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N.C. Pallet Maker Invests, Adapts to Strengthen Position in Market
North Carolina pallet manufacturer invests in Pallet Chief nailing machine and adapts in order to strengthen market position.

By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 6/1/2001

Richmond Forest Products Adds Pallet Chief Nailer

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. — Pallet manufacturers have been faced with challenges in recent years as ever-increasing costs combined with competitive pressures have squeezed profits. The issue for many is: how to keep prices in line and still run a profitable business.

For Johnny Johnson, owner of Richmond Forest Products Inc., the answer has come through a two-year program of upgrading equipment and modifying his operations. The changes and machinery have allowed him to make his company more efficient, increase production, and keep pallet prices competitive.

Three years ago Johnny’s pallet manufacturing company was producing 1,200-1,300 pallets per day. Richmond Forest Products used about 70,000-80,000 board feet of precut lumber per week. While the company provided pallet repair and reconditioning services, the actual work was subcontracted out.

Today the company manufactures 1,400-1,600 pallets daily, has increased its manufacturing space by 60%, runs a resaw operation to manufacture the bulk of the 90,000-100,000 feet of lumber it uses per week, and does pallet repair and refurbishing in-house. Sales volume, Johnny said, has grown by more than 23% over those years.

The centerpiece of the company’s recent machinery investments has been the purchase of a Pallet Chief IV pallet assembly system. "I’ve had the system for almost exactly one year now, and I love it," Johnny said. "It’s done everything we hoped it would."

Pallet Chief was an affordable assembly system that allowed him to push his production up to the levels he needed to achieve, he said. At the same time, the machine reduced the amount of physical labor required for each pallet.

That was an important feature, Johnny said, because Richmond Forest Products values its employees. "We wanted to increase production but we didn’t want to do it at the expense of our employee’s health and safety," he said. "With the Pallet Chief IV, we’re able to make more pallets more safely with less actual manual effort."

The Pallet Chief can be quickly and easily changed over from one pallet footprint to another. For the four major pallet footprints that Johnny’s company produces, change-over time is less than five minutes. To switch from an established footprint to a specialty pallet requires only about 20 minutes, according to Johnny. "When you combine the ease of operation, the quick and easy change-overs, and the production levels we get out of the Pallet Chief, it’s easy to see that purchasing this machine has made a real difference in our ability to operate profitably and still remain competitive."

The Pallet Chief IV is a two-gantry nailing machine that can hold up to eight nailing tools. The first gantry nails the bottom deck boards. The machine automatically advances the partly-assembled pallet and flips it to the second station so that the top deck boards can be positioned. Nail placement is guided by a mechanical method through the use of a proximity switch. The gantry never stops, nailing ‘on the fly.’ When the pallet is completed, it feeds into the company’s angled stacker.

The machine can be run by two operators, one at each gantry to position the pallet components. The Pallet Chief IV is designed to produce about two pallets per minute. The standard Pallet Chief IV can build pallets ranging from 34x34 to 48x48. The company will supply other versions to accommodate different sizes.

Bringing lumber production in-house has also improved operations and profitability, according to Johnny. He’s been especially pleased with his investment in an L-M Equipment package saw. "It gave me at least a 40 percent production increase for the cut-up line," he said.

Bringing repair and refurbishing in-house was another positive step forward for his company. The repair facility has become a major consumer of the cull lumber produced on the resaw line.

Johnny has even taken his search for efficiency and cost control to the waste end of his business. The recent installation of a Precision Husky chipper allows the wood and sawdust that cannot be used in the manufacturing or repair process to be used to make a product that can be sold to poultry farmers.

"We have always tried to concentrate on the quality of our pallet, on service, and on competitive pricing," Johnny said. "The changes we’ve made allowed us to improve on all three things, and that means we’re taking better care of our customers than ever before. The importance of that never changes, so to us, it’s all been worth the effort."

For more information on Pallet Chief Manufacturing or its nailing machines, contact Pallet Chief at (800) 339-2925, fax (256) 249-4975, e-mail at palletchiefsales@mindspring.com, or visit the Web site at www.palletchief.com.

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