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What is Metal Processing?

By Larry Ray Palmer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Metal processing refers to the industry of recycling scrap metal and metal products for reuse by the metal manufacturing industry. When metal products, such as cars, trucks or major appliances, become unusable for their original purpose, these items are often designated as scrap or salvage. This metal is processed in metal processing plants and recycled to create new products.

Some metals, such as aluminum cans, can be recycled an infinite number of times with minimal losses of metal. This makes scrap metal processing a very environmentally sound industry. The metal manufacturing industry can often use the metal produced by recycling centers to create products at a fraction of the cost that would be incurred by using newly mined metals.

The metal processing industry covers many fields of metal recycling. These areas include sheet metal processing, steel processing and noble metal processing, among other fields. Some metal processing facilities might specialize in the recovery of a specific metal type, and others might handle a variety of metal types.

Some full-service metal recycling and processing centers are open to purchasing metal from the public. These metal recycling and processing centers will purchase aluminum cans, salvaged autos or other scrap metal for an advertised price. These companies usually buy scrap metal from the public at a fraction of the spot price for the metal. By doing this, the metal recycling and processing center can afford to purchase the scrap metal and still make money on the transaction when the processor sells the recycled metal to manufacturers.

Metal processing centers that handle specific metal types are often more particular about the sellers from whom they are buying their specific scrap metal. By working with a specific group of sellers and establishing long-term relationships with vendors, these centers can usually offer a premium price for scrap metal purchases and still make a profit over the long-term. For example, metal processors that handle only precious metal recovery might purchase precious metal scrap — such as gold, silver, platinum or dental amalgam — from jewelers, pawn dealers, dental offices and electronics manufacturers that handle modest quantities of these precious metals on a regular basis.

Some metal processing centers buy metal only from smaller recycling centers and salvage yards. Not all recycling centers and salvage yards are willing to invest in the extra money and equipment involved to completely process scrap metals into reusable metal. These larger metal processing centers step in to purchase the partially processed metal from the smaller companies at a price that is moderately higher than the public purchase price. In exchange for this premium price structure, the smaller scrap metal companies will handle pre-processing tasks, such as removing tires, glass and fluids from salvaged automobiles or stripping the insulation from copper wiring.

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