Indiana Company Blends Business Smarts, Sophistication, Technology: Trace Equipment Supplies Four Machines to Boost Used Lumber Recovery
Trace Equipment supplies four Run-A-Gade pallet disassemblers, set up in unique configuration, to boost recycled lumber recovery at Indiana Company.
By April Terreri
Date Posted: 1/1/2009
The ISO-9001-2000-certified company operates three separate business units engaged in manufacturing new pallets, recycling pallets, and pallet and container management.
The company began operating as Universal Pallet Supply in January 2008 after a minority-owned private investment group purchased the assets of Global Group Inc. and restructured the business.
“Global Group, founded in 1999, was a pallet company that was doing well, but they were at a point where they needed a new management team,” said Win Linder, 47, chief development officer for Universal Pallet Supply.
In its first year, Universal Pallet Supply achieved significant growth despite the sluggish economy. “We focused on running with the base that Global Group had established and expanding upon that here in the
Technology is a big part of Universal Pallet Supply’s success. The company uses Innovative Data Systems’ Pallet Track® in both the recycled pallets and container management divisions. Automated Machine Systems’ PalMate™is used in the pallet manufacturing division. Both software programs integrate to provide real-time information for better data collection, which leads to more informed, better decision-making by managers.
“Pallet Track handles data collection on the floor, sending the data to PalMate, which is our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system,” explained Jim Honey, director of information systems. The PalMate program is used to perform purchase orders, scheduling and shipping functions, added Jim, who has a bachelor’s degree in information management systems and holds six certifications as a Microsoft Certified Professional.
“We are still in the implementation stage,” added Rick Willis, general manager of the new pallets division. “Our goal is to be paperless out on the floor. We have a series of (Innovative Data Systems) kiosks throughout the floor that help us track inputs, outputs, costs, labor, and yields. We track every point along the production process, which helps us be more efficient.” Rick has a bachelor’s degree in management and marketing.
The company operates three plants for new pallet production, pallet recycling and container management. All the facilities are tied into a virtual private network (VPN), and a voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) is used to communicate between plants.
Universal Pallet Supply employs about 180 people. Full-time employees are eligible for medical, dental and disability insurance and a 401(k) retirement plan. The staff includes five full-time sales representatives and several part-time sales personnel.
Universal Pallet Supply operates a fleet of 10 semi-trailer trucks, two 28-foot-long straight trucks, 150 van trailers and several flatbed trailers, and it employs 10 full-time drivers.
High-Volume Pallet Dismantling
Universal Pallet Supply serves a wide range of manufacturing industries, including automotive, construction, and groceries, within a radius of about 250 miles. It supplies pallets to Fortune 500 customers that require four to 11 trailer-loads per week and other customers that buy as few as 100 pallets a month.
New pallets account for about 60% of the company’s revenues, followed by recycled pallets at 25% and container management, 15%.
“Our plant is set up for handling large-volume runs, but we also operate individual lines that can handle custom units up to any size,” said Charles, who is also responsible for the company’s product quality and safety programs.
Recycled Pallets Division
One of the unusual aspects of the company’s pallet recycling operations is that it runs four Run-A-Gade bandsaws dismantling machines, which were supplied by Trace Equipment, set up in tandem for improved efficiency.
“We put a lot of thought into this system,” said Win. “We looked at a lot of other manufacturers before we decided that Run-A-Gade machines were the best out there for our application. Mona Tracy (of Trace Equipment) visited us several times and showed us a lot of different applications, and she helped us design some of the work flow and come up with this configuration.”
There are some other pallet recycling businesses that are operating two Run-A-Gade machines in tandem, according to Win, but none is running four. “We knew we wanted to run four saws,” he said. “The only way to do that was to run them in tandem on one line or run two saws in tandem with each other and run two separate lines.”
The company wanted to maximize production of recycled lumber and do it in as compact a space as possible, so they decided this innovative configuration made the most sense. “Mona was very excited when we told her we wanted to give this idea a try,” Win said.
The Run-A-Gade machines were attractive to Universal Pallet Supply for several reasons. “They use a heavier gauge sheet metal as well as a heavier duty 15 horsepower, three-phase motor for more power,” explained Win. “The larger, 25-foot-4-inch blade cuts better for us and lasts longer than the standard blades we use.” The machine runs the blade at a speed of 4,500 feet per minute and can dismantle pallets up to 60 inches. “The conveyor levers and the pneumatic blade tensioner are right in front and are easily accessible, so the machine is very ergonomically designed and operator friendly,” Win added.
