Why Disintegrator Maintenance Should be Prioritized During Budget Cuts

June 5, 2019 at 9:28 am by SEM

Tight budgets can affect data destruction machines. How can you be prepared?

Fluctuating budgets are not new. As the DOD budget declined in the 1990’s, managers thought costs could be cut by eliminating regular disintegrator knife maintenance. By ignoring the care and maintenance of these major systems, sometimes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, they eventually ended up sitting idle because they weren’t fit to run any longer. Many ended up in surplus yards auctioned at a small percentage of their original cost.

How a Disintegrator Works

The cutting mechanism consists of three or five knives mounted on a solid steel rotor that pass two stationary bed knives at 500 – 600 RPM for up to 6,000 cuts per minute. Waste is cut until small enough to fall through a steel sizing screen beneath the cutting rotor. The screens are interchangeable so you can vary the degree of destruction with particle sizes from less than 3/32″ to 3″ (2.5 to 76mm).

As knives become dull, the capacity of the disintegrator starts to drop. Eventually the knives will stop slicing and start pounding. Noise and dust levels go up. The system is stressed much harder and the capacity may drop to 30% of its optimal level. The added stress can make motor and bearing failure more likely. In extreme cases, stress cracks can develop in cutting chambers and feed hoppers because of the added vibration. The worst part of it is operators are now spending double or triple as much time in front of the disintegrator because of the lower capacity. This pulls away from time that could be spent doing separate work, causing additional delays and reducing work proficiency in areas unrelated to data destruction.

How to Prepare

Review the operation of your disintegrator. How much is being destroyed? How often? How careful are you about the materials going into it? How often does it get jammed by overfeeding? Well trained operators will help to keep the cost down in two ways. First, it will prevent malfunctions and potential damage to the machine. Second, the more careful you are about the materials that go into the disintegrator, the longer the life of the knife will be. Remember, the less metal the better.

SEM-spare-knivesThrough the life of a set of knives, you should get 8-10 sharpenings per set. If there is additional year-end money, buy extra knives. Filter bags, belts, screens, and waste bags are all important, but knives are the most costly consumable supply, and the most important for the data destruction process. Buying ahead of time can help protect the disintegrator in the long run.

Need Additional Help?

When reaching the point where a cut in the frequency of  knife maintenance is being considered, contact SEM customer support. They will be glad to visit, inspect your system, and then go through the ways to cut costs. If your program is at its limits and can’t afford cuts without jeopardizing the equipment, SEM can help you make that case too.

SEM also offer packages to train members of your organization to service these machines. We can do it in one of our facilities or we can do it at your location. Whatever the need, don’t let your investment go to waste. Contact SEM at 800-225-9293 or info@semshred.com.

Maintenance Matters

July 24, 2018 at 2:27 pm by Heidi White

Yes, maintenance matters. The main purpose of maintenance is to ensure that all equipment required for production is operating at 100% efficiency always. Simply stated, it’s less to maintain than repair.

When you are fortunate enough to work for a company like SEM that employs a full department of service technicians, you know you are in great hands.  I recently walked out of my office, walked to the factory floor, and decided to interview the newest member of our team to the most senior and those not on service calls in between.  The result: “It’s like owning a car. “What’s more interesting, when I walked over to the business side and asked what are the three most important things you need when buying a car? Not one person said a maintenance plan.

Why are both conversations just as important? We want the shiny, solution-based machine to do the work it was intended: destroy after we decommission for security and compliance purposes in the data center.  Yes, those shiny machines are EPL listed, support the NIST standard, are approved for compliance with SOX and more, but wait — you are putting drives with platters 10 high through them, blades are shredding them, and you must maintain? Is that another set of decision makers and supply chain engagement? You bet that is.

The SEM service team

Back to the car.  Models don’t matter, users do.  The “business” purchases the machine, the “users,” the security staff, the facility ops, and the decommissioning team (or however you are structured) now must maintain it.  They don’t want to own this task in many cases. For the record, there are some data centers that are very appreciative of their people when doing this task — and they are doing it well.  It’s the minority.

I don’t change my own oil or rotate my tires; rather, I happily pay someone. As Don Donahue, head of our Technical Service Team, stated, “If you don’t maintain equipment, it will let you down.”  The net net: pay for maintenance upfront or pay for service at a higher cost later. In the end you are still going to pay. The question is, can you afford down-time? With what level of risk are you secure?

Safety — let’s go there.  If your car is making weird noises and you keep driving it, thinking “I’ll get to it after one more errand,” you’re gambling with your own safety. Likewise, if your data destruction device is making weird noises and you think “just one more drive to destroy,” you’re asking for trouble. It’s like the insurance company commercial: “We’ve been here, we’ve seen this”.  Don’t go there. Choose safety first, because it matters.

