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Greenpak Takes Solution-Oriented Approach to Servicing Customers: Kiln-Direct Enables Company to Move Quickly into Heat-Treating
Greenpak takes solution-oriented approach to servicing customers; Kiln-Direct enables company to move quickly into heat-treating pallets for export applications.

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 3/1/2006

PARKERSBURG, West Virginia — Reduce, return, reuse. Those three words sum up the philosophy of Greenpak Inc., putting the company firmly among the forward-looking businesses of the 21st century.

Today there are 300 employees at Greenpak, and the company takes on the entire spectrum of challenges associated with transport packaging and distribution. Although 60%-65% of the business revolves around wood, Greenpak also uses metal, plastic and other materials in its products.

Greenpak, which has been a wholly owned subsidiary of GWP Industries Inc. since 1994, has its origins in 1948, when the company began with three employees as a manufacturer of wooden boxes, containers and pallets.

"Continuous improvement" is the hallmark of Greenpak, said Jeff Shaver, vice president of sales and marketing and special projects. It is not enough, he explained, to keep making more of the same pallet when design changes could improve it, giving the pallet a longer life and a lower overall cost. Working with clients to help them achieve the best use of their resources is an integral part of the approach of Greenpak.

With customers that include Fortune 100 companies and the Department of Defense, the team at Greenpak is accustomed to meeting precise specifications. It also knows that when a customer makes a request and Greenpak makes a commitment, the customer expects results – and on time.

When several major clients required pallets by a certain date that complied with IPSM-15, the international phytosanitary standard for wood packaging, Greenpak got going fast.

Representatives from Kiln-Direct made the quick move to heat-treated pallets possible, said Jeff. Kiln-Direct representatives visited the Greenpak facilities — six in Parkersburg, W.V., one in Florence, S.C. and one in Petersburg, Va.— to completely understand the company’s operations. "They helped us spec exactly what we needed," said Jeff.

Greenpak added its first two pallet heat-treating chambers from Kiln-Direct at Parkersburg one year ago. Both are fueled by natural gas. Some months later, two more were added, one in Petersburg and one in Florence. The latter two units are fueled by propane. Each pallet heat-treating chamber holds one truckload of pallets, which are loaded with a forklift.

"We were in the market for kilns," said Jamie Morgan, special project coordinator at Greenpak. "We liked the Kiln-Direct because they were turn-key." In addition, "Everything they promised us they would do, they did," he said.

"The cants we purchase are mixed hardwoods," said Jamie. Greenpak also buys pre-cut hardwood and softwood stock and heat-treated Southern yellow pine lumber.

Heat-treated pallets are now requested by 75% or more of Greenpak’s customers, so the Kiln-Direct heat-treating systems are used daily. The systems have proved themselves reliable, said Jeff. "Everything we wanted is exactly what we get," he said.

Timber Products Inspection is the heat-treatment stamp auditor for Greenpak.

First and foremost, the focus at Greenpak is on packaging and packaging for efficiency. The company’s goal is design for optimum performance, longevity and economical use of components.

"We are an industrial packaging and services provider," said Jeff. Greenpak strives to provide packaging solutions to give clients greater economy by reusing and recycling. "We are able to give them back money they’ve already spent," he explained. By refurbishing or reconfiguring for optimum and extended use, there are gains in "velocity" to each dollar invested. The multiplier is the number of transits a pallet makes.

The research and development efforts extend across all eight Greenpak facilities. Moreover, Greenpak has developed much of its equipment in-house. "We’re very self-sufficient here," said Jamie. "We can handle our own tooling." The Parkersburg plant is fully equipped for machine work and fabrication.

The Palmetto State plant is geared to producing specialty metal containers for shipping all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles. All the plants remanufacture and repair wooden pallets.

Greenpak produces many custom pallets, so automation is used strategically to complement jigs and other equipment.

In Parkersburg, the company uses hardwood cants for raw material and remanufactures them into pallet components. At Petersburg, the company uses new cut pallet stock or remanufactured pallet lumber.

"We have cant suppliers through Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky," said Jamie. The Ohio River Valley offers a diverse mixture of hardwood species.

The company has pallet repair and remanufacturing operations and dismantling equipment in all three cities. The company has Clary Hustler, Clary Sidewinder and Smart Products Inc. bandsaw dismantlers and Smart Products and MSI (now Automated Machine Systems trim saws.

At Parkersburg, Greenpak resaws cants of different sizes and lengths. The plant is equipped with a West Plains Resaw Systems Inc. cut-up line. Inline conveyors link the cut-up lines to send stringers directly to a notching machine, and conveyors also are used to collect scrap wood. Some scrap material is reclaimed and remanufactured into pallet parts while other scrap goes to a chipper or is burned, said Dave Fleek, plant manager.

"We produce a lot of non-standard packaging," said Jamie. "We’re producing short runs of odd sizes. A good deal is done the old-fashioned way," he added, with two or three workers assembling pallets manually with power nailing tools at a bench or table. For manual pallet assembly and pallet repairs, employees use Bostitch power nailing tools and collated fasteners.

