Brewer Fine Tunes its Operations for Continued Quality and Decreased Lead Time
Revamped Parts Department and Redesigned Equipment Manufacturing: Brewer overhauls plant and manufacturing processes to decrease lead time while maintaining its commitment to quality. Offers lessons to the pallet and lumber industries
Date Posted: 2/1/2013
Central City, Kentucky — Through the years Brewer Machine and Parts LLC has developed a reputation for manufacturing heavy-duty sawing machinery, and it wants to add quick response to its image in the marketplace.
Paul Avery, the owner of Brewer, is focusing on making changes that will maintain Brewer’s job shop ability to meet any custom needs while developing a more assembly line process for faster production of its top selling pieces of equipment. Although building a sawing line and making a load of pallets are two different things, these lessons from Brewer’s overhaul apply to the pallet and lumber industries, especially when it comes to inventory strategies, lean manufacturing processes and the importance of equipment upgrades.
In today’s difficult market Brewer is extremely busy. Most readers have not had the privilege of visiting Brewer’s Central City factory, but you can go online and see the video tour of the plant.
Changing Manufacturing Philosophies
Brewer is a good example of a job shop business that is altering its perspective on building and carrying parts and finished goods. Avery’s concern about potentially losing business because he is not in a position to deliver quickly enough has altered his approach to build an inventory of his most popular machines and the most often needed parts.
Avery said, “We have focused on progressing and moving forward to be a strong leader in the pallet industry. We have made a lot of changes in-house, particularly recently, to better serve our customer base and offer a more competitive price on pieces of equipment. “
Brewer has completely rearranged its 73,800 square feet of floor space to help with its overall production – improving the flow through the plant. Some of the steps that Avery has taken have been unusual when compared to traditional practices in job shop plants that build sawing machinery.
Having moved its machine job, Brewer has tried to institute an assembly line concept. When an order leaves the engineering department, it goes into prefab where parts are manufactured, then to assembly, to testing and inspection, to painting, and then out the back door to a customer. Brewer believes that properly running and testing a machine before shipping it to a customer is important. Happy customers are high on Brewer’s list of importance.
Brewer’s manufacturing objective has been to become more like a mass production company for the efficiencies this offers but still maintain the job shop atmosphere that custom designed and engineered machines require.
The metal department houses the steel and the sawing and CNC machining of parts. Brewer has expanded to relocate its machine shop to the metal department. This has dramatically increased the flow of products. In the past it was common for an individual person to handle the fabrication and assembly of a machine from beginning to end. Now a team handles the manufacturing steps on a machine or group of machines.
Brewer has established a pre-fab department that allows it to manufacture all Brewer made parts and ship them when needed. Thus, the parts are fabricated separately from the assembly department. The newest change in the factory has been the addition of a new Italian made HD Gemini plasma cutter which has True-Hole technology. This new plasma cutter is equipped with a CNC milling, drilling and tapping head.
Avery explained, “This allows us to produce a much higher quality part at a more competitive price. It has taken many man hours out of the equation. Most competitors do not have this capability. To my knowledge there are only four of these Italian plasma cutters in the states.”
While Brewer has had CNC milling equipment for some 25 years, this new machine does plasma cutting and the machining work (milling, drilling, and tapping) in the same operation. The parts used to be cut in a separate operation. What used to be a two or three step manufacturing process can now be done in one. It is much faster and gives a higher quality, much truer cut. It knows what type of plate you are burning and does not require presetting to fit the material. This newer technology is putting Brewer in a position to manufacture parts faster, more efficiently, and more accurately. The program in the Gemini controls the flow of liquid oxygen, which is not a common situation in other plasma cutters.
Two new assembly stations have been established to replace the practice of an individual assembling a given order. Avery said, “We found that using assembly stations we can assemble three gang saws about as fast as two. We studied our order history to see which machines are the most popular; we never before attempted to stock pieces of machinery. Now we will build an extra machine of a popular model so we can add to our finished goods inventory. We identified the top five selling machines to be put into inventory.”
Avery added, “Our finished equipment inventory concept is in its infancy, but we now have a notcher, two chamfering machines, and a gangsaw ready to ship. Our goal is to have most of our popular machines ready to ship by June.”