Whether brakes and tires or bearings and belts, parts wear out. Wouldn’t you rather hear the service maintenance person tell you they replaced the belts because there was wear without you asking or assuming everything was fine?

“But the operational manual says….”  Hold that phone.  Do you drive your vehicle the exact same way that I drive my Volvo? No.  Do you put the exact same drives through your destruction machine that we do? No. Manuals are guidelines, you can argue until the belts break but, in the end, I drive my car in the Northeast through horrors of snow and ice with no garage, while you drive your car in sunny California and have a climate-controlled garage. From humidity to environmental erosion to mis-use to proper use, no miles or hours on a machine will be the same.

Now you understand no two experiences are the same, but the common understanding is the necessity of maintenance of your machines. Each of us will value this investment differently, but which one of us will do it for preventative reasons and which one will do it as an emergency?

For the record, when I buy a car it’s about the maintenance and warranty – I spend too much time at SEM to not be smart – maintenance first and then the machine. By the way, my Volvo not only doesn’t break down – it’s also sapphire blue.

Deciding on Maintenance for Disintegrators?

June 11, 2018 at 4:02 pm by SEM

Knife mill disintegrators are an SEM specialty. The go to machine for high volume, high security destruction. They offer great throughput while meeting NSA standards for a variety of materials, including paper, key tape, and CDs.

sem-model-23One of the main reasons that disintegrators are one of the go to machines is because of their amazing life span. SEM disintegrators are still being serviced that have been in active use for over 30 years. With such dramatic durability and reliability, it can be forgotten that disintegrators require periodic maintenance.

What Needs to be Maintained?

While the plate steel of a disintegrator won’t show wear, many active components will. Over time, the cutting knives will get dull and chipped. The rubber drive belts will wear. The particle sizing screen can wear out or form over-sized holes. Safety limit switches can move out of position or wear out. Hoses and filters can reach end of life.

This may sound like a lot, but the physical force required for these blades to constantly break down material to its NSA mandated final particle size is substantial. If these wear and tear issues are not addressed, the result can be reduced throughput, increased likelihood of jams, more noise and dust, off-sized end particles, reduced safety, and unexpected or premature failure of the system.

How to Maintain

A complete preventive maintenance (PM) service for a disintegrator addresses all of these concerns and more. Done at appropriate times, PM service is a wise and important part of disintegrator upkeep. Typically the frequency of PM service is tied to the condition of the knives, which are the most regular component that wears down. The rate of knife wear depends on the volume and type of materials fed to the machine. If a fairly large amount of metallic items go through a disintegrator, the knife wear will be more rapid than if the materials have little to no metal. However, even paper and plastics will cause knives to lose their edge over time. SEM recommends service after roughly every 100-150 hours of running time, however this is only a rough guideline. A technician can provide good feedback on how worn knives are, allowing users to adjust to a sensible frequency of PM services.


Most SEM disintegrator users who keep up with their PM will have in the range of 1 to 6 PM services per year, based on a range of light usage through heavy production usage.

Most commonly, SEM disintegrator owners have SEM or an authorized SEM service partner provide the PM service. That insures a reliable PM service by a highly experienced technician. A complete breakout of what is included in an SEM provided PM service can be seen here.

Some SEM disintegrator users do their own preventive maintenance services, sometimes using SEM for only off-site knife sharpening. Manuals and service training videos are available from SEM. Contact us or visit us at www.semshred.com and we can provide you with the information you need.

Why Your SEM Disintegrator Needs Regular Service

November 3, 2016 at 10:33 am by SEM

A SEM Disintegrator is a large investment. Like a fine automobile, SEM machines also need regular maintenance. Would you buy a Mercedes and then never change the oil? No way! SEM disintegrators are ruggedly designed with precision built knife mills and with proper care and regular maintenance they can and will perform for decades.

Disintegrators operate with very close tolerances to efficiently cut paper. The 5-blade rotor rotates at over 600RPM and within five thousands of an inch over the bed knives. This action creates a very efficient cutting machine-like a big pair of scissors. However, sharp blades and proper tolerances are the key to good performance and avoiding a host of symptoms that slow you down, waste time and energy, put undue stress on the machine components and can cause premature failure of motors, belts and even cause cracks in the machine itself.
If you don’t want to replace your machine earlier than necessary, than the proper maintenance is absolutely vital.

