CTC Packaging Ramps Up Production to Match Sales: Pennsylvania Company’s Latest Investment Is New Brewer Cut-Up System
Design Challenges: Unique building constraints created a complex engineering challenge when CTC Packaging looked to boost production in its sawing facility. The company turned to Brewer Machine & Parts to help it overcome these obstacles working in conjunction with Pallet Machinery Group.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 12/3/2018
SANDY LAKE, Pennsylvania — CTC Packaging looked to upgrade its cut-up operations in recenyears to keep pace with growing pallet sales.
It wasn’t going to be easy, however. The company’s production operations are contained in a 70-year-old, 31,000-square-foot building with a lot of nooks and crannies and support poles throughout the building. Just designing a system to fit that building footprint would be a challenge itself.
The company turned to Kentucky-based Brewer Machine & Parts, which had just the right kind of technology to smooth out the design and engineering process. The complete Brewer system replaced two existing cut-up lines and enabled CTC to increase production of pallet components by 50%.
The increase in pallet sales has been a deliberate strategy of the company’s management team, which made it a priority for the sales staff. “The sales team was able to pull in more work for us,” said Chris Groger, the company’s maintenance supervisor.
Growth Requires Improved Sawing Operations
The increase in pallet sales drove the need for more lumber production, and a search for a new cut-up system. “We searched for a system that could produce the most and the fastest to help us get there,” said Groger.
CTC works only with hardwood material for pallets. Dominant species are oak and cherry. The sawmill processes low-grade logs into what Groger referred to as blocking; it supplies the company with about 10-20% of the blocking it requires, and it buys additional blocking from other mills in Pennsylvania. The blocking material, in random lengths from 6-16 feet long, ranges from 3-1/2x6 to 5-½x6 as well as 3x4, 4x4 and 4x6; the majority is 3-1/2x6 or 5-1/2x5. Blocking is what the company uses for raw material at its production plant. The company buys cut stock from a nearby mill on rare occasions — if it experiences a production-related breakdown, for example, or is just extremely busy.
As the company weighed options for a new cut-up system, it considered several equipment manufacturers in a decision-making process that spanned several years.
Groger was first acquainted with Brewer by meeting company representatives at the EXPO Richmond one year. “I was very impressed with the quality of the machines,” he said, and favored Brewer from the beginning.
Unique Design Capabilities of Brewer Staff
Brewer put the CTC team in touch with a customer that had a very similar Brewer system, and CTC representatives visited the plant to watch it run and talk to key employees about the performance of the Brewer line.
Because the CTC plant has a lot of walls and posts, considerable custom engineering was required in the process of designing the cut-up system. Brewer used a new 3D scanning tool to obtain an accurate layout of the building interior – including the walls, poles, and other features. The tool and the company’s 3D drafting software proved valuable in the process of determining the footprint of the machinery and equipment. “Brewer was able to fit it in,” said Groger.
The cut-up operations begin with a bunk of blocking material placed via forklift on the infeed chain, and it goes over a roll case to open the pack. The pieces are singulated by a pit and unscrambler system up onto a dealer deck before being fed into the first machine center: a Brewer 5-head multi-trim saw. The multi-trim cuts the blocking into lengths for deck boards or stringers, and the cants exit along an outfeed roll case to a Brewer double-arbor gang saw. The gang saw infeed puts the material through a planer head that sizes the cant properly, removing a layer of wood before the cant is sawn.
Material exiting the gang goes along a conveyor to be inspected and graded. From there the deck boards or stringers are conveyed to a custom M2L stacker supplied by Pallet Machinery Group. For stringers that will be notched, the material can be fed in-line directly from the gang outfeed to the custom Brewer notching machine and then to the M2L stacker. The notching machine also has a feature to cut notches for strapping or banding.
CTC produces a lot of custom pallets. Accordingly, it cuts a lot of unique components. Brewer was able to accommodate the company in that respect, noted Groger. “Between (Brewer representative) Marty Fox and Greg Wine (president of Pallet Machinery Group), they did a number of custom things for us,” said Groger. For example, the notching machine and the stacker both can accommodate material that is 96 inches long.
Greg Wine’s company also supplied an intermediate conveyor between the notcher and the stacker that allows the company to shift the worker on the grading belt to oversee the stacker. The system also allows all the notched stringers to be oriented and stacked in the same direction. “It makes it much more efficient when we’re loading the Viking,” noted Groger.
“The two companies (Brewer and Pallet Machinery Group) went above and beyond to make it work for us,” he added.
Seamlessly Coordinating the Installation Process
The Brewer cut-up system came online in March of this year. “It was smooth,” Groger said of the start-up.
CTC removed one of the old cut-up lines. While the Brewer system was being installed, it continued to run the other existing old line. When the Brewer system was ready to go, CTC brought in technicians from Burkhardt Sheet Metal, the company that supplied its dust collection system. This existing system was swapped over to the Brewer machines with a new fan; that process took about one week, during which the company’s cut-up operations were idle. Finally, when the Brewer system came online, the second old line was removed.
