CyberCrunch is totally determined to destroy.
Its two factories, in Aston and west in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, are places where the electronics familiar to Philadelphia’s biggest employers go to die.
Specifically, to be shredded into high-tech confetti that data thieves can’t loot, then resold to recyclers.
The more our working lives become digitized and data-dependent, the more “everyone is left with equipment they will have to get rid of,” noted Joe Connors, business development manager at Aston-based CyberCrunch.
Electronics recycling has a history of rising and falling with precious metal prices. But Connors said her company has built new shredders — like the one she calls the Cyber 10G Pulverizer — in a bet that working from home, the Internet of Things, smartphones that communicate directly with servers” remote clouds, and other trends will drive demand for years to come.
As computers and phones have become faster, smarter, smaller, and ubiquitous—and laws like HIPAA for medical privacy and Gramm-Leach-Bliley for accounting spawn policies imposing protections of privacy – employers have had to ensure that their shredders can break ever more efficient equipment into ever smaller pieces.
Penn and Jefferson, Comcast and DuPont, Clarivate and Sungard and other companies that rely on portable and portable communications and data access – as well as retailers dependent on digital technology such as Wawa 900 stores – have need places to dispose of old devices and any traces of private or proprietary data.
That’s where CyberCrunch, with its 25 employees in a newly expanded 45,000 square foot factory in Aston and a 45,000 square foot center with larger machinery in Greensburg, finds money in fancy junk.
It’s not a big-budget company — companies pay as little as $4,000 a year for the service, and the company’s revenue totaled less than $5 million last year.
But it has grown since state-backed Ben Franklin Technology Partners and other investors injected $325,000 five years ago when the company changed its name from Commonwealth Computer Recycling.
Private investors have paid to help co-founder Serdar Bankaci, a data scientist based at the company’s Greensburg plant in western Pennsylvania, develop and build new machines.
Colleagues said that Bankaci is famous in the industry for hearing the year and model of a piece of equipment – mainframe, PC, phone – and instantly reporting the current value of its components in ever-changing spot markets: “Trash this, trash that, it’s worth $2, it’s worth $50,” Connors quoted, mimicking the boss.
For some customers, “CyberCrunch removes wires, some memory cards and metals – they charge us by the pound but they include [calculations] for the gold, platinum and aluminum they recover,” which the company will strip and resell, Joe Boccella, senior technical support engineer at Sungard Availability Services told Wayne. Sungard helps enterprise customers plan computer usage and backups to maintain system reliability.
Electronics disposal has evolved, Boccella said, from the days of the “mainframe” computer, when companies used IBM or Unisys machines in-house. “All the connectors were gold”, and the owners removed and sold these bits, and removed the memory chips to run them between magnets to erase sensitive data, before sending the “heavy iron” to the junkyard, recalled Boccella.
But the machines have become more complex, with data persisting in startling nodes: “You can no longer run a magnet over a hard drive and think you’re safe,” Boccella warned. “Magnetize it, reformat it, but they can still extract old data. You have to grind it to pieces.
Especially at the end of each year when new business equipment from vendors such as Sungard tends to replace obsolete ones. “Three days before Christmas, CyberCrunch released three big truckloads of hardware,” Boccella said. “They can’t reuse our material. They need to take down our name, serial numbers and make sure they dissolve.
Some Sungard customers even continued to use magnetic tapes for years after most companies started relying on remote servers. It’s not because they can’t afford the “cloud” of remote servers like Amazon Web Services or rivals Google or specialty carriers like Philadelphia-based Linode. Rather, it is because they considered the old technology isolated from the internet to be safer.
But most of the time, today’s data business is subject to relentless device upgrades to keep up with network, volume, speed, and security needs. For desktops, laptops and phones, the standard is a three-year cycle. “We have a lot of equipment for our customers — all versions of computer systems, from mainframes to mainframes, every brand from IBM to Hitachi to EMC — that we need to destroy,” Boccella said. “We run our equipment. We have lots of hard drives. We need a good distributor to throw them away.
Sungard also does some of his own crushing and shredding. Boccella therefore checks the prices and subcontracts the work if a contractor such as CyberCrunch can do it more efficiently. Old insulators containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other caustic or toxic chemicals, discarded carelessly, “can get you in trouble with the EPA,” he warned. “A provider like CyberCrunch has all the credentials; this makes them an easy choice for these jobs.
Philadelphia, once a center of innovative manufacturing, is now a major recycling hub, located in the middle of the East Coast megalopolis, near railroads and highways connecting the Midwest and the Southern Interior. CyberCrunch sells dataless junk to specialist recyclers such as Revolution Recovery, Camden Iron & Metal, and Burns & Co., who can recycle entire buildings.
When big companies like DuPont downsize in mergers, office cleaning can produce tons of specialized tools with valuable components. Last summer, “they delivered a nuclear electron microscope to us. Two thousand pounds, and nothing goes to the landfill. We separate the parts and send them to our downstream recyclers,” Connors said.
“Who is sent to destroy data” in a large corporation or a non-profit hospital? asked Al Paoletti, who manages large corporate accounts for CyberCrunch. “The lowest guy on the totem pole. Maybe the intern. They are overworked, so many institutions have drastically reduced their staff. So we step in where they left off, we check their work and identify the problem” and make deals. He said an international push attracted customers in 15 countries last year.
But revenues are increasing in modest increments. Shredded electronics, precious metals aside, are worth “26 cents a pound” lately, Connors noted.
An accountant by training, he called electronic disposal a “belt and suspenders”, requiring several layers of careful checking – but it’s also “much more fun” than pure calculations, he added, as ‘he was preparing to go to a PayPal facility to pick up computers to smash them.
“We never know what we’re going to pick up in any given load,” Conners concluded. “It’s like Christmas every day.”