Mt. Valley Focused on Selling What Customers Want and Adding Value
Package Research Laboratory, Innovative Data Systems Key Partners in Supplying Heat-Treated Pallets
By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 3/1/2005
Mike’s father, Henry, president of MVF, handles administration of MVF and Henry L. Taylor Trucking LLC. Mike handles
Even with a great support staff, Henry stays quite busy. “You simply do not know what your parents do until they retire and you are filling the voids,” he said.
“We are doing whatever the customer wants and selling value-added,” explained Mike. “We will design and implement the best solution for the customer providing they are willing to pay a fair price.”
Special value-added design, features or services related to assembled wood products may include unique board spacing, mitered boards, heavy duty construction, chlorine treatment, fumigation or heat-treating. MVF often supplies wood packaging under federal contracts and military specification.
MVF manufactures pallets from both new and recycled wood with a strong focus on value-added markets. The company once built a single assembly so large that it had to be manufactured on the transporting trailer. It also produces pallets as small as 18x24, with a large volume of pallets being 20x24 and 24x24 ‘quarter pallets’ for in-store displays.
Quantities vary day to day, but remanufactured pallets account for a third of the volume. The processes of sorting incoming pallets and recycled lumber are critical in generating profits in the recycled pallet market, Mike indicated.
“We are literally doing just-in-time manufacturing,” said Mike, “not because customers want it, but because we cannot trust the customer to release the order. We do not go without a purchase order number. Sad but true, we have a $5,000 custom order in the warehouse that will probably end up being dismantled.”
The $5,000 custom order was canceled by a new purchasing agent at a customer that MVF has supplied for more than 30 years. “Business is different today,” Henry observed.
Situated on an 85-acre site in Biglerville, 12 miles north of historic
Henry bought the business in 1990. The industry soured, leading Mike to leave college in 1992. “It took all that three generations and an excellent staff could do to become the business we are today,” said Mike. “We were locked into contracts, and all manner of things went wrong, from lumber to labor. We have sold cheap and been hurt.” Mike now spends the majority of his energy focusing on ending the day with a dollar more than they started with.
The pallet mill operates two shifts a day while the sawmill operates one shift. The staff of 85 is all cross-trained and highly functional. The company has gone more than four years without a lost-time accident, a fact Mike is quick to point out. “We all lose when one of ours is injured,” he said. “People are our greatest resource. Our value-added
The newest value-added service at MVF is lumber and assemblies that meet export requirements by heat-treating. The company has long provided fumigated and chlorinated pallets, but the new heat-treating regulations are opening new doors. “Heat-treated assemblies are an easy sell, and we can actually make a dollar now,” said Mike.
MVF buys heat-treated material instead of heat-treating after assembly. “Flexibility and quick turnaround are key to our operation,” said Mike. “We simply do not have enough lead time to heat-treat after the order is placed…most lead times range from eight hours to 72 hours.”
MVF uses Package Research Laboratory (PRL) to provide third-party audit and inspection services to verify the heat-treating supply chain. PRL was researched and chosen by a major customer of MVF. “We normally have a hard time getting additional mark-up for value-added services,” said Mike. “In this case the customer chose PRL and offered us a 10 percent mark-up and an additional $1-$10 per assembly, depending upon footage.”
MVF has benefited from PRL’s audit and inspection services. “We bought some heat-treated material from
PRL has more than 75 years of experience in testing and inspection services for the forest products industry. It is accredited by the American Lumber Standards Committee (ALSC) to perform lot inspection and stamp authorization services to wood heat-treatment facilities and fabricators.
The PRL commitment to provide heat-treatment audit and inspection services is spelled out in a contract signed by each customer. The agreement emphasizes mutual accountability and responsibility and may be viewed on the company website (www.package-testing.com). Dave Dixon, president of PRL, signs each agreement.
Mike has had high expectations for PRL, and PRL has met them. “When I call, they answer the phone and actually provide assistance and answers, and they show up when they said they will.”
PRL is professional, he added. “You do not want an inspector that’s too friendly,” said Mike. “You want them to catch errors,” and that requires focusing on their work.
MVF uses a computerized information system to track everything from purchases of standing timber to orders of pallets. The system is key to tracking and segregating heat-treated lumber from untreated material. In 1997 the company implemented the Pallet Track® Wireless Sawmill system designed by Innovative Data Systems Inc. (IDS).
“We have our own in-house server and bar-coding system,” said Mike. “All of our systems are server-based and compatible.”
The IDS Pallet Track® Wireless Sawmill system runs 24 hours a day across all shifts in the MVF pallet mill and is used in the management of all functions. It includes wireless hand-held scanners that read barcodes and communicate with the server via radio frequency for real time information.
The employees are tied into the system by the Pallet Track® hand punch clock, which uses biometric data scanned from a person’s hand to eliminate the possibility of a worker punching in for another employee. It also integrates with the MVF payroll system.
