Automation Key to Holding Own Against Competitors, Says Recycler
Royal Pallet: George Bodbyl Sr., owner of Royal Pallet, has an expression he follows when it come to investing in machinery: 'Don't under-feed the horse!' He turned to Industrial Resources for an automated pallet recycling line.
By Nancy Doyle
Date Posted: 8/1/1999
GRANDVILLE, Mich. — George Bodbyl Sr., owner of Royal Pallet Inc., has an expression he follows when it comes to investing in machinery.
"Don’t under-feed the horse!" he exclaimed. "In other words, don’t cut corners on machinery."
George’s pallet recycling company is located in Grandville on the southwest side of Grand Rapids. A working middle-class suburb with a light industrial mix, it stretches from perfectly manicured lawns in subdivisions to fertile farmlands dotted with greenhouses that are owned mostly by companies that grow bulbs and flowers.
Royal Pallet Co. is located on a utility road, hidden from view of the main highway that goes through the area. The company has a 21,000-square-foot plant with most of the space devoted to pallet repair and staging of finished, recycled pallets ready to be shipped to customers. The company has relocated about a half-dozen times as it has outgrown previous sites.
George launched Royal Pallet 11 years ago. His son, George Jr., is employed as Royal’s sales manager. It is a small business: in addition to general manager Keith Kenyon, Royal employs four production workers.
The company is strictly a pallet recycling business. The production staff works entirely with recycled pallet parts. Royal works mainly with the 48x40 GMA footprint. Another common size is 48x42.
Royal’s customers include over 20 businesses in the food industry; one of its customers is a Fortune 400 company. Some customers have been with Royal throughout its 11 years.
The greater Grand Rapids region is an intensely competitive market for pallet recycling, according to George. There are several other pallet recyclers within a 25-mile radius. Because of the competitive market, George was reluctant to discuss production figures or sales volume.
However, George was not above singling out one of his competitors for praise. Bernie Kamps, president of Kamps Pallets in Grand Rapids, has been a leader in the pallet industry, he noted.
"We can’t go out and raise prices in this competitive market," George said. "So we’ve had to automate and cut the workforce by about one-third, and our bottom line shows us it was the right move to make."
Royal began operating a new pallet recycling line early this year that was custom-designed and installed by Industrial Resources, which also is located near Grand Rapids.
"I’d shopped around, trying to increase efficiency," said George, "and decided that Industrial Resources could build just what my shop needed." He, his son and Keith visited pallet recycling companies in other states to see different machines and systems at work. They were impressed with an Industrial Resources automated recycling line at a company on Long Island, New York and decided to have Industrial Resources design a system that would be tailored to the needs of Royal Pallet.
"This equipment is the most versatile thing we could have our hands on," said George. "The production could be almost limitless because we are able to increase our output several times over just by adding work stations and more stackers."
The 76-foot line consists of a two-tiered conveyor system feeding incoming pallets to a clipper, repair plater, bar-coder and nailing station. The conveyors are set at heights of 40 inches and 25 inches; work tables are 30 inches high, making it easy to retrieve pallets from the overhead conveyor and to feed them to the lower tier following repairs. Stackers near the end of the line receive sortings of nine or more grades or types of pallets.
Incoming pallets are not pre-sorted. The six-disc clipper facilitates the removal of defective leading-edge deck boards. Next the pallets go to the in-line plating station for repairs to split or cracked stringers. Pallets are pulled off at one of the four work stations for workers to replace the leading-edge deck boards and other repairs. When the repairs are finished, each employee applies an adhesive bar code label that identifies him as the one who did the work and the grade of the pallet. When the finished pallets continue down the line, a scanner reads the bar code and tracks the time and the customer load. For lumber recovery, Royal Pallet relies on another Industrial Resources machine, the Pass One pallet dismantler, which disassembles pallets using disc-type technology. Each production worker can perform every task on the line. The workers rotate duty on the clipper. Scrap material is put into dumpsters to be hauled away by a recycling business.
Information captured by the bar coding has enhanced production and quality. Production workers are credited accurately with finished pallets, and if a pallet needs more work, it goes back to the employee who was responsible. "If a pallet gets sent back on the line because it wasn’t repaired correctly," noted George, "the piece-rate worker loses that time when he could have sent another pallet down the line to be credited for pay. It is to their advantage to pay attention."
