Equipment Spotlight

Catalytic Converter Shears

Jaws Mfg
JMC Recycling

One of the biggest nodes of value in a junked car resides in the catalytic converter. These devices, which help reduce exhaust air pollutants and have been required equipment on all new cars for 30 years, contain internal parts coated with pricey metals including platinum, rhodium and palladium. That’s the good news. The bad news is that before catalytic converters can be recycled by auto scrap yards and other sources of converters, the valuable containers have to be separated from the exhaust system pipes on either side.

Saw blades dull quickly when confronted with the hardened steel of an exhaust system, while both saws and cutting torches pose serious fire risks due to the danger of sparks igniting gasoline fumes or other combustible materials. The solution many recyclers have turned to is a cutting shear specifically designed for the always-demanding, yet potentially profitable task of slicing catalytic converters from auto hulks.


In Mesa, Arizona, Larry Demik, owner of Supershear, sells a product first introduced in 1986. The original Supershear employed a hand-powered hydraulic system to push a cutting blade through the exhaust pipes and free the converters. The method required two operators and was slow.

Today’s improved models can be operated by a single person and offer choices of three power sources. A 12-volt battery-operated model allows complete independence of movement, even in remote locations. A second model runs on 110 volt or 220 volt AC power. A nine horsepower gasoline engine powers the third option. All units are self-contained and mounted on pneumatic-wheeled hand carts for transporting.

The 19 pound cutting head has a single moving part and generates over 10 tons of cutting force. It produces no sparks or flames through its cutting action, increasing safety. “You get it up there, push a button and in 30 seconds a catalytic converter is on the ground,” said Demik.

The Supershear became widely employed among auto recyclers and users came to appreciate the relatively light weight, reliability and relatively low cost of the machine. “As the metal prices went up the machine got more popular because it didn’t take you very long to pay for it,” said Demik. “With a couple of cars you paid for the cutting machine.”

Changes in the structure of the auto recycling business along with declining commodity prices have changed the catalytic converter shear market, however. “Back in the day a guy could buy a Supershear with battery operated power, go to different yards and go down the aisle cutting off converters and throwing them in the back of the pickup truck,” Demik said. “We had a lot of guys who bought cutters just for that. That went on for years.”

Today, however, recyclers have streamlined their operations so that junked cars coming in are immediately stripped of cores, including catalytic converters, at centralized stripping locations. “They’re cutting the converters off before it ever goes to the yard,” Demik said. He added, “If they don’t, somebody comes in and steals them.” As a result of the operational switch to centralized processing, today Supershear sells more stand alone stationary machines that are plugged into wall current than the other two models.

Most of today’s buyers are doing 20 cars a day and up, Demik said. The company’s products are sold to customers worldwide, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and several European countries. “Everybody uses catalytic converters,” he said.

Jaws Manufacturing

In Abilene, Texas, at Jaws Manufacturing LLC, co-owner Dalton Hughes said his five-year-old company’s Jaws Hydraulic Shear has met with an enthusiastic response from recyclers. “Everybody that buys our product is happy with it,” he said. “The problem is a lot of people haven’t ever seen it.”

The Jaws Hydraulic Shear comes with three choices of power source: a 12-volt battery, a gasoline engine and A/C power. “We give a one-year parts and labor warranty,” Dalton added. “And our heads are not forged, they’re machined. They’re high strength steel which makes them very durable. We’ve never had to reissue a unit because it broke during warranty.”

Hosing connecting the cutting unit and hydraulic unit is sheathed to keep it from being cut accidentally. “The machines are portable,” he added. “It comes complete with a two wheel dolly that you can roll it around with.”

Jaws Manufacturing’s battery powered cutters can remove about 150 converters before needing a recharge during the summer, when battery life is extended, and about 100 when operating during the winter. “We’ve got guys that cut anywhere from 50 converters a week to 200 to 300 a day,” Dalton said.

Larger companies sometimes buy several units, usually stationary A/C-powered models, for each core-stripping station in a sizable recycling facility.

The gasoline-powered and battery-powered units primarily appeal to lower-volume recyclers. “A lot of these guys have smaller shops that don’t buy that many converters and they like the mobility,” Dalton said.

Jaws Manufacturing’s sales to the recycling industry went flat in Fall 2008, but began to rebound somewhat toward the end of the year. Dalton said it’s due to fluctuating prices for commodities including the platinum, rhodium and beryllium in converters, and predicts that business will return to normal once recyclers get accustomed to the new levels.

“With the high prices they had, it’s hard to go back to where you were a year ago,” Dalton said. “But people were doing fine a year ago. I think it will come back. And we’ve got enough strength and stability that we’re going to be around.”