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A&L Wood Turns to Trusted Equipment Supplier to Support New Growth
Next Generation Growth: Pennsylvania pallet manufacturer upgrades sawing capacity with new Pendu equipment, eliminates grade operation and focuses on successful business transition as younger generation enters the picture.

By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 6/3/2018

Since Michael Leitzel returned from a career in finance to help his father Gary manage A&L Wood, things have been a little different. Simply put, Gary said, his son has breathed fresh life into the company. Located in Mount Pleasant Mills, Pennsylvania, A&L, a supplier of high quality hardwood pallets, looks to increase production to meet the needs of customer growth. A key partner in the process is Pendu Manufacturing Inc., which has supplied equipment for A&L’s newly updated sawing department.


Successful Transition – Family Makes the Job Worthwhile

Many pallet companies know the reality that a family member can come back into a business and add desperately needed expertise.

After receiving an MBA in corporate finance from Boston College, Mike worked in a variety of increasingly responsible finance management and consulting roles before returning to A&L in December 2016. Financial expertise was something that the company had always lacked. Gary’s degree was in art. “He has crunched numbers and introduced new processes to handle things better,” Gary said, remarking on his son’s passion for the business.

“My wife and I are starting a family, and we wanted to be closer to family,” Mike said about his return to the family company. “It is exciting to be a part of a business my dad started and that I grew up with, and help it continue on to the next generation.”

“My dad is really easy to work with,” Mike explained. “He is really good at stepping back and then interjecting when needed. He is willing to let you take risks. If he thinks something isn’t going to work he’ll let you know, but he is not going to hold you back. He is going to let you figure it out for yourself.”

The values of mutual respect and letting the other family members work with their gifts are keys to a successful family business transition. Gary explained, “Mike is the driving force behind these expansions and future expansions. My role right now is getting out of the way.” He made this statement as he moves toward retirement and prepares for his son to take over the business.


Pendu 4700B Bottom Up Stacker and 4300 Gang Saw

With increased throughput in mind, A&L Wood turned once again to Pendu, a trusted longtime supplier. “Pendu green is one of my favorite colors,” Gary said dryly. The company recently purchased Pendu’s new 4700B Bottom Up Stacker as well as a 4300 gang saw to go along with several other pieces of long-serving Pendu equipment in the plant.

The Bottom Up Stacker was put in place to help A&L gear up production while maintaining its current staffing level. Designed to stack up to 20 layers per minute, the bottom-up feed design is lower to the ground than an over the top stacker for easier access to the stick placer and infeed. It can handle material ranging from 24 inches to 72 inches in length, 1½ inches to 5½ inches wide, and 3/8 inch to 2 inches thick. The A&L installation makes use of the optional pit.

While the point of automating the stacking was to eliminate a production bottleneck, A&L received a surprising and important benefit – sawdust removal. “The nailers saw it immediately,” Gary said. “It was cleaner around the machines. When the boards are in the pit, they are tumbled around and it knocks the sawdust off of them. And that solved our sawdust problem.”


Powered by Pendu

In fact, the 4700B has plenty of company from the Pendu line at the 28,000- square-foot A&L plant. Incoming logs go through Morbark debarkers, which in turn feed two Pendu 6800 scragg mills. Both are equipped with a Pendu chain bar cutoff saw. “We cut overlength by about 3 inches,” Gary stated. “We get the longest length cants we can out of that log, and then they are dumped onto Pendu trim saws to trim them to finished length.” Two Pendu gang saws, as well as a four-head, custom-built bandsaw provide final breakdown. An inline Pendu double-headed notcher looks after notching needs for four-way stringers.

Slabs are graded for potential board recovery. “Anything we can get a pallet board out of then goes through a Pendu slab reclaimer,” Gary said. They recover 4-inch-wide material, in thicknesses of  5/8” or ½”.  As part of the expansion project, the company plans to install an additional custom five-head bandsaw.

As the very first 4700B in the field, there were some initial problems stacking ½-inch deck boards. Looking back, Gary said A&L should have been more proactive in immediately communicating their concerns, and as a result of not doing so, struggled for a while. As soon as Pendu found out they were having issues with thinner deck boards, the Pendu team responded promptly. They took the machine back to the shop to make adjustments, and now it is working much better.

The new Pendu 4300 gang saw was purchased to replace an older model. Gary reported that the new machine is so much easier to work on and maintain. “It is built a little heavier and does a better job all around,” he said.

“We have been working with Pendu forever,” Gary elaborated, “and it has been a nice relationship. Service is good – parts no problem. They are awful nice guys. I trust them. I don’t need a contract drawn up. I trust they are going to do what they say they are going to do. I consider those guys at Pendu as friends.”


Viking Champion and Duomatic Update Kit Increase Production

A&L runs Viking Turbo 505 and Duomatic lines. Last winter, the company installed the upgrade kit from Pallet Machinery Group on the Duomatic. “It has worked out wonderfully,” Gary said. “It really increased production and made it run like a new machine. That was money well spent.”

A Viking Champion was also put into operation to provide additional nailing capacity as part of their growth plan. “We added the Champion as a stepping stone, and when we can’t handle any additional volume, then we’ll go the full step,” he said, regarding when they would look to buy a new high-volume nailing line.

The company serves customers in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. It offers HT pallets, which it treats in its Kiln-Direct kiln.


Quality Starts with Log Supply

A&L uses a multi-pronged approach to material supply which includes buying standing timber as well as gatewood logs. “We found that by going out and buying our own timber, then we are assured of getting material we want for pallets,” Gary said. Grade logs are also recovered and sold to other sawmills.

“We also buy an awful lot of gatewood, and we are very thankful to all of those loggers that sell us their scragg logs,” he added.

“We are in a unique position,” Mike added. “Our scragg mill secures our lumber situation. We source lumber from multiple spots so we are diversified in how we source lumber. We have a strong position in always having hardwood material. We are comfortable in having the material needed by customers, including sizing and quality.”

“We work really hard to make the logistics work out,” Mike said. “If customers get in a scramble, we almost always come up with a solution for them. We work very closely with our vendors.”

For a while, A&L ran a small grade mill to process the grade logs, but when Mike arrived, his analysis determined that the space could be more profitably employed to expand the pallet board line.

“Most of the time, when sawmills decide they are going to make some pallets, it doesn’t benefit them,” Gary observed, noting that the same holds true for a pallet company trying to do grade lumber. “You either have to be in the grade business or the pallet business or you are spinning your wheels.”


Energy Infusion Propels A&L

The integration of Mike Leitzel into the family business has provided a spark, including the moves to increase plant capacity.  “His energy has been contagious with the guys,” Gary added. “He still has that old mentality that we are all here working together, we are like a family.”

“It has been a lot of fun working with my dad and a great group of people at the company,” Mike said. “Honestly, a lot of the people that were the same guys what I worked with when I was here in high school, and now some of their kids, so it has been extremely rewarding.”

Mike’s approach is to use machinery to help increase production. “We have this great opportunity to use machinery with our people to get a lot done with a limited amount of resources,” he said.

“We are looking at processes across company,” he added. “We’re looking under each rock and seeing if we can find small changes to our business that have a large impact and we have been lucky to have been able to find some of those things.”

It still ultimately comes down to quality, Gary noted, whether in buying the right timber and logs, or in choosing the best equipment to process it.  “We have always tried to play close attention to quality, to make sure we are giving the customer what he has ordered,” he said. “When we go home at night and the trucks are loaded, we have a feeling that we put a pallet on that trailer that is going to perform as the customer expected it to perform.”

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