Ten tables typically are devoted to assembling pallets by hand at Parkersburg. Pallets as small as 21x21 inches are often made, said Jeff. "We have gone as high as 208 inches."

The company has considerable automated pallet assembly capacity, too. The Parkersburg plant is equipped with two Viking nailing machines – one was custom manufactured by Viking – and also a Rayco nailing machine.

"The Viking was built specifically for us," said Dave. Greenpak wanted a machine that could nail pallets 60 inches wide and 90 to 100 inches long. Viking custom designed and built the machine. Greenpak also has a Viking Champion nailing machine.

Greenpak has done business with some pallet industry suppliers for many years. For saw blades, the company has relied on Country Saw & Knife, an Ohio-based company that provides pick-up and delivery.

Karl Russell is vice president of human resources for Greenpak. Job applicants go through a screening process, and new hires go through an orientation program that includes safety training, he explained. Novice employees are paired with a mentor.

The company also has an attendance awards program. "If we can keep them the first three to four months," said Karl, employees are likely to stay many years. Greenpak has a large number of employees that have been with the company for more than a decade.

Greenpak employee benefits include a 401k retirement plan with a dollar-
for-dollar company match of worker contributions. The company also launched an incentive program in February,
said Karl.

"We rely heavily on training and diligence of employees," said Jeff. The company strives for an environment where management and employees communicate closely back and forth with the goal of strengthening the business.

Jeff, an industrial engineer, brought to Greenpak 10 years of experience as a package engineer at a Fortune 100 company. Others bring backgrounds in business and management of all sorts.

"Everybody here has a very diverse background," said Jamie. That sort of wide range of expertise translates into the essence of Greenpak itself.

"We provide solutions to people as well as logistical management," said Jamie. "For many of our customers, we have on-site representatives. We manufacture many of our products with wood. However, our reuse programs and reverse logistics systems are what set us apart."

The efforts of Greenpak have been noticed. Among the many awards the company has won is the West Virginia Business Environmental Leadership Award for superiority in pollution prevention. Greenpak was recognized with the award in 2004 for keeping 37 million pounds of waste packaging material out of landfills in a single year.

Among the members of the Greenpak management team that spoke with Pallet Enterprise, Karl has been with the company the longest, 11 years. During his tenure, Greenpak definitely has moved into the arena of providing "global packaging solutions," he said.

"It is a more streamlined process if we sell solutions," explained Karl. "We’re problem solvers. We want to assist (customers) with their packaging needs so they don’t have to (undertake them)."

The solution-oriented emphasis of Greenpak has a positive effect throughout the supply chain. "We save our customers money and their customers as well," said Jeff.

A solution approach also means developing ways to deliver them. Greenpak did that, again in-house, with its Transportation Resource Utilization Control System, or TRUCS. "We developed the TRUCS program to help us increase our reverse logistics efficiencies," said Jeff. For instance, Greenpak coordinates the optimum movement of many partial loads, and TRUCS makes it possible. TRUCS incorporates barcodes readable via radio transmitters so that customers can login via PC or PDA and check on the whereabouts of their shipments in real time.

Greenpak is able to control logistics because its sister company, Gatewood Transportation , LLC, has a large fleet, 33 cabs and 125 trailers. Three of the facilities in Parkersburg have rail sidings.

All Greenpak facilities have warehousing. The company has a combined 2.5 million square feet of space under roof, an area that also includes the cut-up operations and the pallet and container manufacturing, remanufacturing and repair operations. With its eight facilities east of the Mississippi River, Greenpak can reach 70% of its customers with deliveries within 24 hours.

Parkersburg is a town of 34,000 residents. Fittingly enough, Parkersburg is located in Wood County. Florence is 40 miles northeast of Sumter in east-central South Carolina, and Petersburg is 23 miles south of Richmond.

Greenpak belongs to several trade organizations, including the National Wooden Pallet and Container Organization. "We’ve participated in unit load design and Pallet Design System classes at Virginia Tech," said Jamie, adding they have been very valuable.

When Jeff and Jamie speak of their positive experience with Kiln-Direct, they might also be seeing something of the Greenpak approach to business in the approach of their heat-treatment supplier. Niels Jorgensen, owner of Kiln-Direct (kiln-direct.com), gives customers the opportunity to save money by selecting their own components or even building kilns themselves.

Recently, Kiln-direct expanded its line of turn-key pallet kilns to include capacities from 300 pallets per charge in the short, junior version to 800 pallets in the wide, standard version.

"There is no doubt that our ‘turn-key’ model has been the most successful due to the easy installation and our on-site installation assistance as part of the complete package," said Niels. "Therefore we developed the junior version to help those companies with lower volume requirements to heat treat pallets in-house. This helps them save on the cost while improving turn-around plus customer service."

When faced with higher prices for materials, Kiln-direct had to choose between increasing prices for its kilns or becoming more efficient. Niels decided to move all manufacturing in-house to become more efficient and increase value to customers. There is a parallel with Greenpak, which has full design-engineering capabilities to assist its customers with the toughest challenges and maximize overall efficiency of their customers packaging needs.

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