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N.J.’s Mercer Group Switches From Demo to Recycling

Thu July 23, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Rick Zettler

Few 25-year-old family businesses easily change their service offerings. Yet, this is what Trenton, N.J.-based Mercer Group International and its sister company, Morrisville, Pa.-based Fairless Iron & Metal LLC has done time and again to keep its businesses growing.

The Mercer Group traces its roots to 1984, when Mario Mazza — father of current company President Tom Mazza — started Mercer Wrecking, a construction and demolition business. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Mario Mazza successfully grew the company to be a dominant demolition contractor in the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania markets. At one point, “Mercer was number five on ENR’s [Engineering News Record] list of top wrecking companies,” said Tom Mazza, president of Mercer Group International. Among the notable Mercer Wrecking jobs was the Sears Building in Northeast Philadelphia.

At the beginning, the thousands of tons of recyclable construction and demolition (C&D) debris was merely a byproduct of Mercer Wrecking’s demolition business.

“We would feed our own scrap operation from the demo business,” explained Brian Getta, maintenance manager of Fairless Iron & Metal. So Mercer Group was always in the scrap business to some extent.

Business Transformation

At the height of Mercer Wrecking’s demo dominance, Mercer Group made a couple of key purchases that heightened the prominence of recycling for the company.

“We bought F & W Waste and later C & R Waste [current corporate headquarters for Mercer Group] in the 1990s,” Mazza said.

These acquisitions marked the beginning of Mercer Group’s transformation.

At about the same time, the demolition business landscape was changing in the markets where Mercer Group operated.

“Things were very good in the early 1990s,” commented Getta. “There were several big demo contracts and not a lot of competition.”

However, during the latter part of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, more companies entered the demolition business. Two key contributing factors marked the Mercer Group’s eventual shift into scrap and recycling as its primary business.

“After the 9/11 attacks, many demo contracts were cancelled,” Mazza said.

“Also, our demo fleet was aging and we were going to have to upgrade our equipment,” Getta added.

With facilities in Trenton and Chesapeake, Va., Mercer Group’s focus turned solely to scrap, recycling and C&D processing. The Trenton operation was the company’s primary scrap facility. Relying on a 74-in (188 cm) shredder to process 55 tons-per-hour (49.9 t) of saleable metal product, the facility accepted anything from aluminum and copper to white goods, such as washers and dryers.

The company did not leave its demolition roots entirely, as it continued to accept C&D debris. The company processed brick, concrete and asphalt generated by the demolition process and crushed it into different products, such as a .75-in (1.9 cm) clean stone and 1.5-in (3.8 cm) blend stone used for road base, fill and other applications.

After transitioning to scrap processing and recycling, Mercer Group looked for ways to increase operating efficiencies. One of the areas quickly addressed was how the company handled its material. Evolving from the demolition market, the company initially used a combination of excavators and material handlers at its operation. However, this was not working as well as the company wanted.

“We were looking for something a little more dependable with more stability in the scrap application,” Getta recalled.

Mercer Group made a change in the way it handled its material in 2003.

“The company’s first purchase from us was one Terex Fuchs MHL360 and two MHL350 material handlers,” said Frank Miscavage, Northeast region manager of Terex Construction Americas.

Equipped with 1.5 cu. yd. (1.1 cu m) and 0.875 cu. yd. (0.67 cu m) grapples for handling ferrous and non-ferrous metal and loading the shredder, the MHL360 and MHL350 offer a maximum reach of 59 ft. (18 m) and 52 ft. (15.8-m), respectively. Purpose-built for harsh scrap and recycling environments, machine design includes a double slewing ring, inverted boom cylinders and anti-corrosive hydraulic pipes along the boom and dipper stick.

Getta has noticed key differences between the new handlers and previous excavators modified for scrap handling.

“We are seeing better lift capacities with the Terex machines.”

They also are saving the processor on fuel costs.

“If you look at comparably sized handlers and excavators, the Terex material handler is about 25 percent more fuel efficient,” he added.

Move to Pennsylvania

Over a three-year period beginning in 2003, Mercer Group made a series of moves as it has transformed into the large international recycling operation it is today. The company sold its facility in Chesapeake, bringing the company’s focus, temporarily, back to New Jersey. In 2005, the company applied for and received a permit to run a transfer station at the Trenton facility. This expanded the types of material Mercer Group accepted to include plastics, paper and cardboard in addition to the metals and C&D debris it already collected.

That same year, Mercer Group formed a sister scrap metal processing operation, Fairless Metal and Iron LLC in Morrisville, Pa. Today, Mercer Group operates its MRF facility and processes non-metal items and recycles ferrous and non-ferrous metals in New Jersey, while the Pennsylvania location focuses solely on scrap processing and recycling.

Expanding to the Morrisville facility has allowed Fairless to dramatically grow its business and take advantage of the booming market conditions from 2006 through the third quarter of 2008. The facility has access to rail, which allows the company to broaden its reach into the Mid-Atlantic States and the Ohio River Valley markets.

“With access to the Norfolk Southern and CSX lines, we are able to buy and sell ferrous scrap by rail,” Mazza said. “We work in large volumes and own locomotives and a scale, which allow us to move rail cars in and out of the facility as needed.”

The facility also has access to the Delaware River and a deep seaport for loading and unloading barges and large vessels of ferrous scrap. Waterway access connects Fairless to many global markets including China, India, Turkey and Italy.

Mega Shredder

With an expanding diversified global customer base, Fairless needed a high-volume shredder to keep up with demand for its product. In 2006, Fairless installed a new, larger shredder at the Morrisville facility.

Simply referred to as the “Mega Shredder,” the new 8,000 hp (5,963 kW) behemoth was nearly twice the size of the shredder it replaced. At capacities in excess of 200 tph (181 t) the machine processes ferrous and non-ferrous metals at more than four times the rate of the Trenton shedder. Large in size, it also has a voracious appetite for electricity, limiting the times during the day in which Fairless can operate the shredder.

With the new shredder and access to rail and deep seaport, Fairless is set up for high volume metal processing. The Morrisville facility has expanded the ferrous and non-ferrous metals it accepts to include trucks and automobiles.

To keep up with the incoming and outgoing material volume, Fairless also had to change the size of material handler the company employed.

“The last six machines purchased were the larger Terex Fuchs MHL380s,” Miscavage said.

The company also switched the type of grapple for the handlers.

“We moved up from the 0.8 cu. yd. to the 3.0 cu. yd. grapple,” Getta added.

With an operating weight reaching 147,710 lbs. (67,000 kg) and a maximum reach of 69 ft. (21 m), the MHL380 is built for high-volume material handling.

“The Fuchs handlers come in very handy for large volume projects and for loading and unloading barges of ferrous scrap or loading deep sea vessels,” Mazza commented.

Available specifically for operations like Fairless, the MHL380 can be equipped with offset boom equipment, which offers more below-grade reach than straight booms for easier loading and unloading of barges.

With its access to rail and water and use of high production equipment, the Morrisville facility has allowed Fairless to reap the benefits of a booming scrap market over the past few years. Mazza credited the tremendous success achieved by Mercer Group and Fairless to being a family-run business with the support of a dedicated workforce, many of whom have been with the company for 10 to 15 years.

“Being a family business, we run a tight ship and are able to make quick decisions,” he said.

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