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Stapling from Coils of Wire -- An Option You May Have Overlooked
Two Companies in North America Manufacture Stitching Machinery

By Ed Brindley, Ph.D., Publisher
Date Posted: 11/8/2004

I can remember when I learned nails are manufactured from coils of wire. I watched cold headers cut and form close to 1,000 nails a minute, marveling at the speed of production. During the first machinery show after that tour, I was discussing nails with a pallet manufacturer who was likewise surprised to learn that nails are manufactured from continuous coils of wire. He thought they were individually forged in molds. It seems kind of silly to me when I think back, but fasteners have rapidly become something that pallet people can no longer take for granted.

            If asked about fastening options, many pallet people would respond that they can manufacture products using either bulk nails in nailing machines or collated nails or staples using hand tools. Many may not be very familiar with the concept of making staples on the fly during the assembly process.  This article focuses on the fastening concept of manufacturing crates, pallets, containers, mats, etc. from continuous coils of wire. For the purpose of this article, the stapling machinery discussed here is identified as stitching machinery. The material here is elementary, but it should provide a starting point to better understand the stitching concept.

            Two companies in North America, Fastening Technologies Company (FASTEC) and Stapling Machines Company (SMC), manufacture stitching machinery that will assemble wirebound containers, wooden pallets, wooden containers, and cable reels by cutting staples as they are used in the manufacturing process. Corali, an Italian nailing machinery manufacturer,  makes stitching machinery, but it no longer has a North American marketing thrust for its stitching machinery.

 

History

            Tim Catton of SMC shared with us, “The principle of stapling/stitching with regard to wirebounds goes back to the mid-to-late 19th century. Box manufacturers at the time theorized that lumber thickness and weight determined the strength and efficiency of a box. However, thinner lumber used in boxes of balanced construction, that were properly assembled, made for less expensive and stronger boxes. If a metal wire tie or strap were used as reinforcement, even thinner lumber could be used without sacrificing strength or efficiency. With that came the wirebound box.”

            As a boy, I recall that wirebounds were commonplace. Virtually all fresh produce was shipped in them, as well as many meats and other grocery items. After being emptied, wirebounds were available for the taking at the corner grocery store; they made great material for neighborhood forts.

            Wirebounds became less common as corrugated containers replaced them. Many other wooden containers, such as drink cases and milk cases, became less common as well as our lifestyle changed. Wooden pallets became much more common, as did corrugated boxes of all sizes and configurations.

            Wirebounds boxes are frequently used in industrial and military applications as well, particularly in shipping heavy products and machinery. Assembly parts, heavy machinery, finished vehicles, raw materials, appliances, and agricultural products just scratch the surface of the products that utilize wirebound containers for shipment.

            Stapling Machines Co. started in 1906 as the Babcock Box Company. Through mergers and consolidations, the company grew, changed its name in 1916 to Wirebound Patents Company and moved from Chicago to Rockaway, New Jersey in 1920. It continued to grow, changed its name to Stapling Machines Co. in 1928, and became the world’s largest manufacturer of wirebound box making machinery.

            For most of its existence, SMC leased its machinery instead of selling it. That way it was able to control dedicated market regions for its customers. In the mid 90s, SMC changed its policy and starting selling its stitching machinery. SMC attended its first Richmond Show in 1996, became active in the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association in the 2000s, and became an active promoter of its products and the stitching concept in the last several years.

            FASTEC is another manufacturer of stitching machinery and promotes wooden products manufactured with stitched staples. FASTEC has taken the technology of using bulk wire to make staples and moved over into the pallet industry. FASTEC introduced the U-Nailer pallet assembly system at the Richmond Expo this past June.

When corrugated containers appeared on the scene, wirebounds did not disappear, but discarded wirebound boxes did become less common. The wooden box and container industry shrunk while the wooden pallet and corrugated container industries developed. But wirebounds did not disappear. Some people in our industry believe that wirebounds and wooden containers are holding their own and show promise for renewed acceptance in the future.

            Why might wooden containers regain some market share? Versatility is certainly one of the most important reasons. Reasonable cost and strength are others.

            No matter how strong a case one might make for stitched wooden products, a very important issue has stood in the way of their use – customer acceptance. When wirebound products disappeared from the consumer’s view-line, people were naturally less likely to request them. Thus, the container and pallet industries were less likely to include them in their product lines and market them to customers. That may be changing, and it is important that readers be aware of the existence and potential of stitched products.

 

Stitching Benefits

            Nail prices have gone significantly higher since late in 2003 and are reaching for even higher levels at the time of this article. Maintaining nail inventories has become more costly, and it may be more difficult in a tight nail supply market. Using large spools of wire, inventories of stitching wire can be limited to just a few wire sizes. Using finished nails, inventories may require a number of different wire diameters, nail lengths, point types, etc. Thus, using spools of wire can be somewhat easier and potentially less expensive to inventory. A pallet company can decide on point style and fastener length just prior to manufacturing without having to be too concerned about diversified inventories. Wooden spools and cable drums can be manufactured from the same continuous spools of wire.

Bob Dickinson of FASTEC said, “With our system, you can go from one length of staple to another by changing out the feed wheel and cutters. This helps to eliminate carrying multiple nail lengths in the same gauge.”

