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Centralized Approach to Sorting Used Lumber Improves Efficiency
Centralized Sorting: Recyclers who take a centralized approach to sorting used pallet components can reap a number of benefits, including improved efficiency and inventory control.

By Clarence Leising
Date Posted: 3/1/2001

Most pallet recyclers set up their dismantlers first, then they sort recovered pallet parts around them. On one side of the dismantlers they have racks and racks of recycled lumber. On the other side they have rows of pallets coming in to be dismantled.

This type of set-up design presents two big problems. First, it takes up a huge amount of space. Second, the man running the dismantler often will spend up to half his time sorting the pallet parts he recovers. And remember: while he is busy handling and sorting the used lumber, no pallets are going through the dismantler.

What is the answer? Itís simple. You still set up your dismantlers, but you add a conveyor system. Just let the dismantler operators dump the wood right onto the conveyor. The conveyor takes all the recycled material to a central turntable where only one worker is needed to sort it.

This type of set-up makes it possible for the dismantlers to run all the time without the operators having to stop in order to sort and handle lumber, so it increases production per machine. What you accomplished with three dismantlers you can now do with only two dismantlers and a conveyor system. And a turntable and conveyor may cost less than a dismantling machine.

This kind of arrangement also will improve sorting of used lumber. Recycled lumber is the lifeblood of your plant, so sorting it accurately and efficiently is critical. Remember: when mistakes are made sorting used lumber, it leads to problems building pallets. In some things, two heads are better than one, but not when it comes to sorting used lumber. The more people you have sorting, the more people you have to teach how to sort, and the more room there is for errors and mistakes. It is better for only one person do this task. If only one person does the sorting, you only need to train one person how to sort lumber accurately and efficiently. If you need to change an aspect of lumber sorting, you only have to tell one person, not six, eight or 10 people.

Another benefit of having a central sorting area is improved inventory control. When one person does all the sorting, he sees how many boards of each size and type that you have. When he sees that there is enough of a certain size board already in the racks, he can send word to the trim saw operator to stop cutting that size board. When he sees that he has enough of a smaller size board in the racks, he can tell the dismantlers to stop sending him those boards. They would set aside pallets of that particular size and concentrate on dismantling another size pallet. The pallets that are set aside will later be disposed of through whatever method the company normally uses, such as hogging, grinding or burning.

How many times have your workers dismantled a bunch of pallets only to have the wood put out in the yard to rot? A centralized sorting system eliminates this problem by providing stronger control over your inventory of used lumber.

You will save in other areas, too. Stronger control of what type of wood is being dismantled also will reduce blade costs and labor costs.

The main thing to remember is that, in most cases, when you have more than one person doing the same job, using conveyors makes sense. Conveyors usually cost less than dismantlers, and they come in a variety of sizes and styles and can turn corners. Turning corners lets you move lumber from anywhere to anywhere ó even from one building to another. Interestingly, some dismantler manufacturers are beginning to sell their machines with small conveyors attached.

This kind of approach to sorting may be even more efficient if you adopt a group piece rate plan for paying employees working in the lumber recovery operations. Under a group piece rate plan, set a daily production goal for overall lumber recovery. If the group meets it, everybody gets a bonus. This is much easier than counting everything produced by each worker and determining each oneís wages.

Also, when you put a bunch of men together doing the same job, a funny thing happens.

Competition takes over. Men love to compete; itís in our genes. If you get a good friendly competition going between the workers, production will take off. If they are scattered around the building, unable to see each other, the competition is over.


Here is a real example. I recently visited a pallet company that had six dismantlers running, 11 men rebuilding GMA pallets, and three men building pallets from scratch. They needed to recover about 12,500 boards per day in order to keep those men supplied with enough used lumber.

The owner thought that he had things set up properly, and he was proud of all the machines he had bought. But he was not happy with the volume of used lumber they were recovering from the existing set-up. In order to increase production, he believed that they needed to add another dismantling machine and expand the building.

