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Conner Equipment to Launch Machinery Lines at Richmond Expo
Conner will unveil the first machines under its nameplate at the Richmond Expo and exhibit a high-volume pallet assembly system from Cape.

By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 4/1/2000

Conner Industries plans to make a major splash in the pallet and sawmill machinery industry next month at the East Coast Sawmill and Logging Equipment Exposition in Richmond, Va.. The company recently formed Conner Equipment Sales to sell new and used equipment and will unveil its first machines under the Conner nameplate at the May show. Conner will also introduce a high-volume pallet nailing and assembly system manufactured by a well-established Spanish machinery manufacturer and marketed exclusively by Conner in North America.

Conner Industries, a lumber remanufacturing company specializing in cut-to-order lumber for industrial customers, launched Conner Equipment Sales last year to offer new and used equipment. It also reached an exclusive agreement to represent Mecanica Cape, a Spanish pallet and sawmill machinery manufacturer, in North America.

At next monthís Richmond Expo trade show, to be held in Richmond, Va., Conner will formally launch the equipment line under its own nameplate and exhibit Capeís automatic pallet line, a tandem nailing machine that can assemble both block pallets and stringer pallets, including wing-type pallets. The Cape tandem nailing machine will be exhibited outdoors under a tent at the Richmond Expo. The machine will be fully operational and will be run at various times during the show.

Connerís presence in the forest products industry gives it a unique advantage as it moves forward to establish itself as a machinery supplier. In its 19th year in business, the company has seven remanufacturing plants in six states and continues to look at expansion opportunities. It has a trucking division and multiple sales offices. Annual production has increased from 125 million board feet in 1994 to more than 225 million board feet today.

Randy Karr was recruited by Conner to head up the machinery division as president of Conner Equipment Sales. Randy has 24 years of experience in sawmill machinery plus eight years of experience in the pallet machinery arena. The decision by Conner to enter the machinery business was customer driven, according to Randy. Many Conner customers indicated they were not happy with the level of service offered by equipment dealers. The cut-to-order lumber parts business is Connerís "bread and butter," said Randy, and the companyís management views the machinery division as a way to help its customers be more productive and more profitable.

Conner is no stranger to the machinery business. For decades it has operated its own machinery fabrication facilities and built about 80% of its own equipment and machinery, such as transfer decks, conveyors and unscramblers. Machines bearing the Conner nameplate will be assembled in Fort Worth, Tex. The company initially will focus on affordably-priced machines for labor-saving tasks, said Randy. "Weíre going to build machinery that we know we can build."

Conner views the machinery division as complementing its lumber remanufacturing operations and building on the relationships it has with both its suppliers of raw material and its customers. Conner will be in a position to cross-sell both its wood products and machinery to customers and perhaps either to sell or buy wood products as a result of machinery sales. "Each division complements the other," said Randy. "We all work hand in hand to take care of the customer. The customer is priority one." The feedback from Conner customers indicated there was enough interest in another company to supply heavy-duty, high-volume pallet assembly machinery to warrant entering the market, Randy indicated. "We think thereís room for another machinery company in the pallet industry."

Conner Equipment Sales offers the most comprehensive guarantee in the industry, said Randy. Both new and used machinery is sold with a 90-day, 100% guarantee. "We guarantee the machines we sell 100% as represented or you get your money back or a replacement," he said. In addition, companies that decide to upgrade machinery in the future will be allowed a minimum of 70% in trade-in and in some cases even more.

In turning to Cape, Conner teamed with a major European machinery company that already has a global presence. A family-owned business, Capeís pallet machinery has been exported to more than 30 countries.

Mecanica Cape was formed in 1967. Since the beginning it has focused on manufacturing machinery for processing wood. In 1970 it began to concentrate on pallet machinery and it became the first company in Spain to manufacture this type of equipment. Cape developed machines for processing pallet components and then began manufacturing nailing machines with continuous feed systems. It now manufactures complete pallet manufacturing lines designed for high-volume, heavily-automated production. Its systems offer automatic cross-cutting and feeding of blocks for block pallets, automatic in-line branding, corner cutting and chamfering. In-line painting and drying systems also are available.