            In addition to fastener versatility, wooden containers are typically custom designed to meet unique customer demands. A SMC booklet, entitled “Wirebound - Versatile Economical Efficient,” states, “Containers ARE custom-designed to fill a particular need. Not a haphazard combination of wood, fiberboard and wire, the structure is engineered, designed and pre-tested to assure maximum container performance under specific conditions for a minimum expenditure of time and money.”

            Because they are custom designed and manufactured using flexible wood and wire materials, stitched wooden products can be manufactured to fit an almost limitless list of needs. Changing outside dimensions, varying the number and thickness of components, allowing for two-way or four-way entry pallets and container bases are just a few examples of the versatility involved. Wirebounds can be knocked down, and stitched wooden products can be stored outside if desired.

            The spacing between wirebound side panels and in wooden containers allows for better air flow, an asset in cooling, and can be beneficial for washing products while in the container.

            Bob stated, “Wire is ergonomically beneficial to machine operators. Based on an 84 nail/staple pallet, operators would need to lift and dump 24 boxes of nails during an eight hour period if they build 2000 pallets. The carriers have 1500 lbs. of wire and would last approximately seven production days. I believe that would work out to about 3.5 tons (7000 lbs.) of nails that the operators would have to handle in a conventional nailing system.”

            I had failed to consider the time and effort involved in keeping nail pans full on a pallet nailing system. Spools of wire offer some obvious ergonomic advantages, as well as time savings.

            Tim said, “SMC machinery provides more precise placement of staples, resulting in a stronger joint and fewer staples being used when compared to using pneumatic hand tools. This results in a lower fastener cost. In addition, making your own staples from wire coils is cheaper than using bulk or collated nails and staples.”

            Speed is always a consideration. Stitching on the fly equipment draws wire from large spools of wire, called carriers. The wire is drawn through feed housings and delivered to the stitchers, where it is cut, formed, driven and clinched in the form of staples – all in one motion. Tim indicates that this wire feeding process combines with continuous conveyor travel to increase production and reduce the labor cost per piece.

            Staple wire is not as large as the wire used in most nails, which may help reduce wood splits. When the staple is driven and its crown captures the material, it reduces the number of pull throughs.

            Since pneumatic hand tools are not used, stitching avoids any problems related to pneumatics and hand tool maintenance down time.

            At least in theory, wire coils should be a better value than finished nails. Actual price differences can shift in a moving market like the one being experienced at this moment.

            Any reader who wants more information on the comparison between nails and staples might want to contact the Virginia Tech Sardo Pallet Laboratory by calling Ralph Rupert at 540/231-7106.

            More information on the machinery from SMC and FASTEC is provided below.

 

 

FASTEC

            FASTEC was formed about 2000 and is a division of Leggett and Platt, which is known as a wire supplier. FASTEC’s line of stitching machinery includes pallet and mat assembly systems.

The FASTEC ‘U-Nailer’ pallet assembly system is designed to manufacture from three to eight stringer pallets per minute with three operators. The system has self diagnostics with a touch screen control panel at each of the two stitching machines. It can store pallet data for up to 50 pallets and troubleshoot over the modem. The system forms either blunt or clinch point fasteners from 1500 lb. spools of wire. The stringer hoppers hold up to 22 stringers each.

The FASTEC MF Series mat fastening machine is a versatile machine that can build mats, appliance bases, fence panels, toppers, bases, crating side panels, box panels, and block pallet top decks. A programmable controller is used to control staple patterns. Adjustable stringer and deck board feeders place lumber as desired. The MF machine can manufacture wooden mat products from 24x24 up to 60x72 using 14, 15, and 16 gauge wire staples from 5/8-inch through 2 inches.

            The FASTEC block attacher can manufacture from 200 to 500 block stringers an hour with 2, 3, or 4 blocks per stringer. It can assemble a variety of block sizes with 14 gauge staples to stringer boards that vary from 24 inches to 60 inches in length.

            For additional information on the FASTEC machinery line, contact Bob Dickinson at 973/702-0509 or 866/248-3995.

 

SMC

            Stapling Machines Co. (SMC) has been known for its wirebound systems and stitching equipment/technology for close to 100 years. SMC introduced its new economical TCB wood fastening unit at the Richmond Show in June 2004. It is engineered to manufacture tops and bases, crating panels, cleated boxes and bins and returnable/re-usable pallet containers.

            The TCB is a single operator machine with a small footprint that incorporates a reciprocating tray. It was designed for quick change-over, easy set-up and automatic stacking. SMC promotes the TCB as an affordable alternative to hand guns and jigs and having over a 120 unit per hour capability.

            In addition to the new TCB unit, SMC for years has manufactured hi-volume Top and Base stitching machines that not only support the wirebound industry but produce a wide range of value-added wood products as well. These machines are capable of producing 200-600 units per hour. Staple patterns on all SMC equipment are controlled with programmable controls. Stitching heads are available in 14, 16, 18 and 20 gauge wire for staple lengths from 5/16-inch to 1-7/8 inches.

            SMC has supported the crate and container industry for decades by manufacturing box assembly equipment and closing tools. They also distribute a variety of closure hardware and accessories.

            For more information on the SMC machinery and product line, contact Tim Catton at 973-627-4400, ext. 230, or 800-432.5909.








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