Keeping a clean workplace is a constant struggle, regardless of industry. For foundries, however, weekly cleaning has traditionally been a very physical process. Using heavy chipping guns and rivet busters to remove caked-on material inside and around ladles, furnaces, kiln runners and copulas can take hours and lead to serious health and safety concerns. Prolonged exposure to the heavy vibrations produced by these machines has been connected to nerve damage, hand-arm vibration syndrome, musculoskeletal disorders and other chronic conditions.

Thankfully, technological advances have produced alternatives that not only protect workers but increase productivity – reducing the time and effort needed to perform routine cleaning. For nearly 20 years, Waupaca Foundry in Waupaca, Wis. – the world’s largest gray iron and ductile iron casting supplier – has been combating the heat and danger with Brokk remote-controlled demolition machines. These machines provide the necessary power, precision and versatility to remove the thick refractory material.

 “It’s evident how the machines reduce physical stress and injuries and provide our team the most efficient and safe means for refractory removal applications,” said Steve Heger, Waupaca Foundry melt manager. “And they allow us to offer a more predictable work schedule and get our team home injury-free every night.”


A New Beginning

Waupaca Foundry’s partnership with Brokk began in 2000 with the purchase of its first remote-controlled demolition machine and has continued for almost two decades. The foundry purchased a 1.6-ton Brokk 150 to remove the refractory lining in the 80-foot-tall cupola. With the Brokk on their team, Waupaca was able to minimize the use of pneumatic tools, increase the efficiency and safety of the foundry and reduce injuries to employees.

 “Before using remote-controlled machines, our team removed refractory material by hand, using pneumatic hand tools, leading to increased physical stress and risk of injury,” Heger said. “To overcome the physical demands, we needed something that was compact enough to maneuver around our facility, yet offered the power of handheld tools. That’s when we turned to Brokk.”

After seeing the machine in action, Waupaca’s crew knew it was the best alternative. They were impressed with the size and accuracy of the machine. Less than 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide, the demolition machine moved easily through a standard doorway and was a perfect fit for the foundry. Despite its compact size, the machine’s power easily removed the refractory material.

And since it was remote-controlled, the Brokk 150 allowed operators to stay away from the high temperatures inside the cupola, which minimized the risk of heat exhaustion. In addition, the electric-powered machine didn’t produce any potentially harmful exhaust.




Changing the Industry

After nearly 20 years, Waupaca retired the Brokk 150 – trading it in for a more powerful Brokk 170 as part of their ongoing partnership. Waupaca Foundry now uses seven electric-powered Brokk machines in three of their seven foundries. The machines weigh 1 to 3 tons each and include a Brokk 160, 180 and 250 as well as two Brokk 100s and now two 170s.

 “The machines are relatively lightweight and have a long reach, which allows us to do more than we ever imagined,” said Jon Huebner, another Waupaca Foundry melt manager. “Removing refractory material from the front spout of the cupola has always been a challenge with handheld equipment. But now, thanks to its light weight, extended reach and compact size, the Brokk 100 machines fit perfectly on our cupola deck.”

Huebner explained that, before using remote-controlled equipment, cleaning the cupola spout required eight laborers using 30-pound handheld pneumatic hammers. The task took as long as 16 hours to complete. After using the remote-controlled demolition machines, labor time is nearly cut in half.

 “The once daunting task of wrecking out the cupola front spout now only takes nine hours to complete,” Huebner said. “Plus, it requires only one operator and one spotter to complete it. Not only does it save on labor and improve efficiency, it prevents operator fatigue and potential MSD-related injuries.”

Incorporating remote-controlled machines completely eliminated the use of rivet busters and dramatically reduced the use of other handheld pneumatic tools. For instance, workers now only use pistol grips to complete any finish work that the demolition machine operator might have missed, which usually takes less than an hour.

In addition to cleaning out cupola spouts, Waupaca uses a Brokk 250 to remove refractory from the pressure pours, which need cleaning every six months. The unit’s robust three-part arm delivers a hitting power of 450 foot-pounds when paired with an SB 302 hydraulic breaker.

 “Using handheld tools simply wasn’t efficient, and it left the door open for injuries,” Heger said. “But now, thanks to the Brokk machines, an operator accomplishes the work of as many as three laborers in as little as two hours.”

The remote-controlled equipment simplifies tasks, such as scaling the walls of the holding furnace. A once-formidable task that took five laborers and three to five 10-hour shifts to complete now only takes two 10-hour shifts, an operator and a spotter – a 92% reduction in labor costs.


When it’s All Said, Done and Removed

Today, the Waupaca Foundry Brokkologists approach the jobsite prepared to combat the dust, debris and high temperatures. The remote-controlled equipment has not only provided precise power, but also versatility, enhanced productivity and, above all, safety.

 “The Brokk equipment was certainly the most productive choice for our foundry,” Heger said. “Its powerful hydraulics and the wide range of arm movement helps us clean even the most difficult areas, and its remote-controlled abilities keep our operators out of harm’s way.”

For more information: Contact Mike Martin, vice president of operations, Brokk Inc., 1144 Village Way, Monroe, WA 98272; tel: 800-621-7856; e-mails:,; web: Brokk has been the world’s leading manufacturer of remote-controlled demolition machines and attachments for more than 40 years.