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New, Bigger Scragg Mill Runs Strong, Boosts Production for Reed Lumber -- Missouri Company’s New Mill Is a Showcase for Baker Products Equipment
Reed Lumber: Missouri-based Reed Lumber is a showcase for Baker Products equipment, including an innovative de-duster design. The company’s new scragg mill is extensively equipped with Baker machinery.

By By Carolee Anita Boyles
Date Posted: 12/1/2008

SHIRLEY, Missouri — A catastrophic fire at any company can be a business-ending event. In the case of Reed Lumber Co., however, managers viewed the fire at their scragg mill three years ago as a sort of back-handed opportunity. Instead of wringing their hands about the loss, they designed a new scragg mill, installed mostly Baker Products machinery and equipment, and created a far superior mill to the one that had been destroyed.

            Reed Lumber is located in Shirley, an unincorporated village eight miles west of Potosi and about 75 miles southwest of St. Louis; it has good highway access, being situated about midway between Interstate 44 and Interstate 55. The company was founded by Ott Reed in the late 1940s as pallets began to be used in supply chains following their development and use in World War II.

            Ott eventually passed the business down to several family and non-family members. Fifteen years ago the majority owner wanted to sell the business and retire. It was purchased in 1993 by Carl Barnes and his wife, Lisa.

            “We’ve grown the company about fourfold since we bought it,” said Carl. “The large majority of the lumber we use is made in our own on-site mills, but we also manufacture some higher grade material and a whole bunch of residuals as the result of these mills.”

            Since he bought the company, Carl said, he’s given every operation at least one major overhaul, and several of them more than one.

            “We’ve broadened our sales reach by adding additional brokers and through direct selling,” he said. “We’ve also developed a number of new supplier relationships. And we’ve brought the company into the 21st century through technology, both in terms of information technology and in terms of sawmilling and nailing technology.”

            Missouri has abundant hardwood forests, although they are known for a preponderance of low grade, small diameter timber and not for many high quality saw logs. The timber is well suited to be processed into low-grade hardwood for industrial markets—like pallets.

            “What we say is that Missouri has more small diameter, low quality hardwood stems per acre than any other state,” said Carl. “Statewide there are about 14 million acres of timber.”

            Reed Lumber buys logs mostly within a 50-60 mile radius. “In that 50-mile radius around us, there’s over one million acres of forest,” added Carl. The forest is probably about 60% red oak, Carl said, including red oak, black oak and scarlet oak. Other hardwood species include white oak, hickory and sycamore.

            Reed Lumber is ideally located to take advantage of both the proximity of the natural resource and the markets to which it sells. As previously mentioned, although the company is located in a very rural area, it has good access to interstate highways, and it is close to St. Louis and can offer very competitive rates on freight to its customers there.

            “We can do just about as well on freight as anyone,” said Carl. “We ship into the St. Louis metropolitan market and central Illinois, central Missouri, even northwest and southwest Missouri.”

            Reed Lumber’s customers are manufacturing businesses in such industries as consumer products, groceries and pharmaceuticals. “Those three get a big chunk of our pallets, plus there are some industrial products,” said Carl.

            The company manufactures a wide range of pallets, from 32×32 to 54×54. “We can go smaller than that, and we make our share of GMAs,” said Carl.

            Reed Lumber buys “gate wood” logs by weight and also contracts for logging for its timber company. “We run a separate timber company called Shirley Timber,” said Carl. “Shirley Timber owns standing timber and also contracts for government timber.”

            Although Reed Lumber’s existing business model has been in place for many years, the company as a whole changed dramatically—and involuntarily—in 2005 when a fire destroyed its scragg mill.

            “We didn’t lose our nailing capacity, and we didn’t lose our grade mill,” said Carl. “So for about a year and a half, we bought a lot more cants and cut stock from other local mills . . . to produce pallet lumber and pallets while we were replacing the old scragg mill operation. We downsized our pallet production volume about 25 percent during that period, but we didn’t lose any key customers and managed to keep everything going. Some of our brokers shifted production to other area pallet mills, and that resulted in the 25 percent decrease in volume.”

