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Acme Skid Adds Heat-Treating Capability
Texas pallet manufacturer turns to Brunner-Hildebrand for heat-treating chamber

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 10/1/2003

SILSBEE, Texas — College sweethearts Brenda W. Killingsworth and Lee Killingsworth married in 1983 and embarked on careers in teaching and law enforcement, respectively. In 1991, Brenda and her sister, Diann Spurlock, became co-owners of Acme Skid & Plug division of Apache Products Inc., the family business their father had started in 1954.

Today, Brenda serves as president and CEO of Apache Products. Diann is a director. And Lee, who is not an owner, is the manager of purchasing and operations. (Sherman Worthey, Brenda’s father, died
in 1986; Brenda’s mother, Mildred Worthey, owned and operated the company until 1991.)

The Acme division of Apache Products makes custom crates and pallets. Many customers of Apache ship petrochemical products and derivatives all over the
world. Consequently, the wood pallet and crates they use must meet International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) phytosanitary standards.

"Most of our customers are going to ship — no telling where," said Lee. It is increasingly important for them "to come into compliance with IPPC standards," he explained.

In order to supply their customers with pallets and containers that are in compliance, Apache Products had long been buying kiln-dried, heat-stamped lumber. But with more and more requests for pallets and containers that meet IPPC standards, adding the capability to kiln-dry or heat-treat on-site became a good business decision.

In February of this year, Apache Products invested in a Brunner-Hildebrand heat-treating chamber. Lee worked closely with Rein Juergen of the Brunner-Hildebrand Lumber Dry Kiln Co., which has a U.S. base of operations in Fort Mill, S.C.

Lee credited Rein with providing a lot of assistance. "He was very helpful in helping me finalize my design," said Lee, "so that I can do what I want to do." The men did a great deal of faxing sketches back and forth and phone collaboration well before they ever met.

Apache Products "can now build green," said Lee, which is a plus. "The finished pallet is loaded in stacks into the kiln," he explained. The chamber is designed to hold 4,000 48x40 pallets.

The Brunner-Hildebrand heat-treating chamber is designed to be automatically controlled by three probes or sensors that take readings from pallet components. The probes capture the temperature in the thickest lumber component, and the sensors feed the information to a monitor in a control room.

"The operation of it is dirt-simple," said Lee. "I put the probes in the wood, walk in the control room, push a button at five in the afternoon." When he returns the next morning, the chamber is ready to be unloaded. The heat-treating process takes about two to five hours, according to Lee. The time varies, depending on
the species of wood, moisture content, number of pallets, ambient temperature, and other factors.

The natural gas heat source and the circulating fans are two features of the Brunner-Hildebrand kiln that Lee appreciates. Natural gas is an economical choice for his company, said Lee. The Brunner-Hildebrand kilns and heat-treating chambers may use other sources of heat, too.

The heat-treating chamber can accommodate a wide range of pallet sizes, which is a must. "We make pallets that range in size from 30 inches by 45 inches or 50 inches, all the way up to six or seven feet long," said Lee.

All pallets are custom, and sizes are relatively open-ended. "We’ll make a pallet for anyone who needs one," said Lee.

Silsbee is located about 19 miles north of Beaumont, which is the large petroleum center in the southeastern part of the Lone Star State. The town has a population of 6,500.

Using its own fleet of trucks, Apache Products delivers to customers along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi to Baton Rouge, La. The company sometimes relies on common carrier if it is extremely busy or a load is heading to a distant location.

Apache Products buys indigenous hardwood species, such as oak, elm and hickory, as well as softwood — almost exclusively Southern yellow pine — from local sawmills, said Lee. The company buys anything from 1x4 lumber to 7x9 cants and remanufactures the material into pallet components. Apache Products also buys some pre-cut pallet components, including Southern yellow pine deck boards that are either heat-treated and kiln-dried or green.

The company’s cut-up operations are equipped with a number of Baker Products and Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle band resaws. Other machinery includes Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle cut-off saws and notchers, a Newman multi-trim saw and a Yates American planer. "The Brewer equipment is excellent," said Lee, noting its "heavy duty" design and construction.

For large runs of pallets, the company has four Viking nailing machines — a Viking 504, two Viking 505 machines, and a Viking Duomatic.

In the decade between college and joining Apache Products, Brenda taught school and Lee worked as a police officer. Lee, who studied political science and social studies in college, found that many things he learned on the police force proved helpful in business. "The experience of dealing with people of all different occupations and backgrounds" was particularly valuable, he said.

As for the career switch he made, Lee is very happy to be working in the wood products industry. "It’s challenging," he said. "I’m glad to be able to meet the challenges and make it work."

Given the special challenges posed by the current economic climate, he said, it’s nice to be able to add a piece of equipment that does not take up a great deal of time because he must stay focused on making
a profit. One of the key aspects of the Brunner-Hildebrand heat-treating chamber, said Lee, is the "simplicity of the operation."

Lee had no prior experience with dry kilns when he began searching for a supplier. "As we say in Texas," he said, "I was like a calf at a new gate." Even so, Lee was able to get up to speed almost immediately with the Brunner-Hildebrand kiln.

The experience with Brunner-Hildebrand has been a good one in every respect, said Lee. "I was amazed they could ship from Germany in two shipping containers," said Lee. "Everything fit together perfectly."

Brunner-Hildebrand also supplies vacuum kilns in addition to dry kilns and heat-treating chambers. The dry kiln models are available in widths up to 55 feet with a capacity of 120,000 board feet. They can be configured with one large chamber or several compartments.

Customer service leads Acme Skid & Plug division of Apache Products in many directions. The company has a total quality management (TQM) program that enables it to provide the information its clients need to maintain their ISO9000 certifications.

Acme Skid, with 100 employees, belongs to the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, the Texas Safety Association, the Texas Forestry Association and the National Association of Manufacturers. It has several safety certifications from government entities. Apache Products is owned and operated by Brenda Killingsworth and Diann Spurlock and is a certified woman-owned business.

Lee appreciates taking some time away from the business. "I like to get outside, hunt, fish," he said. "This is the perfect part of the country to do that.

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