Brewco Moves Ahead with Aggressive Innovations Driven by Experienced Leadership
Neopal partnered with Brewco to engineer a new automated pallet lumber cutup plant. Brewco''s new ownership and its varied experience is taking it toward innovative machinery. The innovations at Neopal included a new seven-saw trimmer and new floating bearing roller guides and dedusting system
By Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 12/1/2011
Neopal Turns to Brewco for Sawing Innovations
In 2005 after six years of being an innovative pallet manufacturer in the Houston, Texas area, Neopal had outgrown its manufacturing facility. It explored existing building options and after three more years concluded its best alternative was to design and build a new building. Neopal has specific objectives and requirements and was unable to find a suitable existing facility, leaving it with a logical option to design and construct from scratch.
Neopal found itself in the same kind of position that the Pallet Enterprise occupies today. After 30 years we are looking back on where we have come and at the same time looking forward to where we are headed. Jeff Krug was an engineer with a degree from Purdue University who began his career at Compaq in manufacturing engineering with worldwide logistics management experience. Jeff realized that the pallets his company bought were not of sufficient quality for today’s growing segment of companies with sophisticated needs. It was common to find deficiencies in adhering to specifications, and the service levels offered by our industry were limited.
Jeff believed that businesses with sophisticated material handling systems were an under-served pallet market. Jeff started Neopal so he could pursue his dream of offering a better solution to companies with high volume, 24/7 operations and high expectations. Neopal has grown steadily every year since it began in 1999 and is today a leading pallet manufacturer in the Houston area. For a number of years now Neopal has been named as one of Houston’s 100 fastest growing small businesses by the Houston Business Journal.
Jeff and his plant manager Larry Pryor recognized that no time is a better time to re-engineer a manufacturing operation than when you are building a new physical plant. In the attached sidebar, Jeff explains his thought process and how he and Larry settled on Brewco to help stretch his dream into the future. For both Brewco and Neopal, tomorrow’s dream is in the process of becoming today’s reality.
The wooden pallet manufacturing business has changed over the years. While it is still dominated by family owned entrepreneurial businesses, the management nature of how companies approach their businesses is evolving. Closely held businesses continue to focus on relationships, but some of them are turning more attention toward serving the increasingly sophisticated material handling environment. That is certainly the approach that Neopal is taking.
Using one side or both sides of its new Brewco resaw system at the same time, Neopal will automatically feed incoming Southern Yellow Pine 2x4s and 2x6s on the infeed line into the system. The system includes a tilt hoist unscrambler and strip remover. The boards go through a board feeder at a rate of 60 lugs a minute into Brewco’s newly engineered seven-saw multi-trim undercut trimmer. Up to five of the middle saws can drop out of place as required to cut different lengths. Brewco’s in-house automation engineers designed the automatic set changes.
Two-inch nominal pieces of lumber can be resawn as needed into two nominal one-inch pieces or three thinner pieces for decking boards on each new Brewco two-head combo resaw.
Brewco Dedusting System
Neopal has been using in-line dedusters stationed behind each resaw. These in-line dedusters are prone to hangups and represent an additional equipment expense. Pallet manufacturers are focusing on reducing the fine dust from thin-kerf resaws. Neopal places a particular emphasis on dust-free lumber for its particular customer base. Brewco is the original designer and patent holder of the floating guide and dedusting method (faster and better sawing using a bandsaw, and dust removal right at the blade). Over the years, Brewco has improved on its design, but working with Neopal, it carried the design even further with the addition of its new roller guide system.
The roller guides allowed Brewco to create a heavier floating bearing. The airjet located right behind the blade stays more consistent since the roller guide surface does not wear throughout the day like older sandwich style or cartridge style guides. Brewco has found that maintaining a more consistent location for the airjet in relation to the back of the blade is crucial to the dust removal process.
Initially Neopal is receiving six new double-head Big Band resaws (twelve total heads) in its new plant, with six more double-head resaws coming later next year. Neopal chose twin-head systems because it is resawing two-by softwood into either two or three pieces. Because of its location, Neopal buys 2x6 and 2x4 Southern Yellow Pine to be sawn into both decking and stringers.
After a year of research and development, this new roller guide addresses several issues. While roller guides have been around for years, Brewco indicates they have always been prone to premature bearing failure due to two factors – the small diameter rolls that revolve at such extreme speeds that the small bearings inside them fail and a lubrication mechanism that keeps the bearings lubed. The older guides used thick bearing grease, which does not hold up well and breaks down at extreme rpms.
Brewco attacked these deficiencies in two ways. Its roller guides are three-inches in diameter, not two-inches like the older ones. This larger diameter operates at lower rpms. Its bearings are lubricated with a lighter bearing oil, not heavy grease.
Brewco’s new guides have specialized “air-ports” that create a vacuum to give a cooling airflow in the guide structure. This keeps the guides just that much cooler. In fact, Brewco indicates that all of its installations which have this new guide system report that when their saw is shut down, the guide and saw blade are cool to the touch. In addition, since the blade and guides run cooler, there is less blade metal fatigue, resulting in a vastly longer blade life. One customer reports that his blade life is now four-times longer than before.
