Companies ‘Winterize’ to Stay Efficient
Winter Preparations Are Standard for Pallet Companies and Sawmills in both the Northern U.S. and Canada
By Tim Cox, Editor
Date Posted: 12/1/2004
For a pallet company or sawmill in
For those companies doing business in northern climates, however, operating in winter comes with distinct challenges that require careful plans and preparations. Coping with the cold and snow also comes with added costs.
Pallet companies and sawmills operating in winter climates must take steps to ‘winterize’ their business before the severe winter weather begins so they can keep running as efficiently as possible and avoid downtime from equipment breakdowns.
At Isaacson Lumber Co. in
Isaacson’s personnel were starting to winterize the company’s operations in late October, when Bruce Bornstein, vice president of operations, discussed the topic with Pallet Enterprise. “We’re starting right now,” he said. “We start this time of year.” The winterizing tasks are made part of the regular work schedule of the nine-person maintenance staff.
“They go through all the hydraulic units, make sure the heaters are working,” said Bruce. Isaacson’s maintenance crew also services the company’s heating system. Boilers are serviced to ensure they are working properly to heat the company’s buildings during the heating season.
Forklifts get an oil change; heavy motor oil normally used in the summer is replaced with a lighter oil for winter.
“We make sure we have a supply of sand on hand” for sanding the yard as needed, said Bruce. “Generally, we button up any holes that have developed in the building over the years.”
“Obviously, you go through all the rolling stock and make sure the anti-free levels are up – that sort of thing,” Bruce added.
Like many other companies, Isaacson stores raw material outdoors. The company brings material inside the building to let it thaw for a day or two prior to cutting.
The main reason for trying to thaw the wood out first is for dealing with sawdust produced by band resaws. Both bandsaws and circular saws can cut frozen wood fine, but the sawdust generated by band blades tends to cling to the frozen material. In addition to thawing out the wood in advance, the company also switches to steel brushes on de-dusting equipment for the winter months.
Isaacson Lumber also has its own equipment ready for plowing and moving snow and sanding its yard. The company is likely to get its first big snow of the season anytime after November, said Bruce.
“Cold with snow is the worst,” he said. With freezing temperature, frost penetrates deep into the ground and can break water lines, he pointed out.
“We get our winter coats out,” added Bruce. “Some guys put their long underwear on and don’t take it off ’til spring!”
The company’s boilers are fueled with wood – sawdust. The sawdust is normally sold to a market but Isaacson diverts it for its own use during the winter. It saves the company on heating fuel costs although it represents a loss of some revenue.
At Pallet Service Corp. in
“Typically, we start about now,” said Robert Wenner, president of the company, discussing winterization in late October. “We can get snow any time now. Any time after November first, we can get snow that may be around until spring.”
“You have to look at your equipment,” he said, for winter-related maintenance. Hydraulic systems or anything powered by an engine must have a heater on it during winter to keep the oil or hydraulic fluid warm and fluid. Trucks with diesel engines run on a different diesel fuel in winter. Forklifts are checked for proper anti-freeze.
Building maintenance includes blowing out sprinkler lines to make sure the pipes do not freeze. The moisture content of compressed air is prone to freeze in freezing temperatures, so the air dryers are checked to ensure they are working properly.
“In the yard, we need a place to pile all the snow,” said
Pallet Service Corp. has a 20,000-square-foot building, but raw material is stored outdoors. “We try to bring it in one or two days ahead of time to melt the snow off the top and thaw it out,” said
Because of its good insulation properties, large bundles or packages of lumber may not completely thaw – even after being stored inside for several days in a plant that is heated to about 70 degrees during the day.
The cold temperatures and frozen wood do not impair cut-up operations, however. If anything, sawing frozen wood may help blades run a little cooler,
Removing sawdust generated by bandsaws cutting frozen material is an obstacle,
The freezing temperatures are tough on any equipment that must run outside,
Freezing temperatures can hinder pallet assembly operations,
“You can always tell how tough the winter was by how many sledge hammers we had to buy during the season,”
Between the snow and cold temperatures,
“I like snow,” he said. He has always enjoyed the picturesque quality of a new snow. “Now, I just look at how much money it costs us in terms of efficiencies it causes around the plant.”
“We fight it every time it gets cold,” said Dave Luscombe, president of North Star Pallets.
North Star follows a regular quarterly preventive maintenance schedule, and wintering the plant is included in the scheduled maintenance tasks. The company’s plant gets thoroughly readied for winter as does all equipment that functions outside.
Building maintenance includes making sure the overhead doors open, close and seal properly and servicing the heating system, which is performed by a heating system contractor. The company has an internal heater for its hydraulic tank to keep the fluid warm; company workers ensure the heater is working properly and also maintain the driers on the compressed air systems. Outside, North Star contracts for snow clearing and removal.
North Star heats its building with natural gas, so heating is a significant added cost during winter. The thermostat is set for about 60 degrees when the company shuts down at the end of the day.
The company must cut frozen wood during the winter because it does not have space under roof to bring in lumber and store it inside for a few days in order to thaw out. Frozen wood cut with a bandsaw must be cleaned with a de-duster, Dave noted. “It’s just time and labor,” he said.
Forklifts are operated on a thinner engine oil to make them easier to start in the winter, and they also are equipped with softer rubber tires for improved traction in ice or snow.
The overhead doors on the building are equipped with remote controls, and they may be operated remotely by the forklift drivers as they go in and out – which helps keep the doors closed as much as possible, keeping the warm air in and the cold air out.
Severe cold temperatures are more troublesome than winter snows, according to Dave. “For us, it’s the cold temperatures. We’re set up to handle the snow in an area like this,” he said.
“Minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit or below is probably the worst,” he added. The extreme cold is even harder on machinery and equipment, and they are more susceptible to breakdown – particularly if it is operated outside.
“We get used to it,” said Dave.
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