Mona was very helpful in explaining the pros and cons of various equipment he was researching, according to Win, whether or not she represented the manufacturer. “She set up meetings for me at some of her other customers so I could see this equipment in action. From the moment I saw how they operated, I knew this was the way to go.” He was particularly impressed by the rugged construction and durability of the Run-A-Gade machines.
Working with Mona and her business was a successful experience for Universal Pallet Supply, and the company plans to seek out her assistance and advice as it continues to grow. “She has been in this industry for a number of years, and she is extremely knowledgeable about the machinery,” noted Win. “She is also very choosy about which machines she will sell.”
In the company’s pallet recycling operations, there are four docks to receive inbound pallets. At a staging area, pallets go through an initial sort, and they are designated either for grinding or recycling operations. Pallets to be recycled are loaded onto a 250-foot oval conveyor system.
“We developed this design in conjunction with AMS,” explained Win. The circular conveyor system enables the company to sort pallets quickly while minimizing labor. Eight people work in this area, including the forklift operator. Workers are on both sides of the conveyor, sorting out the 30-60 sizes the company stocks. The pallets are pulled off the conveyor, sorted by size and grade, and stacked by hand. Ready-to-go pallets are put into inventory and the other pallets are moved to pallet repair or lumber recovery operations.
The pallet tear-down area is about 20 feet away. As the pallets are dismantled on the Run-A-Gade machines, the deck boards fall down a chute onto a 24-inch wide conveyor belt.
“The standard on that system is an 18-inch-wide belt, but we had it widened because we knew we would be running four saws down the same system,” said Win. “Trace Equipment had these custom built for us.” Since the machines are in tandem, the chutes dropping the used lumber onto the conveyor are staggered so all the boards are not dumped onto the conveyor at one place.
The used deck boards are conveyed to a 12-foot rotating round table. Workers sort through the lumber and place the material into two Pallet Repair Systems trim saws to be cut to length; the trim saws are designed to cut four or five different lengths. The finished material is removed from the outfeed, stacked, banded and put into inventory.
Pallet Repair Line
The Run-A-Gade operators toss the stringers onto a different conveyor on the other side of the machine; this conveyor moves in the opposite direction and carries the used stringers to another area to be recycled.
Universal Pallet Supply has one man running each Run-A-Gade. “Each of our four operators can tear down 300 to 450 pallets during a shift,” reported Win.
Pallets to be repaired are brought in stacks to work stations located on both sides of a 140-foot conveyor. About seven to 10 people work at these stations, repairing pallets. As they complete a pallet, they tag it with a bar code and place it onto the conveyor. As the pallets move down the line, the bar codes are scanned automatically. At the end of the line is a worker and five AMS high-speed automatic stackers; he performs a quality inspection of each pallet and pushes it to the infeed of the appropriate stacker.
On this repair line, each worker produces about 300 to 400 pallets per shift. The bar codes, scanner and information system capture production data. “We can document the grades and the number of pallets repaired during any given day,” said Win.
The pallet recycling division operates in a 70,000-square-foot building. “In the course of about 12 months, our recycling has doubled,” Win reported. “This significant growth was the result of our focusing on a segment of the business that Global Group had been ignoring for quite some time.” The company recycles about 4,000 pallets daily.
The company receives 60-70 trailer-loads of scrap per week. Wood that cannot be used for pallets is processed into mulch with a Vermeer grinder; mulch production is about 10 trailer-loads per week.
New Pallets Division
The plant housing the pallet manufacturing operations is about 127,000 square feet. This division produces about 20,000 pallets per day.
The company buys hardwood cants in a variety of sizes as well as rough lumber, such as kiln-dried Southern yellow pine. Cants range from 2-½ inches to 5-½ inches and up to 16 feet long.
Brewer Cut-Up Lines,
Four Viking Nailers
Universal Pallet Supply operates a cut-up area with three lines of equipment; each cut-up line consists of a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle multi-trim saw, gang saw and bandsaw.
