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L&R Grows in New Pallet Arena, Expands Services to Customers: Colorado Company Likes Rayco Machines for Nailing Pallets
Colorado pallet company has been busy expanding into manufacturing new pallets, adding new services for customers; L&R has added two Rayco nailing machines in recent years.

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 9/1/2006

DENVER, Colorado — L&R Pallet Service has grown in a number of important ways since 2000. The company expanded into manufacturing new pallets, which now account for 25%-30% of its total output. L&R also added new services for existing customers.

    So how does James Ruder, president of L&R Pallet, describe the scope of the company? “I usually identify myself as a manufacturer and a recycler,” said James. “Our overall emphasis is a pretty well-balanced approach. If it seems economically viable, we’ll attack it.”

    That, of course, is the short story of a company launched in 1973 by his father, Larry, who initially focused on repairing used pallets. L&R eventually grew to provide a full range of pallet recycling services, including drop-and-hook retrieval, sorting, disposal, pallet management and manufacturing new pallets.

    A member of the board of directors of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, James is familiar to many in the industry. He is also a founder of Premier Asset Logistics Network (PALNET USA). PALNET is a group of regional pallet companies that joined together to create a leading national asset management company in North America.

    One quickly gets the sense when talking with James that if something needs to get done, he gets going. That applies to all things, including equipment. For James, buying a machine involves the usual research and discussion with manufacturers and suppliers. It also entails travel to see the supplier’s machine in action.

    Before making a buying decision, James often visits other pallet companies from coast to coast to talk with business owners who already have the equipment. That’s what happened when he added his first automated nailing machine from Rayco Industries Inc. The Rayco Pallet Pro got the nod because it measured up to his expectations. “They opened a couple of plants for me” to tour, said James.

    Because of the access Rayco got him, James had the information he needed. “I weighed the pros and cons,” he explained.  “I’m a big fan of Rayco.”

    The Rayco Pallet Pro had several features James wanted. It uses pneumatic nailing tools, so it could be installed on a semi-enclosed slab and is not affected by the cold weather. It is “user-friendly,” said James, and repairs are “easier” than other machines. (L&R has a two-man, full-time maintenance team.)

    James bought a Rayco Pallet Pro machine in 2001 that is still going strong. In 2005, he added a second Pallet Pro. “We do everything on both machines,” said James. “They are great with recycled material – nail heads and all.”

    Each Rayco Pallet Pro normally is run by a lead operator and an assistant. Feedback has been good from employees operating the machines, said James.

    The Rayco Pallet Pro machines are used extensively. “They both run the full 80 hours each,” said James. “And then we sometimes run another 8 hours on Saturday. We rarely lose production due to the machines.”

    Changeovers on the Rayco go smoothly, said James. The L&R minimum for most runs on a Rayco Pallet Pro is 200-250 pallets. If an order is for less, pallets are assembled by hand.

    Colorado has little lumber industry, so L&R has to reach out a considerable distance in order to buy hardwood or softwood raw material. It buys hardwoods from Canada, Arkansas, Missouri, and the West Coast. Most raw material arrives by rail.

    L&R Pallet installed a new Pendu Mfg. cut-up line last fall. “I wanted a turn-key operation,” said James. The Pendu line of equipment includes a model 7500 pit unscrambler, a multi-trim saw, a CLB resaw-reclaimer, and model 4400 stackers.

    The Pendu CLB resaw-reclaimer is a versatile machine that gives L&R a great deal of flexibility; the saw can work with various types of raw material and perform three functions. The Pendu CLB resaw-reclaimer can self-center and split boards or cants up to 8x8 using one to three saws. It can resaw boards thicker than 3/8-inch and cants up to 8x8 by using up to three saw blades per arbor. Or, it can reclaim one to three boards per pass from heavily edged slabs, such as those coming from scragg mills.

    L&R added 4,900-square feet to its 30,000-square-foot plant to make room for one of its Rayco nailing machines.

    The Pendu line has changed things dramatically at L&R. The company’s previous cut-up operations did not have any automatic stacking capacity, and each piece of lumber had to be cut individually to properly grade it. “We were doing hand-stacking,” said James. “We were doing hand-sorting.” With the new Pendu line, the operator of the multi-trim saw can grade each piece without handling the lumber.

    L&R buys a large volume of heat-treated lumber. (The company has long done fumigating on request.) However, during the summer the company added a propane-fueled Converta-Kiln from Automated Machine Systems Inc. to heat-treat pallets. It took eight months for local officials to approve the kiln operations. “We had a lot of permitting issues,” explained James.

    Denver is a city of nearly 500,000 residents. It is the seat of Denver County as well as being the capital of Colorado and is located in the heart of the Centennial State. The location brings benefits and challenges to L&R.

    “Denver’s kind of an island out here,” noted James, roughly 600 miles from any larger city. “It’s different from back East, where another metropolis can easily be within 100 miles or less.”

    Aerospace, technology and agriculture are a big part of the economy in the Denver region. L&R customers reflect the diverse commercial base of the area, although it handles a large volume of GMA pallets.

    Staying in synch with its region is a challenge James takes seriously. “Most of our growth opportunity right now is with current customers — directly related to our customers’ growth,” he explained.