MVF was a development and beta-test site for IDS, working closely with IDS president
A forester starts the sequence when purchasing the timber, or material can be added at any step to cover gate wood, purchased pallet lumber, used pallets, and so on. All incoming materials receive a tag and are re-tagged at each process until shipped. The system retains data throughout the processes and can hold information, such as grades and values, to allow analysis of yields, profits and trends.
MVF buys standing timber and contracts for logging services. “We have a market for any tree in the woods,” said Mike. “We prefer red oak, but we also do large volumes of all local woods, such as white oak, poplar, beech, hickory and pine. Most logs are brought in tree length, which required an additional IDS module.
The company’s sawmill was rebuilt with a McDonough super duty air strain double-band head rig, and the first board was sawn in early 2000. The new mill is the fourth one on the site. The other major sawmill components are a Mellot debarker, a Corley carriage, a Schurman gang edger and a Precision 58-inch chipper. The mill is equipped throughout with Mellot conveyors and also features a custom Reckart transfer-lowering chain deck.
The MVF pallet mill features a McDonough 54-inch center-split band resaw, a McDonough 46-inch super duty air strain twin-band linebar resaw with run-around, an L-M Equipment Co. Inc. Verticut package saw, a Paul model 14 optimized chop saw and a West Plains notcher. Waste wood from new material is chipped by a Precision 48-inch drop feed chipper for a local paper mill.
MVF produces all the cut stock it uses. “We were buying large volumes of finished cut stock prior to
Pallet assembly is as automated as possible. MVF purchased a Viking 505 in 1995 for its fast changeover capability. Previously all pallets were built ahead and stored in the warehouse. The company ran five Doig nailers and a Viking champion. “Capacity was not an issue,” said Mike. “We needed faster change-over and shorter completions.”
The warehouse building now houses pallet recycling operations. Pallets are unloaded, sorted and repaired or disassembled as best suits customers’ needs. Used pallets are dismantled by a Smetco bandsaw machine, recycled lumber is cut back on a Smetco double-end trim saw, and recycled stringers are notched by a Smetco single-head notcher.
The Smetco bandsaw dismantler was selected in part because MVF has used Smetco pallet stackers behind its Doig nailers since the early 1970s. “We like to think our suppliers will be in business when we need parts,” said Henry.
MVF dismantles primarily odd-sized pallets; the company has strong demand for all grades of 48x40 and many other standard sizes. Since the pallets are pre-sorted and are odd sized, no automation is used. All materials are sorted and stacked directly off the back of the dismantler.
“Some call it the ‘one touch’ system,” said Mike. “We constantly work with our people on time studies and find that it is best to stop a mess before it starts. So all material is sorted to thickness and useable length and stacked neatly by the first person to touch it.” Recycled lumber is stored and processed later as ordered on the Smetco double-end trim saw and-or notcher.
Custom pallets and assemblies and pallet repairs are done by hand with Stanley-Bostitch and Max power nailing tools.
The plant layout is constantly changing. “It is all customer driven” said Mike. “Originally all equipment was free-standing. Then we automated into very complex processing lines, which allowed for the minimum amount of people to process material from raw to finished goods.”
That approach led to three saw lines. One line was physically part of the sawmill. All cants were processed as they were produced -- from log to cant to finished deck boards, ready to nail. The second line processed cants or boards into finished runners, notched or plain, and the third line processed cants or boards into finished planed, center-split lathe or runners.
“This used the lowest labor possible to produce the finished goods, but it had some serious drawbacks as customers’ needs changed,” said Mike. “We needed longer lead times than our customers would allow. Safety and maintenance issues were high, in part due to our 24-hour-a-day manufacturing schedule.”
“Now we use free-standing equipment with high speed in-feed and out-feed systems. All equipment is now optimized for efficiency and quality control. Every machine we own has been modified.” The changes have been made to improve performance or quality of finished product and enhance operator safety.
MVF has a full-service maintenance shop, a circle saw filing shop and a band saw filing shop and employs six maintenance mechanics. The file shops are equipped with Armstrong saw filing equipment.
Mike looks for the “best quality, service and price, in that order” in buying equipment and supplies. McDonough is a key supplier with seven machines in the company’s plants, and the Mellot conveyors are integral to moving material. “The Corley carriage refuses to quit,” said Mike, and the L-M Verticut was pivotal in the function of the new production lines.”
The Viking 505 nailing machine also has been a key machine. “With the Viking 505 came my first computer,” said Mike, “and word processing freed me from hand-writing schedules and manual inventories. We entered into e-commerce, landing some big accounts that export pallets and are willing to pay a fair price.”
“Change is constant,” said Mike. “I hope all the changes are for the good so my young sons can continue on with the business -- and that the business is profitable enough for them to want to.”
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