Another interesting note on this new roller guide is its basic design concept. Previous guide systems used the traditional deflecting cartridge guide or pressure guide that has been used successfully for decades. In this type of guide, the blade rides or slides against the guide surface, creating friction and therefore heat. The way often used to overcome this friction is by continuously spraying lubricants on both the blade and the guides. In addition to being complicated, this system is also messy and expensive to operate. Since Brewco’s new roller guides “roll” with the blade, there is minimal friction created; it is kind of like a car tire rolling on the road compared to skidding a sled across a surface. This new concept has completely eliminated the need for a lubricating system and purchasing lubricants. In addition, the dust does not get wet and heavy, which in the past has really made dust removal more of a problem.
To enhance its dust free environment concept, Brewco has put rubber gaskets on the saw cavity or box to tighten up the frame and saw cavity openings. Special dust exit ports allow dust to be suctioned out. Neopal’s goal is for a dust free, clean facility. Its initial bandsaw line has six two-saw combos for a total of 12 heads. Once this initial plant is running successfully, a second set of six more two-head resaws is planned for next year. This Brewco resaw line is totally automatic.
Brewco’s New Seven-Saw Trimmer
Since Neopal requires a heavy throughput and it needs to make several set length changes throughout the day, it was imperative that its new trimsaw have fast set changes. Brewco addressed this by automating the set length process. The five inner saws are moveable, and the two outer saws are fixed. All the saw bodies are interconnected with hydraulic servo positioning cylinders. This allows the system to always know where each saw is positioned in relation to the other saws on the body. The operator can make set length changes by simply choosing the desired cut lengths on the touch screen. From there, the saws reposition themselves accordingly. All the inner saws have the ability to drop out of the way in order to provide the different cut lengths as needed. This happens automatically from the touch screen without direct human intervention.
Using its own in-house programmers to ensure the automation works correctly, Brewco provided and installed all the computer automation. Many companies provide equipment and sub-contract their automation. Brewco believes you are inviting trouble down the road if there are any problems or if the customer wants to make any future changes in the automation process.
With its staff and knowledge, Brewco is confident in its ability to handle material handling requests from its customers. Bill Hendrix said, “Custom projects like this are a lot of fun to do and are a challenge we really look forward to doing. We have the confidence to share our concerns with a customer if we see issues that may cause them problems down the road. Too many times we’ve seen mill installations where the customer saved money up front, but loses money every day by having to staff a traffic area where wood gets hung-up in the processing line. That is tragic, and could have been prevented by working with a company that not only has the experience necessary to move wood around, but also the self-confidence to mention to the customer that you’re going to have a problem here, and this is how the design needs to change in order to prevent it.”
Brewco Team Expands Under New Ownership to Propel Toward the Future
Brewco’s new management approach is the result of its recent purchase. Last October (2010) Mike Goldston, Bill Hendrix, David Piper, Stan Spence, and Darren Grogan purchased Brewco from Clarence Brewer, Jr. Clarence put together this team because of his personal knowledge of each individual. Each person brings a skill set that is important to the ongoing success of the company.
Two years ago, Mike Goldston, new president of Brewco, sold his successful CPA practice of 25 years. Since then he worked as the finance administrator at a very large coal mining operation in western Kentucky and sits on the board of a local bank. His financial background positioned him for success by maintaining good cash flows and acting rather than reacting to the economic climate.
Bill Hendrix, VP of Brewco, has ten years in the sawmill industry and 28 years in marketing and sales. Bill started his Brewco career in 1992 at its Collision Division, which was sold to Snap-On Tools in 1996; he was transferred to Brewco’s Sawmill Division in 2001 into sales and marketing and eventually sales management.
David Piper, with forty years in the sawmill industry, began working on a bandmill when he was 12. Most of the sawmills he manufactured are still operating today. David began his career at Brewco’s sawmill division in 2004. Relying on his experience with Koppers in the railtie industry, David has invented a patent pending railroad tie stacker that will stack more than 5000 ties a shift.
Stan Spence, who has ten years in sawmilling and 25 in manufacturing, welding, and management, oversees Brewco’s fabrication department. He started his Brewco career in 1993 in the Collision Division where he became the senior production foreman. Stan transferred to the Sawmill division in 2001 as production and manufacturing supervisor.
Darren Grogan has 20 years in sawmilling, along with extensive engineering, electrical, machining, and hydraulic experience. Darren can predict what will work and what won’t work. His background includes CAD engineering and drafting.
While Mike is new to the industry, the others on the management team have a combined 80 years of hands-on experience in the sawmill industry.
The Brewco ownership team is entering a new phase in the marketplace by using the experience of its ownership team to create new and improved methods of sawing and handling wood. This is illustrated by the fact that since July 4th of this year Brewco has hired more welders and fabricators, and the entire production department is working overtime to keep up with its orders. In October, Brewco’s production capacity was booked well past March of 2012. The company is expanding by setting up new manufacturing stations in two of its warehouses. Brewco is blessed to be busy but is acutely aware of the need to proceed aggressively to provide its customers with new machinery.
