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Georgia Pallet Manufacturing Company Enters the Pallet Heat-Treating Arena;
Marshall & Henderson Supplies Heat-Treating System to Daniel Lumber

By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 12/1/2003

La GRANGE, Georgia – Daniel Lumber Co., a pallet manufacturing company in west-central Georgia, recently added pallet heat-treating services. Owner Ned Daniel did not want to be caught off guard. The company has several customers who ship their products to export markets.

            “We just knew it was a coming thing,” Ned said of the decision to get into heat-treating pallets. “We decided to get ahead of the curve.” Daniel Lumber recently began operating a new pallet heat-treating system supplied by Marshall & Henderson.

            Daniel Lumber Co. has been in business since 1918. Ned represents the third generation of the Daniel family in the company, which was founded by his grandfather as a building supply and home construction business. The company continued in that niche for many years and at various times operated a sawmill.

            Under Ned’s leadership, the company began supplying pallets – primarily as a service to one customer. The sales volume was only about $10,000 annually.

            When he sold the building supply operations to Lowe’s in 1978, however, Ned decided to enter the pallet manufacturing arena. He launched the business with about 15 employees, investing in equipment to remanufacture rough lumber into pallet components – a Newman multi-trim saw, a couple of Robinson band saws, and a West Plains notching machine. Pallets were assembled by hand with power nailing tools. The company cut all its own lumber from the outset.

            A fire completely destroyed the company’s buildings and equipment in 1988. At the time the business was located in the downtown section of La Grange, which is about 65 miles southwest of Atlanta and a short distance from Interstate 85. The buildings, shed structures, were very old and were not insured, although the equipment was insured. The insurance covered most of the lost equipment. After the fire, Ned leased property with two large buildings on the outskirts of town, where Daniel Lumber continues its operations today. The company added a scragg mill to its plant in 1993.

            Daniel Lumber employs about 30 people. By the time of the fire, it had annual sales of about $2 million. Once it was re-established, sales later climbed to a range of $4-5 million although the recent economic downturn has the company back at about $3-4 million. Ned, whose day-to-day role in the business is as a manager, was modest about the company’s success, attributing its growth to nothing more than “normal business development. We grew a little bit every year.”

            With global phytosanitary standards for wooden pallets and containers to eliminate the spread of wood-eating insects from one country to another, appropriate treating processes for lumber and pallets have come to the forefront. Lumber and pallets may be treated by fumigation or heat to eliminate the risk of insect infestation, and procedures are in place to certify that wood packaging meets these new requirements.

            Treating lumber and pallets with heat is not an entirely foreign concept, of course, because the forest products industry is accustomed to kiln drying lumber. Although heat treating for global phytosanitary standards and kiln drying lumber are not the same, they share some similarities in science, technology and equipment.

            Equipment solutions for heat treating pallets vary widely, depending on a number of factors. Pallet manufactures also likely will require computerized control and record keeping systems.

            Ned considered several suppliers of pallet heat-treating systems before choosing Mississippi-based Marshall & Henderson Inc.

            Although wood packaging for export markets may be fumigated in lieu of heat treatment to eliminate insects, Ned said he “didn’t really consider” that option. “I couldn’t find anyone in the local area who would do it,” he said. Fumigation service would have been more costly, he estimated, and Daniel Lumber would have lacked control – relying strictly on the services of a vendor or contractor.

            The economic efficiency of the Marshall & Henderson heat-treating system was the primary reason that won Ned over. “Mainly, it seemed to be the most economical system that would do what we needed in the shortest amount of time,” he said.

            Marshall & Henderson manufactured the system at its facilities and installed it on concrete blocks at Daniel Lumber, which installed connections for electricity and propane gas.

            Marshall & Henderson started with a ‘clean sheet of paper’ and designed a pallet heat-treating system using a direct fire furnace. It produces 1,200,000 BTU to treat quickly and so as to not change moisture content. The Marshall & Henderson mobile pallet heat-treating system is completely portable and can be moved from place to place or can be installed on a slab or blocks.

            Under optimum conditions, the Marshall & Henderson pallet heat treating system can achieve a 1 degree increase in core temperature per minute; fuel costs are as little as a penny per pallet, according to the company. Depending on the number of pallets treated and the starting core temperature, heat treating can be completed in two hours or less per charge.

            The Marshall & Henderson pallet heat treating system is designed for complete forklift access for easy loading and unloading of pallets. The system, which holds a full truckload of pallets and features aluminum construction, is easy to operate with computerized record keeping.

            When the unit is delivered, Marshall & Henderson provides on-site start-up assistance and support to ensure the equipment is running correctly and to answer any questions.