    The core product is always a pallet at L&R, said James, although the company also supplies crates to some customers. The company offers a wide range of services related to pallet sales. “Most of our business is low margin, high volume,” said James.

    L&R’s automated pallet repair line is designed for high volume pallet repair and recycling.

    The company already has penetrated its market for new pallets. “This industry is evolving,” said James, and he plans for L&R to change with it.

    To keep pace with the demand for new pallets, the company also added a Viking Champion 305 nailing machine two years after it installed its first Rayco. The Viking machine is dedicated to nailing long runs of the same type of pallet.

    About eight years ago L&R invested in an automated pallet repair system that was supplied by VF Automation, which at the time was a joint venture of Viking Engineering and Australian-based Flomat. The tiered conveyor system from VF Automation allows pallets to be sorted according to ‘ready-to-go’ pallets, repairable pallets and scrap pallets. The operations are equipped to mechanically remove broken deck boards or stringers as well as plating damaged stringers with metal connector plates. A system of key pads and sensors enables workers to track a load of incoming pallets so the company can determine how many were ‘ready-to-go, repairable or scrap.

    The pallet recycling operations are equipped with three MSI (now Automated Machine Systems) bandsaw dismantlers and a National Pallet bandsaw dismantler. Each dismantler is operated by one worker to disassemble pallets in order to recycle usable lumber.

    The recycled components are cut to length on three Pallet Repair Systems TrimTrac trim saws – two double-end trim saw machines and a single-end machine.

    The company does all its own trucking within a 200-mile-radius. Just-in-time delivery is the focus.

    When James was growing up, he did not expect to join his father in business. That all changed. “I love it,” he said. “I’m still thrilled.”

    James continues to benefit from his father’s input. Larry is semi-retired. “He’s still involved daily, on a limited basis,” said James. Also working in the business is James’ wife, Cari, who does accounts payable.

    James planned to go to medical school after earning his degree in biology and neurobiology at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. When visiting prospective medical schools, he decided to stop in and chat with another CSU alumnus. “I made a call at ‘Mark’ (Marshall) White at Virginia Tech,” said James. At the time Mark was director of the Virginia Tech pallet laboratory; now is director of the Virginia Tech Center for Unit Load Design. James credited his visit with Mark with changing his perspective on the pallet industry.

    When he became acquainted with the research Mark was doing, he got hooked on pallets. “I started re-evaluating,” he recalled. James was intrigued that a lab existed to study pallets, and he was encouraged by Mark, who told him the pallet industry could be a promising career.

    “It was 1993 when I actually committed myself to the business,” said James. “My Dad had put in a good foundation.” Building on that foundation, James has been able to widen distribution and accelerate growth; the expansion into new pallet manufacturing was launched about six years ago.

    When James takes time away from work, his interests are wheels and speed. “I drag race,” he said. He has a 1963 Corvette that does 170 mph. “I like to ride Harleys,” he added, and has been to Sturgis, South Dakota for the annual Harley-Davidson motorcycle rally.

 The Rayco Pallet Pro put the new pallet manufacturing operations on solid footing. “I would buy a Rayco again and again,” said James. Virginia-based Rayco proved very responsive as a supplier, he added. “I’m very happy with them.”

    Rayco has an engineering staff, and they consult with customers in order to provide custom or modified equipment if needed.

    The Rayco Pallet Pro has an automatic stringer feed as well as an automatic flipper to turn the pallet into position
for nailing the top deck. Finished pallets are stacked automatically. Heavy-duty construction makes the machine a real workhorse.

    With its pneumatic nailing tools driving collated fasteners, the Rayco Pallet Pro can assemble up to 1,000 pallets per day. The machine can be changed over quickly to nail a different pallet size or configuration.

    The unpredictability of the pallet industry makes it an ongoing challenge, said James. “You have to continually evolve,” he explained. “With the emergence of rental programs and national programs, you have to be involved.” One way to partner with other pallet companies to provide that kind of service is through networking in such organizations as the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, he noted.

Rayco Offers Collated, Bulk Nailers

   Rayco Industries, based in Richmond, Va., manufactures nailing machines and other equipment for the pallet industry. The company also provides custom fabrication services.

   Rayco’s pallet division manufactures five models of nailing machines. The simplest model, the Pallet Buddy, is a nailing station that consists of an adjustable, slanted jig used to assemble pallets with a pneumatic nailing tool. The finished pallet is automatically ejected and stacked.

   One of the company’s most popular nailing machines is the Pallet Pro, which uses pneumatic nailing tools and collated fasteners. The machine requires one operator and has a typical cycle time of 20-30 seconds, according to Rayco. It features an automatic stringer feeder, automatic flipper to turn the pallet over, and an automatic stacker.

   The Rayco Pallet Pro 2000 is a high performance, high production nailing machine that uses bulk nails instead of collated fasteners. Like the Pallet Pro, it requires only one operator and has a typical cycle time of 20-30 seconds, and the Pallet Pro 2000 also features an automatic stringer feeder, automatic flipper and automatic stacker.

  For more information, contact Rayco Industries at (800) 505-7111 or visit the Web site at www.raycoindustries.com.

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