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Customer Guide to Brazing Filler Metal Refining and Recovery

December 08, 2015

SAVINGS FROM SCRAP - A CUSTOMER GUIDE TO BRAZING FILLER METAL REFINING AND RECOVERY

With demand for precious metals continuing to outpace supply, manufacturers using them must find ways to achieve maximum value from their spend. Today, recovering precious metals via recycling and refining is a critical part of an OEM’s materials management strategy. The savvy manufacturer cannot afford NOT to recycle.

This article covers the basics of precious metal scrap refining and recovery: What it is, why it is important, what metals can be recovered, and how this is done. We also discuss the hidden customer traps lurking in the process. Finally we present P&I’s secure scrap recovery solution.

What is Precious Metals Scrap Recovery?

Scrap recovery is the process of collecting, assaying and refining precious metal waste, or scrap containing precious metals, for eventual re-use. Long considered a waste management problem, scrap metal handling is now seen as an opportunity, since recovery specialists offer customers cash or credit for their recovered metals.

Why is Recovery Important?

Scrap recovery is a burgeoning industry born of necessity. Industry trends indicate that worldwide demand for precious metals will continue to exceed supply. (Asia alone is a voracious consumer of platinum used in automobile catalytic converters.) Just a tiny fraction of precious metals are sourced from mines. Repurposing process waste and recycling parts or products to recover reusable material is the “new black” of metal sourcing; the recovery industry is booming globally and is projected to become a $9 billion industry by 2018.  Scrap recovery:

  • Saves money
  • Helps derive maximum value from spend dollars
  • Is sustainable for resource management
  • Is an environmentally responsible solution to hazardous materials disposal

The International Precious Metal Institute’s 39th Annual Conference (June 2015) devoted a program to scrap recovery, with workshops spanning materials, processes and certifications. Link: http://www.ipmi.org/about/index.cfm

Who Can - and Should - Recycle?

Any company utilizing brazing techniques or working with precious metals is a potential recycler, especially OEMs for catalytic converters, turbines and motors, mirror platers, aerospace, electronics firms and makers of medical diagnostic devices and instruments. 

Where Do you Find Recoverable Metals?

Everywhere. Just look around the shop floor, or in the dumpster. Recoverable metal waste can be found at any point in the manufacturing process:

  • Process waste such as odds and ends pieces, shavings, filings chips and grindings
  • Braze alloy spillage
  • Floor sweepings and drain sludge
  • Used or scrapped parts or devices, including electrical components
  • Obsolete inventory

In addition to the precious metals, other commonly recycled metals include cobalt, copper, nickel, rhenium, rhodium, tin and tungsten. E-scrap — computers, printers, cell phones and other consumer electronics — is a limitless source of recoverable metals such as gold bonding wire and silver and copper used in circuitry and contacts. Automobile catalytic converters and aviation fuel systems yield platinum and palladium. Jewelry is another source of recoverable precious scrap.

The Recovery Process

The precious metal recovery process can begin at whatever production stage the salvage can be found. For a company implementing a recovery program for the first time, the typical steps follow the acronym S.C.R.A.P.:

  • SURVEY the facility and manufacturing processes to identify sources of precious metal waste
  • COLLECT the scrap in appropriate, safe containers for shipping
  • RECYCLE the scrap by shipping to an authorized facility for evaluation and processing
  • ASSAY (via smelting, homogenization, chemical leaching and other separation techniques; determines the expected recovered yield; this generates a quote)
  • PROCESS methods at refinery extract the precious metals from the dross; methods are appropriate for the target metals to be extracted
  •  = PAYOUT to customer

Recovery companies typically assist the customer at one or more stages, such as evaluating possible sources for reclaimable metals, setting up the collections process, or supplying the shipping containers.

Before the scrap goes to the refinery it must be sorted. Similar to the way you sort household recyclable plastics, paper and glass, the precious metal scrap is separated from nonprecious metals, split into manageable lots, weighed, recorded and, depending on the particular metals in the stream, sent to a refiner.

At the refinery, an assay is done to evaluate the customer’s lot. Using a sequence of homogenization and separation techniques, the assayer determines the percentage of precious metal content in customer samples. The assayer calculates the expected yield from the recovery process and makes an offer to the customer for payable content.

Once the customer has accepted the offer, the customer’s material is often consolidated with material from other customers for batch processing.

Refining is achieved by either a hot or cold process:

  • Pyrometallurgy (Heat process) — Best for clean, high-grade materials such as production scrap, welding or braze waste, syringes, pastes, wipes, filters and organics with minimal amounts of impurities. Precious metals are isolated via thermal reduction to burn off other materials.
  • Hydrometallurgy (Cold process) — Uses chemical solutions to either dissolve nonprecious content from the precious metal, or to dissolve the precious metal into a solution and leave the impurities as a precipitate. The precious metal solution is processed and filtered into a cake, then subsequently sampled as buttons

Choosing a Refiner

As we hinted earlier, the refining business is rife with traps and hidden costs for the unwary customer. When evaluating a refining partner, consider its track record. How long has it been in business? Is it reputable within the industry? What experience does it have with your types of metals? What technologies does it use? Do its processes meet environmental and regulatory standards?

Ideally, you’ll want an alliance with a partner that has a direct relationship with melt sources, eliminating third parties. Your partner will operate with the highest integrity and ethics, be accountable for your lots, comply with all regulatory authorities, offer flexible settlement options and achieve cost savings for your company.

About those Hidden Costs

Audit control, lot security and accurate sampling are keys to a fair return on your payable content. And this is where disreputable refiners take advantage by deliberate deception or through customer ignorance.  If you have ever haggled over the price of a new car or contested an appraisal of grandma’s heirloom jewelry, the game is similar, but much less obvious to an unwary customer. These are the four most common traps in precious metal refining:

  • Metal accountability – This parameter sets an agreed-upon payoff percentage of the total amount of recoverable metal; i.e., “Of 100% that we recover we will pay you for 97% and keep 3% for our profit.”
  • Reduced metal market — Paying below fair market price for the precious metal; for example, lowering the per-ounce fee for silver by $5.
  • Refining fee — An arbitrary extraction fee assessed to the lot, typically a fee per 1000 lb. or per pound refined
  • Minimum lot charge — Another add-on fee, like the handling charge for sports or concert tickets

Keep in mind that a “sample” is not necessarily representative of the entire lot.  And not all samples are created equal. By manipulating a sample to create a low yield — for example, extracting an assay from an obviously waste-heavy portion of the lot — a shady operator can establish a low-ball price, or represent a lot as much poorer in payable metal content than it actually has.

The Prince & Izant Advantage

P&I offers a closed-loop recovery process that ensures meticulous end-to-end lot control and security to avoid the pitfalls described earlier. Our customers benefit from a fair price for their scrap metal, lower material acquisition costs, better return on spend, simplified logistics and the peace of mind knowing that all applicable environmental, FAA and ITAR regulations have been met.

For example, P&I offers a fuel system value-added (FSVA) program for aviation OEMs.  We recycle misfit, worn or junked parts and process scrap through our one-stop, controlled system and return the savings to the customer.

For more information on how we can help your company maximize scrap recovery, contact your P&I sales consultant.

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