            Carl spent time thoroughly researching the design and equipping of a new scragg mill system. “Our conclusion was that, for this to make sense, we had to replace the facility we lost with a substantially larger one,” he said. “The mill we lost was about 8,000 square feet. Our new facility is now 22,000 square feet. Our production is now three times what it was with the old mill.”

            Carl relied on Bruce Westerman of Mid-South Engineering Co. in Hot Springs, Ark. to design the front end and back end of the new scragg mill—debarking and waste material systems.

            “Tree-length debarking was something we didn’t know a lot about,” said Carl, “and Bruce did a tremendous job.”

            We purchased two used machines, the Nicholson ring debarker and the chipper. Both were acquired from Gene Dandliker at JEM Machine in Grangeville, Idaho.

            Mid-South steered Reed Lumber to S. Huot Inc., an equipment company located in Quebec, Canada, to design and build all the poured concrete structures and the conveyors, deck and troughs for the debarker.

            “Huot sent a team of nine guys down here for 11 days, only one of them whom spoke English,” recalled Carl. “The rest of them spoke French. They did an outstanding job with that part, and the equipment they made is first rate.”

            There were several factors that figured in Carl’s decision to contract Baker Products as the principal supplier of the new scragg mill system. Elmer Reed, the previous majority owner of the company, had a good, long-standing relationship with Baker and had run a lot of machinery for the equipment manufacturer. Carl had personally dealt with Baker, which had supplied Reed Lumber with several horizontal band resaws. “Then you add in that they’re an hour and 20 minutes away,” noted Carl. In addition, he believed it was advantageous to deal with just one single manufacturer who made a complete system and that was in sound financial condition. “That’s what tipped the scales for us,” he said.

            One important decision made was to configure the new mill to process tree-length logs. “The majority of the footage we buy comes in as tree length. We can take logs up to about 55 feet long down to a 5-inch tip. We still buy and can process already-cut-to-length logs, too,” he said.

            When the company is handling tree-length wood, if it has a good butt cut, the log may be merchandized to get other, more valuable products from the lower segment of the tree. “If we can get a tie log or a grade log out of it, we’ll salvage that higher grade material and send it to our existing Hurdle circle mill,” said Carl.

            In the yard, logs going into the Baker Scragg Mill System first are taken by wheel loader to the log infeed deck of the refurbished Nicholson 27-inch ring debarker. After the bark is removed, the log goes to the Baker 20-foot, 6-strand Log Infeed Deck feeding the new Baker Log Circular Slasher log merchandizer, which bucks it into short bolts, scragg block lengths, or the longer tie and grade logs.

            “For instance,” explained Carl, “if we’re cutting 40-inch lumber, that tree is going to get cut into roughly 43-inch scragg block lengths.”

            The blocks now transfer onto a 40-foot, 3-strand Baker Log Infeed Deck, delivering scragg blocks to the mill. The main scragg saw is a Baker Circle Tri-Scragg with twin circular saws that simultaneously remove two sides of the log. “The logs are fed by a sharp chain through Baker 48-inch twin circular head saws. Each center core comes out of the twin head saws as a two-sided cant,” Carl said. The two-sided cant continues directly to a waiting Baker Horizontal Bandsaw head within the Tri-Scragg machine to be split into a pair of three-sided cants.

            The two side slabs coming off the twin circular head saws are conveyed directly to a Baker Band Edger, which processes them into two more three-sided slab cants.

            All the cants move together to a Baker Band Double-End-Trim saw to be precision end-trimmed to exact length. It is at this point that all four 3-sided cants are ready to be resawn into deck boards or stringers. Resawing primarily is done with one of two Baker Horizontal Band Resaw lines.

            “One of the Baker lines is a Seven-Head Resaw, and one is a Four-Head Resaw,” Carl said. “Using thin-kerf blades, the resaws slice the three-sided cants into pallet cut stock. The boards from both Resaws go through new Baker M6 Sidewinder DeDusters.”