Finished pallets are sorted by Keith, who "fits the pallets to the customers," said George. The bar code information about pallet grade and customer lets him know to which stacker he should divert the finished pallet.
Many of the in-coming pallets have remnants of shrink-wrap and plastic tape attached. Some are coated with dirt. However, the dirt and debris have been no problem to the Industrial Resources line, according to George’s son. "We are never held up in production because of these," he said. "We clean out the accumulations in the machinery, but it never becomes a problem with Industrial Resources equipment. It’s built to take it without stoppages." The machines and systems are built tough to keep running in less-than-perfect conditions, said Wayne Carrigan of Industrial Resources.
"Our lines are built in modules," Wayne added, "all at our facility, so we can add or diversify systems according to a mill’s needs." Industrial Resources can add to Royal Pallet’s production line in the future should the company decide to expand, he said.
"We custom-design equipment for several overseas companies in Korea, Japan, Singapore and elsewhere, and we do the installing and training, too," Wayne said.
George laughed when he recalled Royal’s previous operations, which he nick-named the "walker tool" system. "Our men walked over here and walked over there. They picked up pallets from a roller system on the floor, and they picked up repair pieces and brought them to the work stations. They wore themselves out!" The old method involved sorting pallets in advance and moving and staging pallets more frequently; it has been no match for the production the company has realized with the Industrial Resources machinery. The automated line has increased efficiency and reduced worker fatigue.
For the bar coding system and computer program, Royal Pallet turned to Eric Van Dyke and his company, Gold ITS of Jennison, Michigan. "(They) came to me and said, ‘We need this information and this information,’ and they told me what they wanted in their existing database," Eric recalled. "Since one of our goals is to provide custom solutions for businesses, I wrote a program for them."
Eric’s company sells hardware, such as bar code scanners, but his emphasis is on custom-designing computer programs. After learning what George wanted to accomplish and the requirements of Royal Pallet, he suggested a high-speed bar code scanner. The data captured by the bar code system is used in Royal’s other computer systems although they are not totally integrated. For example, bar code data that is captured about production must be manually entered into other systems, such as payroll.
The company owes a good share of its success to being customer-oriented. George is an easy-going, likeable fellow, and he seems to set the tone for the workplace. However, he and his son are quick to credit Keith and the production staff for Royal’s success. As general manager, Keith closely monitors quality control in addition to sorting finished pallets for the proper customer. There seems to be a mutual pride among the production workers, and some of the men have been with Royal for a number of years.
Although George focuses on management and his son on sales, they are closely attuned to the production operations. "There’s no hierarchy there," Wayne said. George often pitches in if an extra hand is needed on the production line. "If we have a problem, (George) takes care of it instantly, and within 10 minutes most hitches are solved," Keith said.
George compared his earliest work experience to what Jerry Dykstra of Industrial Resources has done for pallet repair and assembly lines. George once worked in a grocery store, where one of his tasks was sorting soft drink bottles. He learned he could sort them faster by taking a box of bottles, running down the line and putting them into the appropriate containers. His boss was impressed by his methodical approach: it took George less than half the time it took other workers to sort them. "That’s basically what Jerry has done, developed a methodical line with a station for each of the phases of pallet repair," George said.
George, who also has three younger daughters, lives with his family in the nearby village of Hudsonville. Both he and his son are musically inclined. The favorite hobby of both is listening to or playing music. George Sr. plays fiddle and George Jr. plays saxophone. "I guess you’d have to say I like classical music best," the father said, "but we both like a wide range of music."
George is pleased with his current mix of machinery and personnel. "A little motivation (of men) and a lot of automation can really get the job done."
His son summed up their thoughts on the Industrial Resources system. "The development of this equipment should have happened 50 years ago!" he exclaimed. His father nearly quit the business at one point, he confided. "It was so frustrating, and I would never go back to the old way of doing things," said George Sr. "I’d quit first!"
With the new Industrial Resources line far exceeding expectations for production, George Sr. said, "This is our time to grow."
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