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Pallet Suppliers Reap Benefits from Technology Supplier
Innovative Data Systems Helps Improve Management, Efficiency

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 8/1/2004

North Star Pallets, Edmonton, Alberta

Things happen. “It’s not uncommon to be over-shipped, under-shipped,” said David Luscombe, owner of North Star Pallets in Edmonton, Alberta.

            Through 17 years of manufacturing wooden boxes and pallets, David has seen just about every permutation of a botched delivery from a vendor. Of course, the more time and distance between incoming materials and finished products, the more difficult it becomes to assign responsibility.

            Consequently, two and one-half years ago, David upgraded his system of managing inventory by adding a barcode system from Innovative Data Systems (IDS). Since then, David has added other Innovative Data Systems technology, including a pallet recycling module, a hand punch clock system, and the Click-Draw® software program for generating drawings of pallet and crate designs.

            “Now,” said David, “things have changed. We have accountability in all levels of our company -- accountability with suppliers, with employees to track productivity, with inventory,” he explained. And he has it in real time.

            David chose a wireless system from Innovative Data Systems because he did not want to wait until the end of the day or a shift to download information. “I’m a techno-junkie,” he said. As such, he aims to take advantage of every capability and benefit that high-tech solutions offer.

            North Star Pallets, with about 30 employees, manufactures both hardwood and softwood pallets. For hardwood pallets, the company buys aspen cants from sawmills in the region and remanufactures them into pallet stock. For softwood pallets, North Star buys heat-treated spruce, pine and fir (SPF) lumber in random lengths; the lumber is cut to length with an L-M Equipment cross-cut package saw.

            Each run at North Star is bar-coded. The coding “begins with issuing of a purchase order number to the supplier,” explained David. The employee accepting an incoming load has a Symbol® terminal – a portable, hand-held computer or wireless terminal – with Innovative Data Systems software.  After matching the purchase order number with the load of material and inputting the information, the employee uses the terminal to bar-code the load. The bundle of material is tagged once, not piece by piece.

            When the lumber remanufacturing or pallet assembly operations are finished, a similar activity takes place with another wireless terminal running the Innovative Data Systems program. “Then, upon completion, the machinery operator can close the run while tracking how many hours of labor, how many pallets, sizes, and so on,” said David. “All in real time.”

            “Every production run gets a code,” said David. If only part of the run is shipped to a customer, the remainder that goes into inventory gets an updated code.

            About seven years ago, David added a Viking Turbo 505 nailing machine to North Star’s operations. The company also has workers assembling pallets by hand at tables with jigs.

            North Star also recycles pallets. Incoming pallets needing repairs move along an Industrial Resources conveyor. After being refurbished, they move onto Industrial Resources stackers.

            For assembling pallets by hand and repairing pallets, the company uses Stanley-Bostitch power nailing tools and fasteners.

            The Innovative Data Systems Pallet Track® automated module that David recently added allows each pallet repair worker to tag individual pallets with a unique barcode. It is no more time-consuming than making a crayon mark, explained David, and provides much more information. Pallet Track tracks costs, adjusts inventory, calculates individual piece rates and tracks grades received from each trailer-load.

            New pallets and boxes are made “pretty much to order,” said David. So depending on customer requests, production varies.

            David got into the pallet business after working with his father, Bill. “My father had a warehouse company, freezer storage,” he explained. “We were constantly fixing pallets.” After a competitor bought out his father, David and Bill – now retired -- had the opportunity to keep the North Star name and launch a pallet business.

            “Just the down-to-earth people you meet day in and day out,” said David, is one of the chief satisfactions he gets from being in the pallet industry. Golf and hockey compete for David’s attention when he takes time off.

            “Easier, better, faster,” said David, is his business philosophy. “Don’t be afraid to try new things,” he advised.

            North Star employees were apprehensive about converting to a computerized, automated system of managing and tracking inventory, according to David. However, after 10 days of using the Innovative Data Systems technology, they were “pretty well versed” in it, he said. Employees quickly became acclimated to the system and were won over by it.

            David and two other employees use the Innovative Data Systems Click-Draw program to make illustrations for customers. It is very helpful when it comes to sitting down with a customer and giving them some options for pallet design, said David.

            “Innovative’s been real good to work with,” said David. Alan Miceli, president of Innovative Data Systems, has worked closely with North Star on installation and upgrades, he explained.

            Involvement with a client is key to getting a good fit between plant design and technology in order to meet their specific needs, said Alan. Indeed, IDS was started because of the need to maintain accountability from employees working on a repair line. “I have owned my own pallet company and worked as a sales manager for Pallets Are Us before venturing out full-time with Innovative Data Systems,” said Alan.

            “If you make your employees accountable,” he noted, “you can offer incentives.” The automated repair line module that North Star has, he explained, is particularly useful because every pallet that is repaired can be tracked back to the repair worker, the date it was repaired, and even the time.

            Pallet Track is no longer restricted to use on a desktop computer in an office or a hand-held terminal. In late spring, IDS introduced the Pallet Track kiosk system, broadening its application. “We just developed the new kiosk system,” said Alan. The kiosk utilizes touch screen technology – touching the computer monitor screen with a finger to select a choice or activate a function – in order to make it accessible on the plant floor. “I saw the need for a simple data collection system that increased accuracy and was simple enough to use by the machine operators themselves. This touch screen technology is the right touch.” It allows employees to work without hand-held devices and simply walk up to a kiosk -- by the nailing machine or gang saw, for instance -- and enter data and execute program functions.

