Sawmill Builds on Success of Cahaba Valley Pallet Mill; Cornell Industrial Scragg Mill Allows Company to Integrate Operations
Cahaba Valley: Cornell Industrial scragg mill allows Alabama company to integrate operations and build on the success of its pallet plant; lubricant system one key to success.
By Jack Petree
Date Posted: 3/1/2000
SELMA, Ala. — When Pallet Enterprise featured Cahaba Valley Timber Company in 1998, the pallet plant had become a showcase for the industry in just five short years.
Using a philosophy of hiring the best people they could find and providing them with first-rate machinery, brothers George and Jim Yocum began with a start-up manufacturing company employing a half-dozen people. It has grown to a business of 45 employees that produces almost 700,000 new pallets per year.
The partnership launched an associated venture that promises to be equally successful, Cahaba Valley Lumber Company. The sawmill business is being built on the same approach that made the pallet company grow so rapidly. "Our equipment suppliers are some of the finest people we know, and the Lord has blessed us with our employees," said George. "After some initial adjustments, the mill is performing well and is having a very positive impact on our pallet operation."
Both businesses are located in Selma a community nearing 30,000 people located in central Alabama. The pallet company serves a variety of manufacturers in the region, including paper companies, the automotive industry, American Candy Company, metallurgical businesses and others. With modern equipment supplied largely by Viking Engineering, Cornell Industrial, and Brewer Inc., Cahaba Valley Timber manufactures both block and stringer pallets.
The Yocums are the fourth generation of their family to make a living in the forest products industry. When they started the pallet mill, they were able to build on good supplier relationships with a number of sawmills throughout the South and East, and even Canada, in order to buy raw material. The company bought 4x6 and 4x8 hardwood cants and processed them with one of three resaw systems.
Almost from the beginning, however, the partners have had a desire for a fully integrated operation that would give them greater control of their business. Sawmills have closed and will continue to close in the future as timber supplies become more restrictive, George noted. To provide pallet customers with stability in supply and price, the partners decided to look into establishing their own sawmill.
Based on a feasibility study by Auburn University, George and Jim decided there was an opportunity for milling selective pulpwood size material. In the South, George noted, the supply of saw logs is threatened, and he expects those conditions to continue. However, considerable quantities of pulpwood are projected to be available. Much of the pulpwood is big enough for manufacturing pallet stock. Cahaba Valley made alliances with loggers, offering them a price structure that makes it profitable for them to sort out suitable pallet logs and bring them to its mill.
The key to the company’s log-buying strategy has been Mike Jung, who spent much of his career buying fiber for International Paper. Mike has had the knowledge and contacts to assure a steady supply of suitable logs to the new sawmill, said George.
The company’s approach of doing business, of recruiting top people and giving them what they need to succeed, was extended to drivers delivering logs. Special amenities are available for drivers when they come into the yard, and Cahaba employees make the effort to get them in and out quickly so they don’t lose money. "The personal touch is important," said George. "Not many treat the truck drivers well, but to us they are very important people, and we want them to know how much we value them."
Cahaba Valley buys mixed hardwoods for its new mill. About 80% of the logs is oak and gum; the other 20% is comprised of ash, poplar, sycamore, and other species. The company buys two types of logs. From pulp plantations it buys tree-length logs with about a 16-inch butt down to a 7-inch top. It also buys logs from grade sawmills that take out the butt cuts and saw them to Cahaba Valley’s specifications.
The Cornell engineering staff provided a detailed mill layout that combined the ideas of George and Jim with the experience of the Cornell sales personnel into a smooth flowing system.
Besides choosing Cornell to supply most of the major equipment in the new line, Cahaba Valley also relied on Cornell’s expertise in material handling and by-product handling to mesh the components together with a system of decks and conveyors.
Logs are unloaded off trucks in the yard by a Prentice 210 loader. A Cat 938 front-end loader transports them to a feed system of two decks that can be run independently. A Cornell cut-off saw cuts the logs to size, and then they travel through a Rens metal detector and into a Morbark 640 debarker.
The debarked logs are moved along on a 30-foot log deck to a Cornell two-saw sharp chain scragg mill to produce two-sided cants. Slabs are recovered by sending them to a Cornell two-saw slab edger that edges them for further processing. Once the slab has been edged, it is transferred to a Cornell three-saw end trimmer, equipped with electronic setworks, to be cut to size. Then the slabs are sent to a Brewer Golden Eagle three-head bandsaw to be resawn and stacked.
The two-sided cants coming from the scragg go to a Cornell 8-inch three-saw edger to be edged or edged and split, depending on the size of the cant. Cants processed through the 8-inch edger are not manually handled by the sawyer; they are positioned on the infeed table using transfer positioning chains built into the infeed table of the edger. Slabs that are reclaimed from the 8-inch edger are sent back to the slab reclaim line to be processed. Once edged, the four-sided cants are precision end-trimmed using a second Cornell three-saw end trimmer with push-botton setworks. After they are end-trimmed, the cants are stacked to be sent to the pallet mill for further processing into pallet parts.