The solution was not another dismantling machine and a bigger building. The answer was to design a new way to use the dismantlers they already had to achieve greater efficiency and production.

Basically, the problem was that they had six dismantlers located in different parts of the plant. That was not very efficient. They were sorting recycled lumber in six places!

I came up with a plan that actually allowed them to increase production while reducing the number of machines they needed. I suggested that they put their four bandsaw dismantlers in one area and set up a conveyor system to transport all the material to a central sorting location. As I noted above, in most cases conveyors cost less than dismantlers.

They certainly did not need to add onto the building. Most of you know what dismantlers cost. Expanding a building? That can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Here is another example, but this is a different pallet company that was doing it right. In this plant, the pallets were unloaded onto the dock and then sorted on the spot. Next to where the sorted pallets are stacked, two one-man dismantling machines are running. So far so good.

Now, here is where they were clever. When the boards come out of the dismantlers, they fall directly on to a 10-inch wide trough-type conveyor system. The conveyor moves these used pallet parts over 100 feet to another building. Inside the other building, the lumber goes directly to a turntable for sorting. They did something else with their plant lay-out that was equally clever: the building where the used lumber goes is the same building where the pallets are assembled.

This arrangement has many advantages. One, it only requires two dismantlers. Two, the wood flows smoothly and efficiently from the truck, to the dismantlers, to sorting, and finally to the builders. Three, the lumber is never outside, so the weather never has a chance to go to work on it.

Not convinced yet? Letís look at the numbers.

In the first example, the company without a conveyor system had four one-man dismantlers that averaged between 125 and 175 dismantled pallets daily. He also had two triple-head disc-type dismantlers running, and they averaged between 200 and 250 dismantled pallets daily. In all, six men operating six dismantlers recovered about 12,000 boards per day, but they still did not have enough used lumber without working overtime.

In the second example, the company with the conveyor system had more efficient numbers. The plant had only two dismantlers. They came up with a clever lay-out and used a little bit of conveyor. The company dismantled between 900 and 950 pallets per day. The three men ó two running the dismantlers and one sorting the lumber ó recovered about 9,000 boards per day. So they recovered 75% of the volume of boards as the company in the first example with only 50% of the personnel and only one-third as many dismantling machines.

Other Ideas

Hereís another intriguing idea. Most recyclers seem to always accumulate a lot of boards under 40 inches. For the most part, they cannot be used ó unless you are building pallets less than 40 inches. These short boards end up in a pile somewhere or they go to the hog or grinder, etc. Here is what some recyclers are doing. They cut these short boards down to 20 inches. Instead of using three stringers per pallet, they use four; they nail the fourth stringer alongside the middle stringer to make it a double. They put the 6-inch lead boards on the top and bottom, and then they fill the rest of the deck with the 20-inch boards. When they butt two 20-inch boards end-to-end, each board can be nailed in the center of the pallet to either side of the double stringer. Recyclers are selling these as very strong A or #1 pallets, not B or #2 pallets.

Will this method work for you? It is a decision that only you can make. Remember, they are going to require more nails and will take a little more time to assemble. Another issue: what type of pallets do you build? If you build pallets using boards under 40 inches, this method likely would not make sense for your operations.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can apply the same technique to larger pallets. For example, if you are building 48-inch or 60-inch pallets, you could butt together two 24-inch runners or two 30-inch runners and nail them alongside the middle stringer. Overall, this is a good way to use lumber that you may be paying to have hauled away.

Here is one final idea. Everything above also could apply to the set-up and use of your pallet tables.

Will these ideas work for you? Maybe yes, maybe no. Only you can decide.

Remember, recycled lumber is the lifeblood of your business. Everything starts with the wood and ends with the wood. But it is much more than just setting up machines and reclaiming boards. You have to think it through and have a plan in order to be efficient.

(Editorís Note: Clarence Leising is a sales representative and recycling specialist for Bronco Pallet Systems Inc.; he may be contacted by calling (800) 990-7872.)

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