An analysis of the company’s actual sales showed that the concept of stocking frequently ordered machines made common sense to provide quick service to customer needs. When a customer is broken down, he is more apt to spend money if a fast turnaround makes it easier to deal with his problems.
Another change that Brewer has instituted is working toward stocking some high volume requirement parts such as chrome powered rollers that move cants and lumber on a Brewer sawing line. Gangsaw rolls are the number one replacement part. Brewer used to make these rolls to order, but it now has a few hundred hardened chrome powered rolls on the shelf. At one time Brewer kept a minimum supply of air cylinders and hydraulic cylinders available, but it now stocks a few hundred for rapid service.
Brewer is trying to put itself in a position to effectively pursue the philosophy of “If you don’t have it, you can’t sell it.” Standard stocked parts are available for next day delivery if ordered by 3 p.m. Central Standard Time. Tony Fox and Wayne Lancaster handle the parts department and its sales. Making better use of inventory data has occurred thanks to a new computerized inventory system that replaced a more manual approach.
Another change has been the addition of Aaron Mofield, a new mechanical engineer, to Brewer’s engineering staff. Avery said, “Aaron has been a great asset to our company.”
Brewer now has three engineers, including one electrical and two mechanical. Brewer is striving for a balance between experienced mechanics and design engineers. Having a mixture of degrees and practical knowledge on a staff sets the right tone for the best overall products and service.
A Long Tradition of Excellence in People and Manufacturing
As the leading trade magazine for the pallet and low-grade lumber industries, our history with Brewer goes back to its early days. Clarence Brewer started the company to build heavy duty single arbor gang saws during the early days of gang sawing pallet lumber. Brewer, situated in the heart of pallet manufacturing country in central Kentucky, had been a regional saw manufacturer. It turned its focus to serving the industry nationwide about the time that the Pallet Enterprise came on the scene. In the early 80’s, we made it possible for machinery suppliers to reach outside their local and regional markets to the whole North American market, and do so at a reasonable cost. Both our advertisers and our readers benefited as we featured many machinery companies and carried articles about their products.
In the company’s early days, Clarence Brewer sold Brewer, Inc. to Mike Gilles. Mike and his family became well known in the pallet industry for the products and services they supplied. Because of a very serious blood disorder, Mike took an early retirement to work on his health. Mike’s wife Kathy and two sons took over the daily reins of the company. Behind the Gilles family, there was a team of experienced people.
As Brewer developed its line of double arbor gang saws, the Pallet Enterprise told the Brewer story to our readers. When thin-kerf horizontal bandsaws emerged during the 80s, we covered Brewer’s emergence into this rapidly expanding market as well. Many of the original manufacturers of thin-kerf bandsaw machines and systems eventually left the market, but Brewer stayed as an active, respected supplier of high quality gang saws, horizontal thin-kerf bandsaw systems, and other pallet lumber milling machines such as notchers and chamfering machines.
During the 90s, Brewer expanded into other fields related to pallets, such as the railroad tie industry, where it’s sawing systems to cut and machine crossties became well known. Once again it was through another magazine that we owned at the time (Crossties) that Brewer’s reputation in the crosstie market expanded.
As Brewer and its product line grew through the years, its focus on quality, heavy-duty machinery never changed. Its varied product line continues to expand to match its customers’ needs. In addition to its Golden Eagle and Silver Eagle gang saws, multi-head bandsaws, and pallet lumber milling machinery, Brewer became respected for its line of scragg mills, edgers and all kinds of specialized lumber finishing machinery.
In December, 2010, the Gilles family sold Brewer to Paul Avery, a long-time employee who had proven himself to the industry. After two years of managing Brewer, Inc., Avery secured outside investment to allow the company to step up and not fall behind.
Avery has strived to position Brewer to continue to be a leader in the pallet industry. In addition to domestic sales, Avery said that exported international business has really opened up. International sales have been strong during the last three years when domestic business went through a slump.
Avery seemed excited as he talked about the new direction that he has set for Brewer. Avery said, “I am as excited as I have ever been about our future, and certainly our people are charged up about the changes we are making. Our overall atmosphere has turned in the right direction with a new energy and drive.”
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