Cape manufactures a carousel cross-cutting machine for producing pallet blocks, a horizontal-feed machine for cross-cutting blocks, a chamfering machine with automatic hopper feed, a notching machine with automatic hopper feed, a branding machine that uses either electric or gas, and semi-automatic nailing equipment. The company also offers a number of individual machines that can be used to customize a pallet production line: a stacker, a chamfering machine with continuous cycle, a 90-degree turn system, and hydraulic hoppers for stringers and deck boards. It also offers a multi-function station for finishing pallets. The system has a brander and automatically flips and turns the pallet to position it for cutting corners on wing-type deck boards.

Although there are currently no Cape nailing machines operating in any U.S. pallet plants, Cape has sold machines in the American wood reel industry. "They have some of the most modern, accurate, and high production machines on the market for the reel industry," said Randy.

When it looked at machinery companies to partner with, its most important considerations were the performance of the equipment and the companyís credibility.

"The quality of the Cape machinery as well as the productivity is outstanding," said Randy. "They donít cut corners, not anywhere."

The Conner-Cape relationship is a win-win for both companies, Randy noted. Cape was "so covered up" in European countries that it was not able to consider entering the U.S. market. For its part, Conner already had a sales force in place and a base of customers. "We had a ready-made situation," said Randy. Both Conner and Cape are making commitments to each other. Cape currently is undergoing an expansion to double its plant capacity in anticipation of the demand from Connerís sales and marketing efforts. Conner personnel will be fully trained overseas on the Cape machinery line to service the Spanish-made equipment. Conner is sending service technicians to work in the Cape assembly plant as well as to on-site locations of Cape customers. Conner service technicians, based in Fort Worth, are also well trained to service other brands of machinery.

Conner is investing considerable resources in marketing the Cape automated pallet line. "This is a machine thatís been needed in this country for several years," said Randy. Although the Cape automated pallet line can assemble either block or stringer pallets, it is particularly used in Europe for manufacturing Europallets, a block-style pallet. "We think a certain part of the U.S. pallet industryís future is in block-style pallets," said Randy, "and this machine is highly capable of running this type of pallet." In addition to the Europallet, Randy indicated that the Cape nailing machines can manufacture CHEP perimeter base pallets and other block pallet configurations. The standard cycle time is four and a half block pallets per minute, according to Conner; that time includes branding and corner cutting. With accessories, production can be increased to seven block pallets per minute.

The Cape automated pallet line uses bulk nails and has a staggered chuck system that can accommodate three different nail sizes at one time. Nails are driven by an air-over-hydraulics system and also are clinched. After going through the first nailing station, the pallet moves automatically to a flipper that turns it over so the top deck boards can be nailed at the next station. The line, about 80 feet long, has a stacker on the end. The Cape automated pallet lineís computer system has touch screen controls. The system also has its own programmable logic controls for self-troubleshooting.

The Cape systems are designed and built with a modular approach that allows accessories and other equipment to be added later and easily incorporated into an existing line. "It can be adapted to your specifications," Randy said. "If you want to come back in six months, for example, and add a brander after the second nailer, we can break the machine there, set the brander in, bolt it down, and plug it in. Thatís how simple it is." The machineís computer system already contains the software for all Cape accessories, he said. The Cape automatic block cutter can be added with a robot that positions the block on the pallet automatically. Cape also makes several different types of feeders for both boards and stringers.

Another advantage of the Cape automated pallet line is that it is made with off-the-shelf components that are readily available in the U.S. "All the parts can be bought locally," said Randy. "You donít have to come back to us for spare parts," although Conner will stock parts. "Weíre not in the parts business," Randy added, "and we donít want to get in the parts business."

A Cape line equipped with board feeders and stringer feeders requires two people to operate, Randy said. Adding an automatic block system would require one more operator. "You can run a complete line with four people, counting your fork-lift operator," said Randy.

Although the Cape nailing machines will continue to be manufactured in Spain and imported to the U.S., they will be priced below competitors, Randy said. For more information on Cape machinery or Conner Equipm rehrig1.jpg (16114 bytes)



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