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Berry Pallet Finds Profits In Recycled Stringers
Berry Pallet: With the help of Profile Technology and Pallet Repair Systems, Berry Pallet is finding profits in recycled stringers; he overcame two problems recyclers face with used runners.

By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 2/1/2001

WASECA, Minnesota — Richard Berry knows there’s money in recycled stringers — profits, that is. There’s no question it is more cost-effective to use recycled stringers for pallet repairs than buying new wood.

As most recyclers know, however, there are a couple of dilemmas in working with recycled stringers. First, if you’re notching recycled stringers, workers have to be wary of feeding stringers with nails into the machine. Second, recycled stringers vary in height, and pallets made of stringers of varying height can wobble or teeter — a defect easily noticed by customers.

For years Richard Berry has successfully used machinery and equipment that solves both problems, allowing him to use recycled stringers that can be notched and sized to uniform height.

Richard, 44, grew up in Waseca, which is about 75 miles south of Minnesota’s twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. He attended vocational school, studying sales management. He first dabbled in the pallet business in the late 1980s. At the time he worked in a flour mill. Richard sold firewood on the side, and he used pallets to stack and store firewood prior to delivery to customers, so he had access to plenty of used pallets.

He found someone to buy a load of used pallets and used the money from the sale to buy an air compressor and a power nailing tool and began repairing and selling them. Before using power nailing tools, Richard drilled holes in deck boards and drove nails with a hammer. "That got old awfully fast," he recalled. Within a relatively short period of time he generated enough additional income to put up a small building on his farm and buy a skid loader and a gooseneck truck. He discontinued the firewood business, and in 1995 the pallet business had grown so much that he was able to quit his job at the flour mill and devote all his efforts to Berry Pallet.

Early in the life of the fledgling business Richard began using new lumber for replacement parts. Although his pallet business originally was built on repairing used pallets and reselling them, it evolved into building specialty ‘combo’ pallets — pallets made of a combination of new and used lumber.

Berry Pallet now has about two dozen employees, and the company produces about 10,000 pallets per week. Combo pallets remain a specialty, about 75% of Berry Pallet’s production. About 18% of the company’s business is recycled pallets and the rest, new pallets.

Employees work in two shifts. The pallet recycling operations function on one shift while new pallet manufacturing runs two. Berry Pallet produces about 30 different pallet sizes. Some of the most common types are the GMA, 48x42 and 48x36. A typical order would be a truck-load.

The company enjoys a diverse customer base, said Richard, who characterized it as a "potpourri" of industries. "You name it, we’re basically in it." Waseca is only about 50 miles from Iowa, but Berry Pallet’s marketing efforts focus north, and its customers largely are located north to the twin cities. Berry Pallet serves customers in heavy manufacturing, printing, housing, automotive, medical, and electrical industries.

For new pallet components the company buys three types of raw material. About 50% of its raw material is in the form of pre-cut pallet stock. Berry Pallet also buys a substantial volume of dimensional lumber, mainly aspen and SPF 2x6 and 2x4 in certain lengths, such as 8-foot, 10-foot, 12-foot, and 14-foot. The company also buys cants on occasion for specialty cuts.

Dimension lumber usually is purchased from sawmills in Canada, Minnesota or Michigan and cut stock comes from suppliers in the same states plus Wisconsin. Mills in Wisconsin usually supply Berry Pallet with cants.

Dimensional lumber and cants normally are cut to size first and then resawn on a Baker Products Model A horizontal band saw. Richard also buys some random thickness hardwood and runs it through a Bridgewood planer to produce deck boards.

The company also is equipped with a Baker double-head notcher and a Hazledine single-head notcher for notching stringers. Both machines are equipped with tooling supplied by Profile Technology. When working with cants, the company tries to use as much of the wood as possible. Trim ends 8 inches or longer are saved to be cut on the company’s Kent Corp. block cutter for components for block pallets.

Richard recently decided to automate some aspects of the cut-up operations by purchasing a used Newman Machine Co. KM-16 multi-trim saw. The machine was scheduled to be up and running in January. Heretofore Berry Pallet has used an assortment of chop saws and end trim saws for cutting material to size. "It’s such a slow process," Richard noted.

Richard began automating pallet assembly operations in the mid-1990s with an investment in a new Viking Engineering Champion nailing machine. The company added a second Viking Champion in 1998. Berry Pallet uses bulk nails supplied by Mid-Continent Nail Corp. "They’ve been real good with us as far as customer service," Richard said of Mid-Continent. "They bend over backwards for you."

The company tries to utilize the Vikings as much possible and generally seeks to avoid small orders for custom work. The nailing machines usually are used for assembling orders of 100 or more pallets; smaller orders are assembled by hand with Stanley-Bostitch power tools. The Vikings assembled pallets made of 100% recycled material initially and still are used to assemble combo pallets.