We recommend maintenance for the following reasons:

  • Sharp blades improve performance and productivity while reducing airborne dust and noise. Dull/worn blades can lead to too much of a gap between the rotor knives and bed knives, which will make the machine prone to jamming.
  • Dull blades will also lead to a pounding of the paper instead of cutting. This condition creates a lot more dust and noise and will certainly require longer run times to process paper through the screen, and a longer run time is more costly in terms of power usage, employee time, and lost production. Also, this pounding of material, if allowed to continue, can ultimately cause stress cracks in the hopper and base and potential machine failure.
  • Greasing the bearings, as we do during a PM will also lengthen the life of the equipment. Without regular maintenance and grease the bearings can dry out causing the rotor to turn irregularly, which will cause knife damage. Replacing bearings is a costly repair that can be easily avoided with regular maintenance.
  • Your machine will jam more frequently as blades become dull and wear down. Jams are not only a pain to have to clean up, but repeated jamming causes undue wear on vital machine components and can put your machine in an early grave.
  • Fan systems are another key component of your disintegrator system.
    The fan systems ensure that the shredded material is moving properly through the system. Once the desired particle size is achieved and it falls through the screen, the fan system evacuates it out and deposits it into a waste bag, outside container/compactor or briquettor for disposal. The filter system takes the air used to remove the particles from the machine and filters the dust particles before exhausting the air back out into the room or exhausting it outside.

To support the air system we recommend:

  • Regular bag/tube change to ensure efficient operation. Filter tubes should be checked regularly and replaced when they show signs of damage or wear. Without proper airflow through these tubes or bags the filters become much less efficient increasing the dust levels. If not corrected, jamming can occur, which in turn can clog and jam up the whole system—Something you want to avoid if you can.
  • Flex hoses/duct work are also inspected and should be replaced as holes appear, since any loss of pressure/CFM will cause more dust coming out of the hopper of the machine as well as particulate and dust leakage from the hose/duct, creating a very dirty operating environment. This loss of pressure also slows down the removal of the particle from the machine, and in severe cases can also cause a jam.

We recommend all disintegrator users set up an SEM 20 Point PM service contract so that they can get the most production possible out of their machines, reduce downtime, protect your warranty and avoid the pitfalls caused by poor maintenance practices. SEM provides direct technicians and authorized service representatives on many different models and brands of disintegrators and shredders. Remember, SEM is always here to help. If you have any questions about your disintegrator maintenance or service, contact us today.

How to Avoid Jamming a Disintegrator

December 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm by SEM

You’ve done it again! Your disintegrator has jammed leaving you with the task of chiseling paper and material from the cutting chamber resulting in down-time from shredding those classified documents.

There are a number of factors that can lead to disintegrator jams. The primary reason for system jams is lack of operator awareness on some very basic functions to keep the system operating at maximum performance. Proper training on how to feed the system is an important step in preventing system jamming. The old saying less is more is very applicable when feeding disintegrators. Because disintegrator systems can vary depending on their size, power and features, it is always recommended to check with SEM before feeding a system and have them advise you of the best practices to avoid jams.

In general, the most common factors leading to jams are over feeding, inefficient air evacuation system, a clogged filter system, dull knives, a need to adjust the feed rate for particular material and more. Here are a few ways to avoid jams and to operate the system to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the system.

  1. Overfeeding: Learn the proper way to feed the unit. Disintegrators need to cut the material over and over until it is reduced to the security screen size. Only then does it get evacuated out of the chamber. If an end user overloads the cutting chamber with material, it will cause a jam. It is important to allow the unit to clear most of the material before feeding another handful of paper. This still applies to conveyor feed systems. Do not stack material too high on conveyor.
  2. Efficient air system: Run your air evacuation system for 5-10 minutes before starting your disintegrator and feeding. This will clear any excess material that may have been left in the cutting chamber or transition from an earlier operation. The disintegrator and air system should be run for 10-15 minutes at the conclusion of every operation as well.
  3. Clear air filtration system: Inspect your filter system dust bag before every operation. Depending on the system, they may look different but the concept is the same. Be sure the bag or drum that collects the fine dust is less than half full. If these bags are too full, it will choke the system by restricting air flow and lead to a jam.
  4. Dull knives: Keep your knives sharpened. SEM highly recommends that you have a spare set of sharpened knives that can be installed when the dull knives are removed and sent out to be re-sharpened disintegrator knives can be re-sharpened about five times. With a second set of knives, the dull knives can be removed and the spare knives can be installed while dull knives are being sharpened. This will minimize down time waiting for the knives to be returned from sharpening.
  5. Operator training: Learn about your system, the features, and options that are available to help reduce jamming. SEM has been selling disintegrators since 1967 and are leaders in the data destruction industry. Feel free to contact SEM at 800-225-9293 and ask to speak to your local representative regarding your system. They can also recommend a variety of options that can be added to most systems that can help reduce jams. Some of these options are conveyors, voltage meters, one button start up and shutdown panels, motorized shakers and more.

Not every jam can be avoided, but training and diligence will help to reduce potential jams.