Spliced Stringers Benefit McNeilly Wood Products: Plating with Eagle Metal Products Helps New York Pallet Supplier
McNeilly Wood Products: Using Eagle Metal Products connector plates and plating equipment has benefited pallet supplier serving the metro New York City region.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 6/1/2006
CAMPBELL HALL, New York – When McNeilly Wood Products added a new customer about three years ago, it began supplying the company remanufactured pallets. The new customer ordered significant quantities of stringer pallets that called for three 60-inch runners.
Within a short time, however, McNeilly ran into a problem. “We couldn’t produce enough stringers to fill the order,” recalled Dan McNeilly.
The pallet dismantling and recycling operations at McNeilly Wood Products generated a lot of used stringers that were too short for the customer’s pallet “but we knew they were worth more as a stringer than as wood chips,” said Dan.
He and his brother, Tim, were familiar with Eagle Metal Products and its stringer splicer, having seen the equipment demonstrated by the supplier at a trade show. The stringer splicer, using connector plates, splices together two shorter pieces of stringer material in order to make one longer runner.
The concept was “very attractive” for building remanufactured pallets with a 60-inch stringer, said Dan.
Customers readily accepted the pallets with spliced stringers, and McNeilly Wood Products has been incorporating spliced stringers into its pallet recycling operations since it moved into a new recycling plant nearly three years ago.
McNeilly Wood Products has its roots in a business founded by the brothers’ grandfather and an uncle in 1947, initially manufacturing wood crates and boxes. The business, later joined by John McNeilly, father of Dan and Tim, was based in northern New Jersey for decades. As young men, Dan and Tim earned college educations and worked for other companies before later joining their father in business. Eventually, after ownership of the company passed to them, they began to expand. They bought land and built a second plant in Campbell Hall, N.Y., located in the lower Hudson River Valley outside metropolitan New York City, operating two facilities for four years until consolidating to the newer location in Campbell Hall in late 1998.
Today McNeilly Wood Products is located on 10 acres. It has a 15,000-square foot plant, a 6,000-square-foot building for recycling operations (and some pallet assembly operations) that was added three years ago, and a new office building. The company employs 45 people in manufacturing and recycling pallets and specialty wood products for shipping and packaging.
The company has more than 100 customers across a fairly wide range of industries and is not overly dependant on any one customer or industry sector. It manufactures more than 300 different pallet sizes. About 60% of pallet production is new with the remainder recycled.
McNeilly Wood Products buys hardwood cants – which account for about 70% of its raw material – from sawmills in New York and elsewhere in the Northeast as well as some 4/4 lumber and cut stock from Canadian mills.
In the company’s main plant, a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle cut-up line remanufactures the cants into pallet deck boards and stringers. Other equipment includes a Hermanze rip saw, Brewer chamfering machine, Brewer notcher with Econotool heads, and Hazledine and Whirlwind cross-cut saws.
The company also has a Viking Turbo-Max nailing machine for automated pallet assembly. In a typical day the Viking is used to nail three or four pallet sizes, assembling about 1,500 pallets daily with Prime Source bulk nails. Some pallets and other products are assembled by hand with Stanley-Bostitch pneumatic nailing tools and collated nails.
McNeilly Wood Products has a Rotochopper machine for processing scrap wood and pallets into mulch and colored mulch. The machine was installed on an outdoor concrete pad in late 1998. The company recently added a Becker-Underwood mulch coloring system, which has enabled it to increase production of the Rotochopper.
Tim is company president and oversees production; Dan holds the title of vice president and heads up sales and marketing.
In the process of examining the use of connector plates and plating equipment to make spliced stringers, they also considered the performance of pallets made with spliced stringers. The use of Eagle Metal Products connector plates for reinforcing and splicing stringers has been tested by the Virginia Tech pallet and container laboratory. The Virginia Tech tests showed that spliced stringers were as strong as or stronger than the original stringer.
Eagle Metal sales representative Clarence Leising visited the McNeilly Wood Products facility to demonstrate the plating process, and they made some test pallets with spliced stringers. “We tried to break them,” said Tim. “The pallets broke, but not at the splice, so we were impressed with that.” The company has never had an issue because of failure of a spliced stringer, according to Tim.
“To get more usable stringers, plating was the way to go,” said Dan. It is more cost effective to plate two half-stringers to make a recycled stringer than make a stringer from new lumber, he observed, comparing it to a ‘combo’ or combination pallet that is a mixture of new lumber and recycled pallet parts.
“As long as the customer understands what he is getting, there have been no complaints,” Tim added. They had one or two instances where customers had a misunderstanding about spliced stringers.
The company uses plates both for splicing stringers and for repairing a cracked stringer on a recycled pallet.
McNeilly Wood Products invested in a stringer splicer from Eagle Metal Products. It also purchased a portable plater – suspended on a balancer — from Eagle Metal Products as well as repair tables. The company buys connector plates from Eagle Metal, too.
Last year the company invested in a Weinig S-50 optimizing saw, an auto-feeding cross-cut saw. It features a computer touch screen that allows the operator to program any size of lumber to cut from any length of raw material. The machine scans the lumber and computes the optimal lengths to cut. The operator station is 4 feet from the saw blade. “You just put the lumber on the deck, push the button, and prepare the next board,”
McNeilly Wood Products is using the machine to cut lumber and also to cut blocks for block pallets. The company already had a block saw, but the Weinig optimizing saw cuts blocks faster than the specialty machine.
The Weinig S-50 optimizing saw was not an easy investment decision, Dan noted. He had a difficult time justifying the cost when he could purchase a simple, manually-operated cross-cut saw for much less. In fact, they did not fully realize the potential of the new machine until after it was up and running in their plant. It is notably fast and easy to operate, they said.
The Weinig machine tracks how many times the blade has cut, how many boards have been produced, and other data. That information has eliminated a lot of time spent by workers who previously counted pieces by hand.
They feed it both random length and fixed length lumber. For one product requiring 2x4 spruce, for example, the machine can cut six pieces at one time. The machine runs a 20-inch cross-cut circular saw blade.
One of the most significant changes the company has made in recent years was the establishment of a new layer of management, Tim said. They created positions for three new supervisors for a total of four. “That has really helped us tremendously because now they take care of the day-to-day operations,” Tim explained, “and we’re freer to investigate new opportunities and make sales efforts.” Tim and Dan now have more time to spend on strategic planning for the business.
“We think that’s a big investment, and we’re happy we made it,” Tim added. Something else that has had a favorable, unexpected impact on the business was the construction of a new, 1,300-square-foot office building. The new office is not plush, but the brothers did have it decorated by a professional.
“The perception of our company by customers has risen tremendously because of this office,” said Tim. “It had nothing to do with the quality of the pallets or the price they were paying.”
When the new offices were completed, they invited several customers to come by for a visit. “It just changed their whole attitude toward us,” he added.
In one instance, the company was visited by a representative of a company it had never done business with before – a potential new customer. The company dealt with several other pallet suppliers at the time. The visit to McNeilly Wood Products was the last in its trip to call on pallet suppliers.
The effect of the new office environment on this prospect was remarkable, according to the brothers. “From the moment they walked in the building,” Dan recalled, the brothers sensed that all they needed to do was ask for the sale. “It was a done deal.” In fact, the customer representatives later confided that the new office environment definitely was a factor in their decision. The McNeillys were told they had the “air of professionalism.”
With that kind of response, now they encourage more customers and prospects to visit their company. “If we can get them in the office, we’re 80 to 90 percent home,” said Dan. When businesses visit their office, they realize, ‘These guys are professionals.’
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