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Industrial Resources of Michigan Ramps Up, Improves Service to Pallet Industry
Investments in plant, personnel allow it to provide stronger service to pallet recyclers

By Staff
Date Posted: 12/1/2003

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – Industrial Resources of Michigan has made significant investments in plant and personnel in recent years that allow it to provide stronger service to pallet recyclers.

            Industrial Resources designs and manufactures component machinery and equipment for pallet recycling operations as well designing and building complete integrated pallet sorting and repair systems. Its machinery line includes bandsaw dismantlers, lead board removers, disc-type dismantlers, stackers, dispensers, tippers, and much more. The company also offers bandsaw blades and other supplies.

            Founded 15 years ago by Gerry Dykstra, now vice president, Industrial Resources moved into a new building two years ago that has benefited its operations and the services it provides to customers in the pallet industry.

            The new building contains 25,000 square feet -- the company’s previous building was only 14,000 square feet -- and has 26-foot ceilings. It is an industrial building equipped with overhead bridge cranes for lifting and moving heavy materials, components and equipment. The site will allow the company to double the size of the building in the future.

            “We’re here to stay,” said Chuck Meier, chief executive officer. “We’ve got a substantial facility and expansion capability.” It is the first building to be owned by the company, which has moved numerous times as it has expanded over the years. “We have grown and grown and grown,” said Chuck.

            The building was designed and constructed to be a heavy tool and die shop. The previous owner sold the property when the company went out of business. The structure was only 18 months old when Industrial Resources purchased it. “It’s essentially a brand new building,” Gerry noted. Industrial Resources also purchased much of the machinery and equipment from the previous owner of the building. “We have a complete machine shop,” observed Gerry.

            Among other things, the company’s expanded quarters enable it to load equipment with the aid of the overhead bridge cranes instead of forklifts, and finished machines and equipment can be placed in inventory and stored vertically. The additional space and building’s industrial electrical system allows Industrial Resources to pre-assemble and run entire integrated systems prior to shipping, which considerably improves the installation process at a customer’s plant.

            In the past, space limitations required shuffling equipment around to accommodate fabrication and manufacturing operations. The spacious plant eliminates that unnecessary handling and moving.

            The new building also allows Industrial Resources to dedicate certain areas of its facility for particular operations. For example, it now has a substantial area set aside for a parts department. After markets parts specialist Andy Harter devotes each day to helping customers obtain the parts they need. Industrial Resources will provide overnight or regular ground service shipping.

            Industrial Resources also established a new department for manufacturing replacement blades for bandsaw dismantling machines from blade stock. It is the only supplier in the pallet industry that distributes blade stock for Lenox, MK Morse and Simonds. “We have a complete inventory here,” said Dan Collins, director of sales and marketing. Industrial Resources carries carbon and bi-metal blade stock and cuts and welds to standard and custom sizes. (See the Industrial Resources advertisement on page 67.) “If we get an order by 12 p.m. Eastern time, we will send them out the same day,” Dan added.

            “We’ve also added a controls department as a separate section of the building,” said Chuck. “Electrical controls and programmable logic controls are a very significant part of an integrated system,” he noted. “We do all that in-house, building the electrical panels, writing the plc programs and so on.” Controls engineer Bill Van Garderen, who works in a temperature and humidity controlled environment, is responsible for controls design and archiving the designs.

            Both the pallet industry and its suppliers, because of their heavy industrial operations, are not particularly known for clean, neat, attractive working environments. By contrast, the Industrial Resources facility is “kind of unusual,” Dan noted.

            “It’s a huge boost to have a place that shows well,” he said. “We’re able to bring people in” to visit the plant and see the Industrial Resources staff at work.

            “When customers come in, they come away with an opinion of a world class manufacturer of equipment that also can service its equipment for years to come,” said Chuck.

            Industrial Resources recently hosted a delegation of the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association. The group toured pallet companies in Michigan and also toured the Industrial Resources plant. The supplier also hosted the group of 35 to lunch.

            Industrial Resources makes it a practice to invite customers to its plant so they can observe their equipment being designed and constructed, and customers often take them up on the invitation. One customer located nearby actually visited the plant nearly every week during production.