Global Group, Elkhart, Ind.

            In Elkhart, Ind., pallet manufacturer Global Group began operating six years ago. “We’re a pallet manufacturer, vertically integrated from stump to finished pallet,” said Jay Shah, vice president for sales at Global Group. His brother, Andrew, is president, and their father, Paresh Shah, owns the company, which produces both new and recycled pallets.

            The company’s daily operations including cutting more than 60,000 board feet of cants, sawing and procuring over 75,000 board feet of cut stock, manufacturing 5,000 high volume pallets and 2,500 custom pallets and crates, and recycling over 10,000 shipping platforms. The company also wholesales lumber and distributes packaging supplies. It has over 125 employees and 10 trucks.

            How does it keep track of costs and collect and manage all the information related to its four plants, including inventory, labor, production, waste, and other factors? The solution was in the technology, expertise and track record of Innovative Data Systems.

            Global Group invested in IDS technology to help manage its rapid growth. “I have a complete wireless system from IDS,” said Jay. It includes two hand-punch systems that use a combination of badge swipe and palm verification as well as a palm-based system and the new IDS touch monitor system.

            “We recently added IDS to help with costing,” Jay explained. The IDS system will help analyze and improve the efficiency of the company’s cut-up operations – increasing production while reducing labor and material costs.

            Global Group has an affiliated company, Global Forest Products, which operates a sawmill in northern Michigan. Global Forest Products supplies the three manufacturing plants with hardwood cants and also some spruce-pine-fir (SPF), which Global Group uses in making wirebound containers.

            Global Group’s cut-up operations are equipped with a Pendu gang saw and notcher, a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle four-head bandsaw line, a Baker Products three-head bandsaw and a Baker Products Bang saw, and a Pacific Trail package cross-cut saw. A Torit dust collection system removes sawdust from the line.

            When Jay talked with Pallet Enterprise in June, many changes were underway at Global Group. The company added a Kiln-Direct.com pallet heat-treating system that will treat a truckload of pallets at a time. At the same time, Jay was trying to settle on a means of consolidating saw blade purchases and sharpening service.

            Global Group also added a Viking Turbo 505 nailing machine a few months ago. The company is not heavily into the 48x40 market, but the Viking nevertheless is used for high-volume runs. Global Group makes over 185 pallet sizes to serve customers in the pharmaceutical, food, automotive, and steel industries. The largest pallet the company has made to date was a 300-inch long shipping platform for a steel customer.

            About 70% of the company’s production is new pallets and the remaining 30% is made from recycled lumber. Global Group has Heartland, Industrial Resources and Smart Products pallet dismantling machines to disassemble pallets and two Pallet Repair Systems (PRS) trim saws to cut reclaimed material to the appropriate length.

            Global Group is planning to significantly expand its pallet recycling operations. The company is looking forward to opening a new 130,000-square-foot repair facility by autumn. Jay said Global Group is trying to decide which vendor will be tapped to install an automated pallet repair line. He already has chosen Innovative Data Systems to supply the tracking system for the new repair line.

            Investing in more pallet recycling capacity is a must, said Jay. “Reverse logistics is the future, and as professional pallet manufacturers, we must stay pro-active to stay ahead of the curve.”

            In addition to automating its pallet recycling operations, Global Group will be installing a Rotochopper machine to grind and color wood scrap in order to produce colored mulch.

            Jay is keenly interested in providing ‘full service’ packaging solutions to customers, such as banding, stretch film, box tape, bubble wrap and various other packaging supplies. For in depth testing and research, Global Group consults with engineers at Purdue University and Michigan State University who conduct drop tests and other studies.

            Vendors to Global Group must meet high expectations, said Jay. He chose Innovative Data Systems after he “found that Alan had the most experience, a track record.”

            “We bought all of our tracking systems at the same time, so it took about a month to fully implement the IDS technology to its fullest benefit, said Jay. “Alan helped a lot with training,” he explained. “It’s a very high-tech system but relatively easy to use.”

            Each bundle of cants arriving at Global Group is tagged with a barcode. At the end of the production line, bundles of components are tagged, and each stack of pallets gets a barcode tag. “We’re bar-coding all material we receive,” said Jay, according to “which supplier, how much we paid. It helps to check if there’s any shrinkage and calculate our yield on saw runs.”

            “We have one Pallet Track touch monitor system at our Viking and one at our package saw,” said Jay. “The touch system scans all components in and generates labels that identify all products out. Now our customers can see the date of manufacture, the machine it was produced on, and the quantity of each stack. It also is a great check for us because it will print out, say, 22 labels for each stack of pallets. So our guys can easily confirm the quantity of production by ensuring all the labels have been used. For management, the system adjusts our inventory, identifies all components used, the people who worked on the machines, and how much material has been culled – all in real time without anyone having to turn in any paperwork. It’s been a great addition to our operations.”

            Global Group offers pallet retrieval, repair and return services to customers in a closed loop system. The company has a fleet of 100 trailers.

            Global Group is moving increasingly to automation, said Jay. To that end, Innovative Data Systems has been a valuable supplier-partner. IDS has also helped Global Group in other ways, including assistance with documentation for ISO 9002 certification.

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