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Skid Maker Enters Heat-Treating Arena
Baldwin Mfg. turns to Boldesigns for heat-treating system for specialty skids

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 10/1/2003

McLEANSBORO, Illinois ó Ten years ago, Michael Woley purchased Baldwin Manufacturing Inc., a company that had been making skids for 56 years. At 66-years-old, Baldwin Mfg. has remained vital by staying the course with specialty skids, and, of course, by making some adjustments to markets along the way.

"We build blue-print specific skids for engines and power trains," said Michael.

With more companies shipping parts abroad, his customers wanted help navigating global phytosanitary regulations. Because customers deal with international markets, about 50% of the skids made by Baldwin now are heat-treated, according to Michael.

Initial European Union requirements to heat-treat softwood packaging to eliminate the pinewood nematode brought the issue to the forefront, he noted. Fumigating or heat-treating pallets and containers now is also required for packaging made of hardwood lumber.

Buying heat-treated lumber became less and less cost effective, so Michael bought a heat-treating system from Boldesigns. The model K480 unit is used for heat-treating finished skids that will be used in export applications.

Boldesigns is headquartered in Lenoir, N.C. When Michael talked with TimberLine, he was just in the process of installing the Boldesigns system. He was quite certain it was the best option for his company.

Baldwin Mfg. has very specific requirements in heat-treating, Michael noted, because the skids made by the company are complex. "Iíve got one that has in excess of 40 pieces," he said. The components range in size from 3/4-inch to 4x8. "Weíre going to heat-treat these skids after they are assembled."

The many different components ó and shapes and sizes ó in a single skid make heat-treatment a challenge. The gauge for the heat-treatment process has to be the thickest piece of lumber.

Michael worked closely with Howard Bollinger of Boldesigns to find the solution he needed. "Howard was very easy to work with," he said, "very diligent." Howard listened and understood the special considerations for Baldwin Mfg.

Howard also helped Michael choose a heat source best suited for his company. "We have a tremendous amount of waste wood," Michael explained, and he considered using the waste wood for fuel.

However, Howard was concerned that the system would not heat up quickly enough if wood were used. Michael followed Howardís recommendation and decided on natural gas for fuel. If energy costs change and propane is more economical, the system may be converted to run on propane.

The footprint of the Boldesigns K480 heat-treating system is 17 feet by 25 1/2 feet, so a forklift can drive inside to load and remove skids. "I can get a truckload in," said Michael. Thatís something he appreciates because he can get more done per unit of time invested in treating.

Figuring out the exact placement for the four probes used to monitor heat-treatment will take a bit of time. Itís "a learning curve," said Michael. "Howard helped figure out where the probes" will most likely be set.

Michael and Howard expect that a 4x8 skid component will be a critical site for a probe. But different types of skids may require probes in different lumber. "We build probably 40 or 50 different skids," said Michael.

Baldwin Mfg. has been buying heat-treated lumber. Once the Boldesigns unit is fully operational, Michael will use it for heat-treating. He still plans to buy some heat-treated Southern yellow pine. Essentially, once the lumber is made into a skid and heat-treated, some of the lumber will have been heat-treated twice.

The Boldesigns model K480 has a 750,000 BTU gas heater with four 30-inch fans. The company offers many options, including powered doors and a two-piece bi-fold frame door.

Heat-treating systems from Boldesigns provide easy forklift access to the treatment chamber. Strong wall construction, choice of controls, and mineral wood insulation are some of the other important features.

Working with Boldesigns has given him confidence in his new heat-treatment unit, said Michael. "I just felt comfortable with Howard. You get that comfort level." He likened it to the feeling about buying a new car or computer. Meeting engineers from Boldesigns made Michael even more comfortable with the company. "I was impressed by their support staff," he said.

"I donít have the time or manpower" to build or install a heat-treating system, said Michael, so he was pleased with the Boldesigns approach. "They come and put it together," he said.

Baldwin Mfg. employs 16 workers. "We buy cants and remanufacture them to what we need," said Michael. The company also buys some dimension rough lumber, such as heat-treated Southern yellow
pine, and panels ó plywood and oriented strand board. The companyís cut-up operations are equipped with a variety of rip saws, gang rips, planers and notchers ó "just a mix of everything on the market," said Michael.

The companyís waste wood is put through a Schutte-Buffalo grinder and sold for animal bedding.

Mcleansboro, a town of about 2,700 people, is located in southeast Illinois. The Indiana state line is 50 miles east, and Kentucky is the same distance to the southeast.

Michael worked as a manager in corporate America for several years before he bought Baldwin Mfg. To learn the pallet and container business ó he had no prior experience in the forest products industry ó he worked alongside the previous owner for four months before buying the business.

Michaelís wife, Pat, works part-time at Baldwin Mfg., doing bookkeeping and record keeping. Pat also has a full-time job with an accounting business.

Michael, born and raised in central Illinois, earned a bachelorís degree in vocational education and an associateís degree in automotive technology from the University of Illinois at Carbondale. He won a Governorís Small Business Award in 2002. Gov. George Ryan, a former small business owner, recognized the winners at a ceremony in the capital city. Michael was recognized for expanding and upgrading equipment at Baldwin Mfg. and his involvement in his community.

When Michael purchased Baldwin Mfg., the company occupied a 16,000-square-foot building. Today its operations occupy 24,000 square feet of space.
The company serves a customer base that cuts across the Midwest and ships around the world.

Becky Williams, director for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Southeastern Illinois College, nominated Michael for the governorís award. The SBDC network is part of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Michael has received significant strategic help from SBA through his SBDC over the years.

Michael emphasized the importance of the employees at Baldwin Mfg. "Iíve got an excellent workforce," he said. "We work together. I enjoy it."

Michael is happy with the decision he made to buy the business. The thing he likes best about having his own business is the "independence." He also enjoys the challenge of helping customers "find solutions to their problems."

Away from work, Michael said his priorities are clear. "I spend most of the time with my wife and family," he explained. "I fish with my son and son-in-law. I golf with my wife, Pat." He and Pat play in several charity golf tournaments each year.

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