            Customers and their employees are invited to the plant similarly to be trained on new Industrial Resources equipment, and the building enhances that service to customers. Industrial Resources serves customers in foreign countries. A delegation from a Japanese company came to Michigan to be trained on a new system before it was shipped overseas.

            Industrial Resources, a supplier to pallet companies big and small, provides machinery and integrated systems to both. It provides component machines, can equip start-up companies, and supplies complete integrated systems for recycling pallets. “We work with companies that only need one machine and others that need complete systems,” said Dan.

            Even relatively small pallet recycling companies can benefit from – and afford – integrated systems, Dan pointed out. Automated systems increase production and quality while reducing labor costs, worker fatigue and injuries.

            “One of the thrills we get is watching customers grow,” said Gerry, “partnering with them and growing with them. We have customers who have started with little more than a pick-up truck and now they have a business with 50 employees. They’re grown their business, and we’ve grown with them. That’s very rewarding. It’s a lot of fun to build the launching pad for them and watch them go.”

            “Innovation, research and development is at a level we haven’t seen before,” said Dan. “The pallet industry is reaping the rewards from these efforts in terms of gains in productivity, profitability, and safety.” Industrial Resources developed eight new products in 2003, including the redesign of its Wolverine dismantling machine, although not all have been introduced to the market yet. The new machines will be introduced in 2004.

            “One of our fortes is providing solutions,” said Chuck. “The customer’s needs dictate what they require.” Feedback from customers pointed to a need for a machine that could remove any damaged board from a pallet, including blocks and connector boards from block pallets. “That need was not being addressed,” said Chuck.

            In a project that also demonstrated the role of Industrial Resources in its community, the company partnered with a local university to develop the machine. The design and construction of the machine was a senior project for a group of the university’s graduate students, who partnered with Industrial Resources. The project was a success, and Industrial Resources plans to bring the machine to market next year.

            Industrial Resources’ integrated systems for pallet recycling operations are fully engineered and designed to fit a customer’s building. The layout and design takes into consideration support posts that are part of the building, forklift routes, and other factors. The company has a staff of four engineers led by engineering manager Jack Hulbert.

            The pallet industry is somewhat hazardous, and workplace injuries are high, Chuck noted. “We have a very serious commitment to make our machines safe and user friendly,” he said. “That is one of our strategic focuses.”

            Industrial Resources worked with a customer earlier this year to develop a brake system for bandsaw dismantling machines. The brake will stop the blade in a fraction of a second. It is activated by a bar on the edge of the table; the machine operator only has to lean into the bar. The brake system can be retrofitted to Industrial Resources bandsaw dismantlers and similar machines. “Operators love it because they feel safer,” said Chuck.

            The brake system was developed in response to an Industrial Resources customer whose bandsaw dismantler was destroyed in a fire. The customer wanted to replace the machine, but he was informed by OSHA he could not unless operators used wrist restraints to keep their hands away from the blade. The cumbersome restraints would have to have been removed and put back on for every pallet, which would have significantly reduced production of recycled lumber. The customer told OSHA he would buy a machine equipped with a brake, and the agency dropped its requirement for wrist restraints.

            “It was a solution that was very workable,” said Chuck.

            Because of the small profit margins in pallet recycling, companies need a relatively quick return on investments in machinery and equipment. With the belt tightening the industry has experienced in recent years because of the sluggish economy, the need for a quick payback has been exacerbated. “They want a quicker return and payback on investment in machinery,” noted Chuck. “It used to be that a payback of one or two years was acceptable. Now they’re demanding less than a year.” Industrial Resources has met the challenge. The company designed and supplied systems in recent years with paybacks less than 12 months.

            The additional space of the new plant and the company’s staff allows Industrial Resources to respond promptly to customers with urgent needs for machinery. “The new building shaves weeks off the lead time for deliverables,” said Dan.

            Industrial Resources has made significant internal investments in personnel, too, and now has about two dozen employees. The company’s operations manager, Tony Varga, has been with Industrial Resources for more than 10 years. The company recently created a new position, production manager, and named Sam Scott to the post.

            Industrial Resources also has several customers nearby and can arrange for potential customers to visit and tour those pallet suppliers to see the Industrial Resources pallet sorting and repair systems operating. “If they come here to see us, we can show them several installations within a very short distance,” said Gerry.

            “We welcome people to come and see us,” Gerry added. “We have a lot to show them.”

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