Berry Pallet has a fleet of 42 trailer vans and three flat trailers for retrieving excess pallets from customer locations. One worker sorts incoming pallets. Usable pallets are segregated by size; remaining pallets go right to the tear-down line. Pallets to be repaired are sent to one of two locations.

Berry Pallet’s recycling operations are equipped with a Pallet Repair Systems stringer sizer and bandsaw dismantler and a Heartland Fabrication single-head disc-type pallet dismantler. The latter machine is used for odd-size, over-size, and hard-to-dismantle pallets. Used lumber recovered from the tear-down operations go to a round table for sorting. The company has two Rogers end-trim saws that are fed with material off the table. Two workers stack trimmed material and also run the stringer sizer.

For GMA recycling operations, the company uses the Heartland Fabrication single-head nail clipper to prep lead boards and remove broken stringers. The operator then moves them onto a dead-roll conveyor to take them to one of three repair stations that are equipped with Pallet Repair Systems plating tables. After being repaired and-or plated, the finished GMA pallets go to one of two Pallet Repair Systems stackers, one of #1 pallets and the other stacker for #2 pallets.

The Pallet Repair Systems stringer sizer takes stringers of varying height and surfaces one edge to produce stringers of uniform height. The machine essentially does not require an operator. After stringers are placed in a hopper, they are fed automatically through the machine. Finished components of recycled lumber are put into storage.

Richard bought a Hazledine unstubber in 1990 for his recycling operations and later replaced it with a Pallet Repair Systems stringer sizer. The stringer sizer eliminates the need for compressing nails; the Profile Technology Nailbuster® tooling removes nail stubble and resurfaces the wood in one process.

Use of the Profile Technology Nailbuster® technology in the Hazledine notcher also has aided Berry Pallet’s profitability. Prior to the Nailbuster® tools, the company used standard carbide cutters but had to closely watch to make sure stringers with nails were not put through the notcher. Nailbuster® cutters allow the company to machine recycled stringers containing nails, eliminating the need to notch stringers for assembly.

Notching used stringers is much more cost-effective than buying new material, Richard noted. "We can’t come up with enough recycled wood. That’s why we buy new lumber. We just consume every stick of wood that we produce."

Richard did not expect to get the long life he enjoys from the Nailbuster® tooling. "There is a little trick" to extending their life, he explained. The Profile Technology Nailbuster® tools are designed with two cutting edges to provide maximum corner strength; when one side is worn they can be flipped over and be used on the other side. Berry Pallet can notch about 3,000 recycled stringers with the Nailbuster® tooling before flipping them to notch an additional 3,000 recycled stringers. Then the company takes the inserts off the notcher and puts them to work on the Pallet Repair Systems stringer sizer, where they are used for an additional four months of cutting before being discarded.

Richard added the stringer sizer to improve product quality and to make it easier to run recycled stringers through the Viking nailing machines. The Champions were capable of working with recycled stringers, he noted. However, if stringers were of varying height, the operator would place taller stringers to the outside of the pallet. If the machine operator was not careful, however, to catch the differences in stringer height and place stringers accordingly, the finished pallets would be uneven and stacks would be tilted. "I didn’t like that because they wouldn’t stack good on a flatbed and it looked bad going to a customer," said Richard. Using recycled stringers that have been sized with the Pallet Repair System machine and Profile Technology tooling, "All my pallets come out even now," he added. "There’s no tipping or tilting or anything like that."

Berry Pallet operates from six buildings on a 160-acre farm. The six buildings contain a combined 25,000 square feet. Each building houses operations for one or two functions. One is devoted to pallet recycling. A second is for resawing, notching and repairs of odd-size pallets and a third is for notching and trimming. A fourth houses the Rogers end-trim saw for cutting material to size. One building is for GMA pallet repair and also contains the two Viking nailers and some storage space. The last building is for office and storage.

"We’re spread out a little bit," said Richard, but by design. The business suffered a fire once but it impacted operations in only one building. Spreading machinery around in multiple buildings also reduces the noise level in each facility. All scrap wood is burned for fuel. The company has three wood-fired boilers to produce hot water heat for the six buildings. In the three newest buildings, hot water pipes were buried in the concrete floor, and heat rises from the floor.

Waseca is located in a farming region. People who live in the region have a strong work ethic, said Richard. "We’ve had pretty good luck with employees. Some people move on, but you can’t keep everyone. We’ve been pretty fortunate."

Berry Pallet employs a number of people in Richard’s family. His wife, Kathy, is the office manager. His parents, Roland and Helen, work in the business: Roland runs a skid loader and Helen oversees operations pertaining to incoming pallets. Two brothers, Paul and Dan, work in the company, too. Paul is a rotating supervisor and Dan is a laborer. Theresa Schultz, a sister-in-law, works with the Viking crews in the morning and does office work in the afternoons.

Richard, who is a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, has little time for leisure pursuits. "This is my hobby," he said. "I practically work seven days a week out here."

(Editor’s Note: Nailbuster® is a registered trademark of Profile Technology.)

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