            The Marshall & Henderson pallet heat-treating system at Daniel Lumber has been operational for several months. “The system works fine,” said Ned. The heat-treating chamber is the same size as a 48-foot trailer van. It can heat-treat a load of pallets in about two hours, according to Ned. Daniel Lumber is certified to supply heat-treated pallets and is audited monthly by Timber Products Inspection to ensure it complies with heat-treating standards and procedures.

            “I’m very satisfied with the kiln from Marshall & Henderson,” said Ned. Marshall & Henderson also supplied computer software that is used to generate reports and documentation for the heat-treating process.

            Daniel Lumber buys 8-inch to 16-inch logs and hardwood cants in addition to rough lumber. It buys roughly an equal volume of logs and cants. Cants and rough lumber are supplied by sawmills in Georgia and Alabama.

            The principal cut-up operations at Daniel Lumber begin with the Windham scragg mill. It is equipped with two circular saws to remove two slabs from the log, which then goes to a splitter supplied by Bob Hanna Machinery. These initial processes normally produce two three-sided cants that are precision end-trimmed on a Windham cut-off saw. The material then goes through a West Plains Resaw Systems six-had band resaw system to produce deck boards or stringers.

            Slabs are recovered and processed further on a Windham edger that squares two sides to make a three-sided piece of material. The three-sided pieces recovered from the slabs are resawn on the West Plains resaw to remove a fourth side and produced a finished deck board.

            A second cut-up line is used mainly for resawing rough pine or hardwood lumber into deck boards. Working typically with 4/4 or 5/4 random length boards, a West Plains multi-trim saw cuts the material to the appropriate length. The material then is split on the company’s  Smith two-head band resaw or a Morgan one-head band resaw.

            When working with cants, the material first is cut to length on a Pendu cut-off saw, and pieces are fed through the West Plains six-head resaw system.

            For automated pallet assembly, Daniel Lumber relies on a GBN Machine & Engineering Co. Trailblazer, a tandem nailing machine purchased about five years ago. About half the company’s pallets are assembled on the GBN system. The company also uses a Bronco Pallet Systems semi-automated nailing station. Workers at three benches also assemble pallets by hand with Duo-Fast power nailing tools.

            Bulk nails for the GBN Trailblazer are supplied by Mid-Continent Nail Corp.; collated nails for power fasteners are supplied by Duo-Fast. Daniel Lumber uses Econotool heads for its West Plains notching machine. Band blades are supplied mainly by Kennesaw, an Atlanta company, and circular blades and sharpening services are supplied by Capital City Sharpening in Montgomery, Ala.

            Trim ends and other scrap material are processed by a Precision chipper, and the chips and sawdust are sold to markets for boiler fuel.

            Daniel Lumber manufactures about 25 different size pallets. Some common footprints include 48x48, 40x40 and 42x48. The company also does a sizeable volume of block pallets, which are assembled by hand. Roughly half the company’s pallets are made of hardwood and half from softwood. Some pallets have mixed components.

            The company has customers in such industries as roofing, concrete, textiles and automotive. It serves customers within a radius of about 150 miles, which puts it in Georgia and Alabama. Daniel Lumber has three tractor-trailers for deliveries.

            Daniel Lumber opened a pallet recycling plant in Atlanta in the mid-1990s, and recycled pallets now represent about 20-25% of the company’s sales. The recycling plant, with about 10 workers, focuses mainly on pallet repairs. The plant is equipped with a pallet denailer or dismantler, however, and it disassembles some pallets to produce a small volume of remanufactured pallets – ‘new’ pallets made of recycled lumber. A second dismantling machine at the plant in La Grange also is used to recover used pallet parts. The recycling operations also rely on pallet retrieval and recovery services; Daniel Lumber has several trailer vans that it ‘drops’ at customer sites to pick up excess and scrap pallets, and it also leases additional trailer vans for the same purpose.

            Wet weather has played havoc with raw material supplies – and costs -- in the East this year. The tight supply of raw material has eased in recent months, Ned observed, but difficult challenges remain for pallet manufacturers. “We’ve got all the lumber we need,” he said, “but prices have not come down.”

            Increasing pallet prices in order to pass along the higher cost of raw materials to customers has been “very difficult,” Ned conceded. The economy and the pallet business are still relatively slow, and there is no shortage of competition although volumes are down. In some cases the company has gone to a different pallet design to generate cost savings but in other cases has been forced to ‘eat’ the higher costs of raw material. Through its marketing division, Advanced Handling Systems Inc., it uses the Pallet Design System computer software.

            Despite drier weather in recent months and a more abundant supply of material, Ned was somewhat concerned about building a winter inventory heading into December. “It’s hard to say…Nobody has got a lot of inventory, and we don’t have any log inventory.”


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