The company has been surprised at the volume of material it has recovered from the slabs. Many scragg mills don’t do much with slab recovery, George noted, and Cahaba Valley was amazed by the volume of recoverable material. "We thought we might get 10 to 15 percent recovery, and thought that was pretty good compared to the other mills we’d seen," he said. "What we’re actually getting is 40 percent. That’s a huge uplift and makes slab recovery a big part of the profitability of this mill."
Because of the unexpected volume from the slab recovery operation, at first the mill was not able to handle it efficiently. The saw system could not keep up. The solution was a three-head Brewer Inc. Golden Eagle 2000 bandsaw using 2-inch blades. The machine can run at 135 feet per minute.
The sawmill also is equipped to manufacture cut stock. "We’ve installed a Brewer 6-inch double-arbor gang saw at the mill," said George. "That allows us more flexibility and acts as a back-up so we can continue to serve our customers if anything should happen to the lines at the pallet plant." Cahaba Valley Lumber Company is producing more than 10 million board feet of stock per year. George said the crew, under the supervision of mill manager Ronald Oglesby, is still learning how to optimize production.
The sawmill has had a profound impact on the pallet business, according to George, improving profitability while providing stability for customers. Because of concern about the long-term supply of cants, the pallet mill’s resaw operation was not run as confidently as the partners wanted. "To grow our operation we needed a constant flow of material at a competitive price," said George. "The new mill gives us the stability we need and gives our customers the assurance they desire that we control our own destiny."
The sawmill has allowed the pallet plant to operate more efficiently and profitably. Yield has improved because cants come to the pallet mill already cut to final size; there is no waste. Because the resaw lines cut material that is exact to length, the number of pieces of material that is processed can be increased while wear and tear on the machines actually is reduced per board foot produced. Of course, the company reduced freight costs dramatically when it started up the sawmill.
When Cahaba Valley’s operations were showcased in Pallet Enterprise in 1998, particular attention was given to the company’s new Brewer Inc. thin kerf gang saw. One of the innovations of the saw was the use of a lubricating system supplied by Empire Manufacturing Co. The blades of the gang saw are continually coated with the wood-cutting lubricant to keep them cool.
Cahaba Valley has been so pleased with the lubrication technology that it has expanded it to other saws and machinery. The lubricant is used on Brewer horizontal bandsaws (a two-head unit and a six-head machine) and a Brewer notcher. A lubricating system also has been ordered for the Brewer three-head, 2-inch bandsaw. The company also is looking at adding an Empire lubricating system to its new Cornell scragg mill.
The Cahaba Valley operations represent remarkable examples of how advanced technology can maximize production and enable pallet companies to supply first-class products to customers. George is adamant, however, about attributing much of the success to people — the people who built the mills, supplied the equipment, and now run the plants. "God puts us here in part to help people," he said. "We’ve been able to do that, and we’ve found that when you try to help people, you are the one who is really helped."
Machinery suppliers get a lot of credit for the success at Cahaba Valley, said George. He spoke highly of both the performance of the machines supplied by Brewer for the pallet operation and the service and support the company provides. In turning to Cornell Industrial to equip the sawmill, George said the Pennsylvania machinery manufacturer proved to be equally committed to ensuring the job was done right. "We had some problems with our material flow when we first started," he said. "They (Cornell) stood behind their work and went the extra mile to make sure our problems were solved. That kind of back-up is very important to a successful operation, and we appreciate it."
Another supplier that played a critical role in the installation of the Cornell mill was Bemco of Western New York. The Buffalo, N.Y.-based company buys used industrial electrical equipment, reconditions it, and resells it. Bemco, which previously supplied equipment for the Cahaba pallet operation, furnished the electrical components for the new mill, such as primary switch gear, distribution and motor controls. In conjunction with a local electrical contractor, Bemco also helped Cahaba plan the layout of the electrical equipment.
"Their service was impeccable," George said of Bemco’s role in the installation.
The Yocums believe in giving something back for the blessings they have received and the success they have reaped. When possible they try to hire disadvantaged or handicapped people who need nothing more than a chance to succeed. They also have offered jobs to convicts. Not every hire is a success story, George conceded, but when a prisoner uses the opportunity to turn his life around, it makes the occasional failures easy to forgot.
George and Jim are not content to sit back and simply enjoy the success they have achieved so far. Efforts to maximize production and increase the range of products is on-going. In addition, George said, the companies are investigating new opportunities. "We have a number of ideas in the backs of our heads that include building more mills," he said. "We don’t want to let opportunities pass us by. We believe that if you let a door of opportunity close on you, you’ve not only let that door close, but also all of the doors beyond it that might lead to even more opportunity. We don’t want to let that happen."
Based on the success that the Cahaba Valley companies have seen in less than a decade of existence, it is clear that the pallet industry has not seen or heard the last of these businesses and their innovative founders.
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