Now that the company has an ideal mix of leadership to carry its products and services into the future, it is working to expand upon its markets of influence in the wood industry. Most readers know about Brewco’s pallet lumber manufacturing machinery, but many of you may not know how far its machinery reaches into other aspects of the forest products industry. Neopal and Brewco believe that together their shared vision for the pallet industry is destined to define the “new norm” for pallet lumber manufacturing.
In the sawmill and grade lumber market, Brewco is known as a pioneer of the thin-kerf band resaw system using a 2” wide blade. This is the widest blade available that does not require the support of an expensive filing room. To date, Brewco has sold over 300 horizontal grade run-around systems to sawmills throughout the U.S. and Canada. Brewco indicates these systems are engineered and designed to match or exceed the production rates of massive vertical linebar systems.
Barrels and staves are a less known market where Brewco has become a “go-to” company for mill equipment. Sawing 100% white oak logs, all whiskey and wine barrels require quarter-sawn lumber. Brewco has perfected the process of quarter-sawing short bolts (logs cut to 52” long).
Railroad crossties are one of the strongest hardwood markets today and have been for a few years. Brewco has specialized in crosstie end-plating equipment for years. This machinery automatically positions a truss plate at each end of a crosstie, compresses each end of the tie to eliminate wood check, and squeezes the truss plate into the crosstie. David Piper designed a new and vastly improved method of stacking crossties. Brewco has a patent pending on this design and has high expectations that it will change the way crossties will be stacked all over the world.
For more information on Brewco sawing systems, including its new roller guides, call Bill Hendrix at 800/237-6880.
November 1, 2011
10244 Timber Ridge Dr.
Ashland, VA 23005
RE: Brewco Partnership
We understand Pallet Enterprise will be featuring an article on Brewco in the December issue, and Bill Hendrix has asked us to contribute by sharing some information with you on our relationship and the co-development of equipment they have manufactured for our new facility.
While we feel the timing of the article is a bit premature to discuss functional aspects and benefits of the equipment – considering it is not yet installed and operational – we agree it would be very appropriate and welcome the opportunity to provide an overview of our partnership to date, and the positive manner in which Brewco has worked closely with us to achieve our objectives.
Neopal was founded in late 1999, with the objective of redefining and introducing a higher level of performance in the pallet industry. After just six years, Neopal had outgrown its manufacturing facility and began the search for a new larger plant to carry the vision to the next level. Initially we explored opportunities to purchase an existing building, but after three years of intensive searching, it became clear by late 2008 that finding an ideal facility consistent with our objectives was unlikely, and it would be necessary to build. Following nearly a year of searching for the ideal land location, Neopal purchased an 18 acre site in north Houston and began plans for construction.
Although the vision for a uniquely designed, highly efficient manufacturing operation was already in place, the opportunity to start from a completely blank sheet and optimize the entire facility design – land layout, building, and operation – to be fully integrated and complimentary, provided a unique ability to construct a facility unprecedented in our industry. The first of two buildings planned, a 115,000 sq.ft. plant, is nearing completion and will be operational in December. Not only will this be the only LEED certified pallet manufacturing facility in the world, but nearly every component – including the majority of the manufacturing equipment – is unique in one fashion or another, and was developed or customized specifically for Neopal to achieve our performance goals.
When we began approaching equipment manufacturers about a year ago, we presented our performance objectives and the functionality of the equipment we required. We quickly discovered in most cases what we wanted didn’t exist in the marketplace, and it would be necessary to modify or design equipment from scratch to fulfill our objectives. While initially pleased with the response we received and the interest expressed in partnering with us on our project, over time it became apparent many of the equipment manufacturers we approached simply wanted to sell their standard equipment, and really did not have the interest in working with us on co developing significant improvements. Brewco was one of the few who truly stepped up to the plate, and expressed a commitment to working with us to achieve a higher level of performance.
Larry Pryor, Neopal’s plant manager, worked directly with Brewco over a period of six months to design and supply certain components of our new fully integrated lumber processing line. Included is a unique computerized seven head trim saw system that will accommodate two independent packages of lumber side-by side simultaneously processing at a rate of 60 lugs per minute. This saw incorporates a touch screen management display along with automatic set works designed to achieve our objective of complete changeovers in five minutes or less. Not only is the trim saw the only one of its kind currently in existence, but the thin kerf band saws supplied by Brewco are also unique in design, incorporating a roller guide system and de dusting mechanism. The trim saw line and first twelve band saws are currently being installed, with plans for an additional twelve band saws supplied by Brewco to be installed mid 2012 once the system performance is confirmed and any further opportunities for improvement are identified.
According to Larry, the folks at Brewco were not only eager to work with us, but were innovative and willing to take a unique approach with the design of the equipment to achieve our goals. Over 100 design iterations of the overall lumber processing operation were explored in depth, and the performance characteristics Neopal required of the equipment increased over time as we challenged ourselves to continually take it one step higher. The combination of our vision and determination, and Brewco’s expertise and dedication, resulted in a very productive partnership. Bill Hendrix and the entire Brewco team are to be commended for their efforts and have all been a true pleasure to work with. We look forward to continuing a long term partnership with Brewco for many years to come.
(281) 219 9600 x 101
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