            “We spent a lot of time traveling around looking at other higher volume mills,” Carl said. “One of the things we concluded was that, at that time, there really was not a deduster on the market that fit our higher production needs, at least that we saw. To achieve the kind of quality we want to achieve, we must have dedusted lumber. So when we went to Baker, one of our requirements was that we needed to find a new way to get that done. And they did it with a new, higher volume sideways DeDuster.”

            “Their standard M4i DeDuster cleans boards individually, lengthwise. The new M6 DeDuster cleans the boards sideways. Instead of having to go the full length of the board, it goes across the width of the board, which is either 5˝ or 3˝ inches,” Carl noted. “Basically, to make that happen they needed a long brush, and so what they used were highly abrasive street sweeper brushes. It’s a really clever design.”

            Reed Lumber went through a couple prototypes of the DeDuster as Baker made adjustments to the new machine in order to get it feeding smoothly. Both Reed Lumber and Baker are happy with the end result. Reed Lumber has three of the new machines in its operation. And Baker Products now offers the new M6 Sidewinder DeDuster in a production model.

            Part of the reason Reed Lumber needs such high quality de-dusting equipment, Carl said, is its clientele.  Many of the pallets go into the food and pharmaceutical industries, which don’t tolerate dust on the pallets they use.

            “We really like picky customers,” said Carl. “We’ve worked hard to meet their needs, and visited many of the facilities where these pallets are being used.  We pay a high level of attention to everything.” This attention to detail has given Reed Lumber a niche in the market that few other pallet manufacturers anywhere can match.

            After the boards are dedusted, they singulate onto 24-inch tailing conveyors, also manufactured by Baker. Workers along these conveyors grade each board and stack them onto various Baker Stacking Racks.

            Baker has also recently developed a new prototype Automated Board Stacker now running at Reed Lumber. The system accumulates boards, stacks them on a pallet, and discharges the loaded pallet onto dead rollers for forklift pick-up. With the optional Pallet Destacker and Auto Pallet Loader, a loaded pallet is discharged automatically onto the dead rollers, and an empty pallet is automatically staged.

            “We’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well it has worked,” said Carl.

            Reed Lumber supplies heat-treated pallets for export shipments; it has a heat-treating system supplied by Better-Built Kilns. Some countries have been considering a new requirement that wood transport packaging would have to be made with lumber with no bark. “Even though we debark the log and there’s not a lot of bark to start with, a small amount of bark does get through the process,” said Carl. “One of the things we did was to make our 24-inch tailing conveyor a lot longer than it needed to be. One is 30 feet and one is 40 feet in length. We did that so that if we ever need to do a bark-free sort, we have the room to do it.”

            The finished, stacked cut stock is put into inventory or transferred for immediate assembly into new pallets.

            Folded into the physical center of the scragg mill system layout is another complete Baker Cant Cut-Up Line that is independent of the other machinery. This line manufactures pallet cut stock from longer cants coming from Carl’s existing Hurdle circular sawmill.

            “Here, we deal with 8-, 10-, and 12-foot pallet cants,” he said. “When they come in, they go onto a Baker 3-strand Unscrambler, which includes a package deck, V deck, and dealer deck. They go through a Baker 4-Head MultiSelect Chop Saw that cuts them to length, and a Baker Double-Head Horizontal Band Resaw Sizer and then into a second Baker Seven-Head Resaw and another Baker M6 Sidewinder DeDuster.”

            Baker Products designed and manufactured all the material handling conveyors on both systems, including all waste conveyors inside the plant.

            Reed Lumber has two Viking nailing machines for automated pallet assembly operations. “We have a Viking Turbo 505 and a Viking Duo-Matic,” Carl said. “The Turbo 505 is a computer-controlled machine, and the Duo-Matic uses mechanical technology. The big difference between the two of them is the set-up time. Right now, since our volume decreased after the fire, we’re using the Duo-Matic quite a bit less. Basically, we’ve always done 48×40’s on the Duo-Matic, and then everything else goes to the Turbo 505. We run it between 50 and 80 hours a week, often as much as two full shifts. If we need it less than that, we do something like 50 hours, scheduling everyone for four 10-hour shifts so nobody works more than 40 hours.”

