ARS Recycling Systems Blasts into New Markets

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio — A quarter century ago, Gus Lyras was employed at his brother’s painting company when it won a major contract from the state of New Jersey to paint several overpasses and underpasses in its highway system.

There was one catch. The state suggested that the company find a better way of containing the costs of waste disposal once the old paint was blasted off the structures. At the time, the conventional method was to use mineral abrasives – coal derivatives to be precise – shot out at high velocity to strip old paint from the metal structures.

These mineral abrasives, however, could be used just once, leaving thousands of tons of material to be collected and trucked off as waste in addition to the lead-based hazardous byproducts.

“The state said they would pay him extra if he could use a recyclable abrasive to minimize the cost of the waste disposal,” Lyras recalls. “That’s when I went to work trying to build him a better mousetrap.”

The result was ARS Recycling Systems LLC, a Lowellville-based company that designs and builds machinery used to remove paint and rust from major metal structures such as bridges, naval vessels and large tanks. The equipment uses a metallic abrasive that resembles steel granules of sand that are blasted at high velocity, collected and recycled.

Lyras, today the vice president of research and development, founded the company in 1991 along with his business partner, Victor Pallotta, who had a background in metal fabrication. As more environmental regulations took effect because of state and federal mandates, the trend toward using a more environmentally friendly method of stripping old paint on these public projects grew. Likewise, ARS began to increase its business beyond supplying his brother’s company.

“The public doesn’t realize what it takes to de-lead a bridge and paint it,” Lyras says. “The contract to de-lead and paint the Manhattan Bridge was $180 million. They don’t realize the complexities of putting the coating back on.”

Lyras says his company moved into the business while the industry was still in its infancy. ARS began with a single abrasive recycling unit and today builds between 40 and 50 units per year. “This is a niche industry,” he says, noting that there is probably just one other competitor in the country that designs and builds such equipment.

Pallotta was working at a local fabrication shop while Lyras was still working at his brother’s industrial painting company. “We saw the advent of recyclable steel abrasives into the industry,” he says. “So, we built the first prototype for his painting company, and then decided there was a much bigger market.”

The company’s major customers are industrial painting contractors and construction companies that have landed big jobs in shipyards, bridges and other projects, Lyras says. The company employs some 35, including three engineers.

“Our systems can clean a variety of aggregate, but it works best with steel grit,” says Mark Stewart, vice president of manufacturing operations. In the early days, mineral aggregate such as coal slag was inexpensive and abundant, but was single-use. “Once they blasted with it, it disintegrated and fell into the river or ground,” he says. As environmental regulations became stricter, companies realized they had to contain the contaminated waste from the lead paint they stripped.

ARS builds units capable of cleaning the steel grit through a five-step process after use, then collect airborne dust and vacuum other contaminants during descaling. The contaminants are filtered out and held in separate bins on the unit.

The contaminated material is then sifted and the residue directed into hoppers outside of the recycling unit, earmarked for proper disposal. Meanwhile, the steel granules are cleaned and prepared for reuse. About 98% of the steel grit is recovered, Stewart says.

The blasting and recycling units are all designed, assembled and lightly fabricated in ARS’ 20,000-square-foot plant on McCartney Road. Many of the components are manufactured in metal fabrication shops in the region and then wired, assembled and painted at ARS. The majority of the units are welded onto large trailers for mobile transport.

“They’re all our designs,” he says. “We have some patents, both previous and pending. We design the majority of the components – all the fabrications – and we bring them in and build the finished units.”

Thomas Herrmann, president and CEO, says the company focuses on high-value added services. “We design world-class systems that we assemble here and ship,” he says. “In so doing, we support many of the companies in the area.”

Stewart reports that it can take between three and four weeks to complete assembly of a unit, and about 90% of all the material is sourced from within a four-hour drive of the plant.

“It’s not only technology that supports improvement on the environment, it gives the operator the best return on investment,” Stewart says, because the raw material is recycled. The grit can be used up to 100 more times before the supply is replenished. Without the ability to recycle, a job could have “hundreds of tons” of contaminated waste that would require safe disposal.

ARS makes various models suited for specific jobs and the size of the customer, Stewart says. The company’s “C” series was introduced over the last 18 months and is based on a small platform. “It’s easy to maneuver, you can get into tight spaces and smaller projects,” the vice president says.

The “S” series range from units that accommodate two blast pots, to its largest trailer with a capacity of eight blasting stations, Stewart says.

These units have seen work on landmarks such as the Brooklyn and Verrazano Narrows bridges, and the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. “There were six of these units on the Ronald Reagan,” Lyras says, pointing to the company’s largest machine – the S8, an eight-station blaster 53 feet high.

A third series – a modular blaster that can be stacked to three units high – was recently introduced and is designed for the export market, Stewart says. “It’s smaller and easily shipped,” he notes.

The international market is appealing at the moment because public dollars devoted to large-scale infrastructure projects have all but dried up, Stewart observes. “When it comes to the future growth of the company, I think our focus is going to be on exports. It’s nice to see this part of the country as an exporter of product.”

ARS is working on international opportunities in Europe and Singapore, he continues. “We hope it will happen over the summer and begin introducing this technology in those areas.”

And, it’s likely more expansion will soon follow, Stewart says. “The majority stake in the company was sold a couple of years ago” to private equity investors, he says. “We’re trying to put in the business processes so we can grow, introduce new products and take advantage of these export opportunities.”

Pictured: Gus Lyras pours some of the granules its units use to blast paint and rust from large metal structures.

WATCH VIDEO: “3 Minutes With” Mark Stewart, ARS Recycling.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.