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VIKING Powers Growth and Productivity at Berry Pallets, New Facility Positions for the Future
Minnesota Makeover: Berry Pallets moves into a new facility to position for growth and improve operational efficiencies. The pallet manufacturer has also found the secret to effectively use recycled lumber in its Viking Champion QC306 and Turbo 505 lines.

By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 6/1/2014

Forward momentum is a key reason for Richard Berry’s success in the pallet industry. As the president of Berry Pallets in Waseca, Minnesota, he knows the value of good equipment and working a growth plan. His partnership with leading suppliers, especially Viking Engineering & Development Inc., has helped Berry grow his business and remain competitive.

                Looking to position the company for future growth, Berry recently relocated his operation into a custom-built facility closer to the main city. And he shares what steps you can take to make any move or new facility project as successful as possible.

                Berry Pallets moved into a new 35,000 sq. foot facility last year that has made everything easier. Richard explained, “The previous facility consisted of six buildings whereas everything in the new facility is under one roof. This makes material flow in the plant easier and eliminates having to travel outside to move lumber and pallets, which is especially difficult in harsh winter weather.”

                The old facility had no docks and all pallets were loaded with pallet jacks. The new facility has eight docks that allow for much more efficient loading of pallets. This is really important for Berry Pallets because the company puts most loads directly into trailers for shipment instead of leaving them around in storage for a long time.

                Curtis Berry, Richard’s son and an operational foreman, added, “We keep very little inventory. Almost everything is loaded directly into trailers for quick delivery.”

                Efficient and consistent production from its nailing line is a main reason that the company can operate this way without having to keep large stockpiles in storage for customers. Berry Pallets currently has a Viking Turbo 505® and a Viking Champion QC306® that the company purchased new. From buying nails to parts and service, Viking has helped Berry keep his nailing lines running smoothly.

                Richard commented, “Viking is the gold standard when it comes to service in the pallet industry. Its service department will help troubleshoot any problems that arise. I have never come across a problem that they couldn’t fix quickly.”

                Also, Berry Pallets has the benefit of being close by to Viking’s headquarters in Fridley, Minnesota. Richard praised his Viking nailing lines as being the workhorse of his business.

                Curtis added, “Vikings are very reliable machines that are simple and easy to figure out for the operators.” 

                Let’s look at what made the new building and moving process so rewarding for Berry Pallets.


New Facility Design and Construction

                Moving into a new custom-built facility worked because every detail was considered from materials handling to energy efficiency to worker safety to insurability to financing and selling the building in the future.

                Richard stated, “We did the easiest stuff first moving the recycling part of the operation because there was less equipment involved. Then, we did the saw line followed by the nailing lines last.”

                Curtis said, “It took about a day or so to dismantle and move the Turbo 505. The entire plant was moved in a week or so.”

                Whenever you are moving a machine, it is important to take pictures and keep accurate records of how everything fits together, especially measuring joints and places where different sections of machinery interact or come together.

                The new facility is better in every way. The old plant was seven miles from the nearest fire department, whereas the new plant has a fire hydrant twenty feet away. This closer location to water resources combined with new fire protection systems has substantially lowered the insurance costs for the company. Richard said, “Insurance rates were getting so high in the old facility. Rates for the new building are $12,000 compared to $40,000. This new facility has allowed us to shop for competitive quotes from a number of insurance providers.”

                New fire protection measures include a sprinkler system for the whole plant and spark detection and sprinklers for the duct collection system. The layout of the new facility reduces wasted motion moving lumber and finished pallets. Items are placed in such a way to reduce trip hazards, which has positively impacted the company’s worker compensation experience ratio. The new building has heated floors that improve worker conditions especially in harsh winters and provides even heat throughout the facility.

                Berry Pallets has significantly reduced noise exposure for workers by installing perforated walls toward the top of the building. The structure consists of concrete block ten feet high at the base. Above that is ten feet steel construction with perforated metal on the top sidewalls and ceilings. This allows the sound of machinery to dissipate through the walls. Richard explained, “We reduced our noise levels by about 10 decibels. The production facility is about 85 decibels today.”

                The old facility required the use of hand jacks to load pallets. But now the new plant has eight loading docks, which facilities just-in-time distribution and immediate loading of finished pallets. Providing 35,000 sq. feet of usable space, the building comes with some nice tax advantages too. Richard worked with a business consultant to help Berry Pallets obtain tax abatements from the county and city governments. Designed to encourage business development, these programs are offered in many localities around the country. But sometimes it can be difficult to file all the right paperwork. Richard credited the business consultant with helping in a variety of ways from obtaining the tax abatements to securing financing and navigating building code concerns. Richard added, “I tried on my own maybe two years earlier to secure tax abatements, and I wasn’t successful because I did not have the knowledge about how to navigate the government processes.”