            Besides the scragg mill system, Reed Lumber operates a sawmill. The sawmill consists of a Hurdle circle saw mill that has been in place since 1996. The Hurdle mill is used to break down longer logs after the bark has been removed by a Fulghum debarker.

            “The Hurdle circular mill has a stand-alone Corley edger,” Carl said. “The material that comes out goes to a green chain. We produce 4/4 grade lumber, railroad ties and pallet cants. In this mill we also reclaim slabs into pallet lumber using another Baker Double-Head Band Resaw.” Some material is also sent through a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw depending on the circumstances. The company has a Fulghum chipper to process waste material from the sawmill.

            Getting the new scragg mill fully operational and running at a profitable production level was a gradual process that took a number of months, adjustments and modifications, according to Carl. Now the mill cuts about 34,000 board feet per shift.

            Reed Lumber runs very rough timber, Carl acknowledged, and that certainly was a factor in the start-up time. “We run very small, crooked, knotty logs,” said Carl, which is tough on the equipment and makes it hard to get the equipment lined out and adjusted.

            Reed Lumber deals with a number of ancillary suppliers located in Missouri. It relies on Profile Technology for cutting tools, purchases Lenox bandsaw blades through Baker Products, and uses 21 Saw Shop and Douglas Saw Shop for circle saw service. The company purchases the bulk nails for its Viking nailing machines from Mid-Continental Nail Corp. and Garnett Co. “All of whom are great suppliers,” added Carl.

            The collection and processing of residual materials was thoroughly planned for as part of the new scragg mill system design. Scrap wood, such as trim ends and other material, is collected and processed into chips. All “clean” chips—chips without bark—are supplied to the pulp and paper industry.

            “What Mid-South Engineering designed for us is really a slick solution,” Carl said. “We have five Baker waste conveyors that exit the scragg mill and cant cut-up lines, which dump into a 109-foot-long Action Equipment Co. counter-balanced, vibrating conveyor. All wood waste winds up at a Precision 66-inch, 8-knife chipper that has a 250 horsepower motor.”

            Reed Lumber also has a complete dust collection system for saw dust and chip removal and transfer. It consists of two Phelps 75-hp fan blowers and a 50-hp fan blower. All saw dust is blown against a baffle in an open-ended building, and we load it out with a wheel loader,” Carl said. The saw dust is supplied to a company that uses it for raw material to manufacture charcoal briquettes. Reed Lumber supplies bark to companies that process it into landscape mulch.

            Reed Lumber belongs to the Missouri Wood Industry Insurance Trust, which is administered by the Haas & Wilkerson insurance agency in Kansas City. “The Trust has been an enormously good deal for the industry,” Carl said, “because we can control our own exposure.” The program provides safety engineers that visit the company’s facilities several times during a year. “That’s our main vehicle for managing safety,” said Carl. “Out of that come general employee safety meetings and employee safety training on specific topics.” The company also gives employees a financial incentive for safe operations, paying a quarterly bonus based on safety performance.

            Recently, Carl has been thinking a lot about the process that Reed Lumber went through to rebuild the scragg mill after the fire.

            “We’ve gone back out in the last three months to revisit some of the high-volume scragg mills that we looked at two-and-a-half years ago. Now that we have a better knowledge about what we’re doing, we wanted to see what we missed the first time around. We’ve learned a few things on these trips that have helped us with our throughput, but we haven’t come back saying we made any basic mistakes. There’s nothing we designed or laid out that was wrong.”

            His favorite thing about being in the pallet industry, Carl said, is being involved in an enterprise with a lot of moving parts.

            “I also think the people in this industry are extraordinary,” he said. “In the 15 years I’ve been in this industry, I think I’ve had one company not invite me in to see what they were doing. I was in the service business before I got into this, and I enjoy working with customers. I only half-joked that I’ve found a new sensual pleasure in life after I bought this company, which is driving down the road to get here and passing a load of my pallets going the other way. You know where it’s going, and you know what it’s worth.”

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