“We use our PalMate software to help us determine what size deck boards or stringers to get out of each cant,” said Rick. “This helps us minimize waste material. If we are working with an 84-inch cant, the trim saw might cut that into a 44-inch section and a 40-inch piece to best utilize the material for runners.”
The cants, now cut to the correct length, travel via live rollers to the gang saw to be resawn into deck boards or stringers. The finished lumber feeds out to a conveyor, and workers along the conveyor sort the material, pulling and stacking new deck boards and stringers.
Any deck boards or stringers that are culled are placed on a belt and sent to the Brewer bandsaw to be resawn into a usable board. “This operation means we have very little scrap,” said Rick.
Scrap wood from the cut-up operations is collected by conveyors and eventually feeds into a Cresswood horizontal grinder. The wood grindings and sawdust are picked up by one of two collection system, a new Imperial and a Koger Air, and blown into trailer vans. “This byproduct is sold to other companies for animal bedding, landscape mulch, biofuel and pellets,” Rick explained.
Pallet assembly operations are divided into two areas: automated assembly and custom assembly. For automated pallet assembly, Universal Pallet Supply is equipped with four Viking 505 Turbo nailing machines. “We can build anything up to a 74-inch pallet here in our automated assembly area,” Rick said. “We can also heat-treat them after assembly in our Kiln-Direct heat-treater.”
In the custom pallet area, pallets are assembled by hand with Senco pneumatic nailing tools. About nine pairs of employees work in this area, building pallets by hand. They assemble odd-size pallets as well as small orders of standard pallets.
Universal Pallet Supply relies on Mid Continent nail for bulk nails for the Viking machines and buys collated nails from Senco.
“We can build anything that will fit onto the back of a truck,” Rick said. Universal Pallet Supply also has the ability to paint, stencil or tag pallets with a company logo, name, job number or other identifying features.
Container Management Division
Container management operations are housed in a 30,000-square-foot building. The focus of the division is providing reverse logistics services and a closed loop program for customers who purchase heavy-duty pallets. “This is a special program for customers who want to use pallets multiple times,” Charles explained. “Many times people buy pallets based on cost, but they don’t consider reusing them to keep their costs down.”
For these customers, Universal Pallet Supply retrieves the pallets from companies that receive them under load. “We pick up the pallets from our customers’ end-users and bring them here,” said Charles. Universal Pallet Supply personnel inspect the used pallets. “If a pallet is still in good condition, we place it back into the loop,” said Charles. “If it needs repairs, we repair it,” and the pallet is put back into service. “It is a very green and efficient system.”
Representatives of Universal Pallet Supply visit customer locations regularly to track their inventory of pallets. For some customers that are located a distance from
The company also uses a high-tech approach to tracking pallet inventories for some customers. “We have also started using Internet-based technology with cameras at some of our customers’ facilities so we can log on at any time to check inventory levels,” Charles explained.
A special component of the PalletTrack software also helps the company keep track of inventories.
Progress, Vision for Future Growth
The management team at Universal Pallet Supply is proud of its ISO-9001-2000 certification. “We are one of the few pallet manufacturers nationwide and in our region with this certification, which is pretty much unheard of in this industry,” said Charles.
“What this means for our customers is that we work within a quality management system,” he said. “We looked at the standards set forth by the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, and we went above and beyond those standards in setting up our own internal quality standards manual.”
In order to keep growing, the company hired several sales representatives who live some distance away and work off-site.
The company likely will acquire other businesses as it continues to grow, according to Win. How soon? “The market will give us that answer,” Win said. The company expects to make its first acquisition perhaps as early as the spring of 2009 and maybe another by the end of 2009.
“We plan to grow through acquisition if we can find the right companies to work with,” said Win. “If we can’t accomplish this through acquisition, we will purchase property, buy the equipment, and develop the customer base. This is not new to us because we have a lot of collective experience in our group of leaders.”
“We have been on a very aggressive growth pattern but the financial market and economy have changed,” Win acknowledged, “so we are taking care of what we have now until the economy recovers. We have a number of key agreements in place, and when it makes sense, we will move forward.”
For more information, contact Win at Universal Pallet Supply, (574) 293-1949 or e-mail email@example.com.
Do you want reprints or a copyright license for this article? Click here
Research and connect with suppliers mentioned in this article using our FREE ZIP Online service.