanced shredder facilities in the nation. The project includes remediating old soil and building a firm footing for the machine. The shredder will be completely enclosed by a custom-engineered containment building. The machine will sort the materials and conveyers will stack them.

“It’s a very streamlined process, and with the enclosure, the noise won’t go outside,” said Kempin. “We have shredders at some of our other locations, but nothing this advanced. It’s a huge investment, but the return for us and our customers will be outstanding.”

It’s just one part of the overall picture Northern Metal Recycling is putting together, according to Staebell.

“We’re going to continue to grow our capabilities to buy, process and sell metal,” he said. “To do that, we’ll have to enhance what we do and continue to base our business on good customer service. Each separate company brought that to the table when they came together and it’s what we’ll do as Northern Metal Recycling going forward from here.”