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Commercial Lumber & Pallet Enjoys Growth with Subsidiary: Viking Nailing Machines Fuel Pallet Assembly at CLP, Priority Pallets
Viking automated pallet nailing machines fuel pallet assembly operations at Commercial Lumber & Pallet and new affiliate, Priority Pallets.

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 2/1/2006

BEAUMONT, California—When the time was right for Commercial Lumber & Pallet (CLP) to expand, president and CEO Ray Gutierrez went the route of forming a subsidiary. He launched Priority Pallets in 2000.

"Priority Pallets was established so that Commercial Lumber & Pallets could continue to grow," said Kathleen Dietrich, vice president of Priority Pallets and operations manager of CLP. "We needed (Priority) to be able to do more for customers." Expansion by the creation of a subsidiary enabled the company to obtain more business from its Fortune 500 customers.

Business growth and space limitations at CLP were the main reasons that prompted Ray to launch Priority Pallets.

CLP and Priority Pallets now employ about 220 people. CLP is situated on a six and one-half acre site in City of Industry, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. Its focus today continues to be pallets. Priority Pallets occupies a 15-acre site in Beaumont, located about 60 miles east.

Ray was hired by a previous owner of CLP in 1961. That owner required new sales representatives to train for six months in other areas, first in the yard driving a forklift and then in the cut-up shop. From sales Ray later became a part owner and ultimately bought the business.

CLP began as a lumber business in 1941. In 1975 the company moved from Wilmington to City of Industry and added pallet manufacturing operations, including a cut-up shop. "Ray’s vision to expand into the pallet industry" spurred the success of CLP, said Kathleen.

CLP manufactures pallet cut stock for Priority Pallets. The company keeps an inventory of 11-12 million board feet of lumber.

Pallet assembly operations for CLP and Priority Pallets are largely automated. The company has four nailing machines, three of them supplied by Viking Engineering & Development. CLP is equipped with two Viking Duo Matic® machines, and Priority Pallets has a Viking Turbo 505®.

"I was pretty much sold on the Viking Turbo," said Ernesto Castro, production supervisor of Priority Pallets, after seeing one of the machines at a Pallets West trade show in Las Vegas several years ago. "I really appreciate the speed of the production and the changeover time," he said. "Not to mention, I get the same production with three employees that would take seven or eight hand nailers to do. I can build a load of pallets and change over to a whole other specification in less than one-half hour." With its Viking Turbo 505, Priority Pallets can assemble as many as 2,000 pallets per shift.

Many features of the Viking Turbo 505 contribute to its speed. For instance, it has automatic board and stringer feeders, pallet specification storage, an electronic variable-drive star turner, and quick change-over features.

Above all, the service history Viking had with CLP earned it a place at Priority. Viking has always been "conscientious" about responding promptly to request for parts or service, Kathleen noted.

CLP buys mainly softwood lumber. The company also makes hardwood pallets, buying hardwood material such as alder, aspen and oak.

Cut stock and random length lumber arrives at CLP via truck or rail spur; the company gets as many as seven rail cars of material daily. Forklifts unload the material and put it in inventory or move it to the cut-up shop or pallet assembly area.

In its cut-up operations, CLP relies on two package or unit cross-cut saws. A Pacific Trail Exacta-Cut model 116-22TM package saw has a laser guidance system and is accurate to within 1/16-inch. The other package saw was supplied by LM Equipment, a model SPC 7. The machines can cut entire bundles of lumber to length at one time and are operated by only one worker.

A Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle 2000 band resaw was custom-constructed for CLP. The cut-up operations also are equipped with Brewco band resaws, a Baker Products three-head bandsaw system, a Baker two-head bandsaw line, and a Producto continuous circular resaw with 15 hp hydraulic roll drive. The company also has a double-head notching machine, a Newman Whitney chamfer, and drill presses.

All saw blades are purchased from the original equipment manufacturer and maintained by a local vendor. Trucking — pick-up of material and deliveries of pallets — is provided by contract haulers.

Priority Pallets works entirely with pre-cut pallet components for now. The plant is equipped with a Pacific Trail Exacta-Cut model 116-TMPA cross-cut package saw and a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle chamfer.

Investing in the Viking Turbo 505 for the Beaumont plant expanded the options there. "The versatility of the Viking (Turbo at Priority Pallets) allows us to do short and long orders," said Kathleen. The company manufactures a lot of GMA-style pallets but also does a broad range of other sizes, from 28x28 to 145x96. "We’re able to create what a customer needs," said Kathleen.

Priority Pallets also is equipped with a GBN Engineering Excalibur pallet assembly system, which is used mainly for long production runs. The company also has 28 nailing tables where pallets are assembled manually with Bostitch power nailing tools and fasteners.

Supplying customers with what they require for shipping encompasses providing pallets that meet international phytosanitary standards. CLP buys heat-treated lumber for export pallets, and Priority Pallets is equipped with a Temp-Air pallet heat-treating system. The Temp-Air system can treat 1,800 pallets per charge and is fueled by natural gas. Timber Products Inspection Inc. is the third-party auditor for heat-treated pallets.

Beaumont offers an industry-receptive community and more. "In Beaumont, we have a huge labor pool with a quality workforce," said Kathleen.

The two companies boast a committed workforce. A recent actuarial study for insurance purposes revealed that the average tenure of employees is more than 13 years.

The Beaumont facility has a 95,000-square-foot warehouse and 25,000-square-foot office.

Each plant is equipped with a grinder to process scrap material. Grindings and sawdust are sold. "At both locations, we are 100 percent recyclable," said Kathleen.

Respect is at the center of the guiding principle across all activities at CLP and Priority, said Kathleen. "Our entire corporate mindset is that we view our employees as our most important asset," she explained. Wages are competitive and benefits include health insurance, dental insurance, and a pension plan. Team meetings involve everyone in discussions of how to get the job done; listening is important.

A safety incentive program includes cash, prizes and individual recognition. "Safety is number one at both companies," said Kathleen.

Ernesto had good things to say about the company’s three Viking nailing machines. "We call them the workhorses of the company," he said. They are "quality" machines that have proven "very durable" and require little maintenance, he added.

"The Viking allows us to purchase bulk nails rather than collated nails, reducing our nail costs as well as labor costs (hand versus machine nailing). The Viking manufactures an excellent quality pallet at a very low maintenance cost. Any reduction in cost allows us to be more competitive. We also really appreciate the fact that being as safety is ‘number one’ at Priority, the Viking nailing machine greatly reduces the risk of accidents due to repetitive motion and lifting hazards as compared to hand
nailing."

The Viking Turbo 505 has greatly benefited Priority Pallets by reducing set-up time between production runs, which results in increased production, noted Ernesto. Another significant benefit to Priority Pallets has been the low cost to maintain the machine.

"One of our favorite features is that the machine can hold up to 40 pallet make-ups in its memory," said Ernesto. "And the operator interface screen, which allows us to analyze and find problems that may be occurring, has been a tremendous time saver in resolving any issues we may have while allowing us ease in repair."

CLP and Priority Pallets belong to the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) and the Western Pallet Association.

By expanding at the Beaumont plant with Priority Pallets, CLP was able to increase pallet sales. "Having the 15-acre facility allowed Priority to negotiate long-term contracts by maintaining standing inventory on the ground for immediate delivery," said Kathleen.








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