                Planning was the key to success in the building project. The building was designed to be easily retrofitted to other purposes if necessary. Richard explained, “We wanted the building to be multi-purpose so it could be easily sold in the future if necessary.”


Better Equipment Means Faster Production

                While the building is all new, Berry Pallets already had the right equipment to do the job. The company simply moved everything to the new location. Looking at the new facility, part of the inventory of raw material is inside and some is stored outside. Material comes in one door and goes right to a Newman Whitney KM-16 cut to length trim saw. It then travels to a M2L stacker by Pallet Machinery Group. This material is then inventoried or is taken to be processed through a Baker 4-head resaw line and then stacked by a M2L stacker. Stringers are notched in a Baker double head notcher and then stacked by a M2L stacker.

                “The M2L stackers have been in operation here for at least six years. We always used to have a hard time finding people to hand stack the finished boards. The employee turnover was high. Ever since we got the M2L stackers, we doubled our production with one less person and the employee turnover basically stopped,” said Richard.

                New pallets are produced on either a Viking Turbo 505 or a Viking Champion QC306. Some specialty pallets are made by hand. The Turbo 505 allows for fast changeover between various pallet footprints and designs. And the Champion QC306 will nail used lumber to produce remanufactured or combo pallets. Richard said that the Champion QC306 will make more pallets if some new material is utilized compared to all used lumber.

                Richard added, “I try to buy high quality equipment because it will run better and cause less problems in the long run.” One big advantage with Viking is that the supplier is close by in case an emergency arises.

                Although the plant uses mostly KD pine for new lumber, the facility does have a Kiln-direct.com chamber for heat treating pallets. The company does process a lot of pine cants too.

                Typically, Berry Pallets keeps very little material stored after being cut. It all goes directly to the nailers. “I like to keep minimal inventory on-hand. We operate on a just-in-time basis,” said Richard. Finished pallets are loaded directly into trailers because insurance companies don’t like to see stacks of pallets just sitting around.

                The recycling operation starts with a Heartland dismantler that feeds into roundtables. Then a Rodgers end trim saw is used for sawing deck boards. Stringers go through a Saw Service end trim saw. Recycled stringers are processed through a Pallet Repair Systems (PRS) stringer sizer machine.

                Richard commented that the PRS stringer sizer is critical for the success of running used lumber through his Viking machines. He stated, “With recycled stringers, you have nail stubble. And the height of stringers are all over the board. We run stringers through the PRS sizer, which we set at 3.5 inches for height. You still have some stringers that are less than 3.5 inches, the operator has to pick those out and throw them in the middle. But we can run recycled lumber through the Turbo 505 relatively easily if they are sized.”

                Richard credited this PRS sizer as a key for his operation to efficiently produce combo pallets. Berry Pallets has been making combos for a long time.

                Richard explained that the PRS saw is unique because it squishes any nail stubble into the board and then a planer head cuts to the right size going through nails and all. The planer head on this machine has Profile Technology nail cutter tips. Berry Pallets can get almost a year’s life out of one set of Profile Technology tips.

                He said, “Processing used lumber through the PRS stringer sizer makes it like running new lumber through the Turbo 505.”

                The pallet repair area has a hand built line and an automated repair line made by PRS. Workers repair pallets on PRS tables that come with a plater on it. Richard said, “Our focus is not high production repair. We just don’t run that many used pallets compared to most recyclers.”

                The prime focus for Berry Pallets is to efficiently process old pallets into usable lumber for producing combo pallets. Almost 75% of the recycled lumber goes through both Viking machines. 


Progress Require Commitment

                The new plant required a significant commitment from Richard and his company. It cost nearly $2.4 million to build. One reason Richard was able to spend so much money on a building was that he had already collected a large supply of top-notch equipment.

                Richard explained, “The cost of our old location was really low because it was out in the middle of nowhere and the buildings were all paid for. This allowed me to build up my equipment inventory. And when I moved into the new building, I didn’t need to invest in much new machinery.”

                Despite the risk, Richard believes the new building was a necessity. He stated, “We are now positioned to be able to grow our business and serve more customers. The new building came at a cost, but it is worth the investment and is already saving in areas, such as lower insurance and more efficient overall operations.” 

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