The two previous lines could produce either deck boards or stringers, but each one generally was dedicated to producing the same type of components — either deck boards or stringers.
Before making the investment in a new cut-up system, the company did consider buying cut stock to supplement its production of pallet lumber. However, other mills proved they weren’t entirely reliable, and there were also issues with lumber quality. In addition, unless the company committed to a certain volume, pricing would be an issue. Ultimately, CTC leadership decided the company could control quality and costs better by making the investment in a new cut-up system.
Other Aspects of the Production & Key Suppliers
The company has a Viking Turbo 505, purchased new in 2007, for automated nailing, and also a Bronco Pallet Systems pallet assembly system. Because it does a lot of custom work, 12-15 employees assemble pallets by hand with pneumatic nailing tools; hand nailing is done mainly with Paslode pneumatic tools, and the company also has some Senco and Bostitch nailers.
Viking bulk nails are used in the Turbo 505, and Duo-Fast collated nails are used in nailing tools, which are supplied and serviced by a local business.
Saw blades are supplied by S&D Saw and Tool Co. in Shamokin, Pennsylvania. Cutting tools for the notching machine are supplied by Profile Technology.
A Morbark chipper is used to process trim ends and scrap boards and stringers into chips; CTC sells those chips and more generated by the sawmill to several markets, including a flooring manufacturing business. Sawdust from the sawmill and cut-up operations are supplied to a local business that sells it to farmers.
CTC produces a few GMA-size pallets, but most of its pallet production is odd and custom sizes and footprints. The company produces a large number of 32-inch pallets and some as large as 90x84.
Offering Packaging Materials to Customers
The company is not involved in the recycled pallet market, although it supplies a pallet to one customer that has a steel frame and wood deck boards. Those pallets are captured and retrieved in a closed loop for the customer. CTC also distributes a small volume of plastic and composite pallets.
Packaging materials include corrugated, shrink film, and other goods, and corrugated is far and away the leading seller. CTC purchases corrugated already printed, cut and shaped. The only additional process the company adds is gluing corrugated in layers.
The company decided to add packaging materials to its product line in the mid-1980s. Customers were interested in a ‘one-stop shop’ that could supply pallets and containers as well as the corrugated boxes and shrink wrap they required, explained Groger.
Being a supplier of the shipping platform — the pallet or crate — as well as packaging materials enables CTC to design and supply everything for the customer’s unit load — the corrugated cartons, slip sheets between layers of products, fill material for voids inside cartons, and other products such as banding or strapping, stretch film and shrink wrap. The company also distributes machinery to secure a unit load, such as automatic banders, stretch wrappers, and shrink wrap equipment.
CTC warehouses are used for storing pallets for customers as well as packaging materials. “We have a couple of large accounts with big-name companies,” explained Groger, that have global operations, and CTC serves their manufacturing facilities in the United States. CTC warehouses are located near those customer facilities, and pallets are shipped from the CTC plant to those warehouses.
CTC has a fairly diverse customer base. The company serves manufacturers of automotive parts, aerospace components, light and heavy industry, and also the food industry. Most customers are located within a radius of about 150 miles, but it also supplies some pallets that are brokered and packaging products to customers throughout North America.
CTC Company History & Background
CTC’s headquarters and production facility — housing cut-up operations and pallet and container assembly operations — are in Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania about 70 miles due north of Pittsburgh. (Sandy Lake is less than 50 miles from Youngstown, Ohio.) The company operates a sawmill less than 20 miles west in Greenville, Pennsylvania. In addition, it has warehouses in both locations plus a distribution warehouse in Akron, Ohio, and it keeps inventory for some customers at satellite warehouses in the South and Midwest.
Specializing in mainly custom hardwood pallets, CTC has about 50 employees — 10 at a sawmill, and about 40 at its production plant. Although weekly production varies quite a bit, depending on orders from customers, the company has annual revenues of about $15 million.
The business is split roughly 50-50 between sales of wooden pallets and containers and other packaging material. Packaging material had been accounting for about 70% of revenues, but pallet sales have escalated in recent years, which led the company to upgrade its cut-up system.
The business was founded as Clinch-Tite in 1955. The name was derived from an acquired Swedish patented technology for assembling pallets. Pallets initially were manufactured by sub-contractors until the company began its own manufacturing operations in Sandy Lake in 1958.
The business was acquired by the Staples family in 1973, and they still own and manage the company. The company added packaging materials and equipment to its product offerings in 1986, and the business changed its name to CTC Packaging in 2015.
CTC Packaging is owned by three members of the Staples family: brothers David, Victor, and Mike Staples. David has the role of company president. Mike oversees the Ohio warehouse and other aspects of the business, while Victor is recently retired. Victor’s son, Josh, is sales manager.
The Staples family applies their faith to their business. The first statement in the company’s vision statement is: “To honor God at all times.” The vision statement also calls for honesty in dealing with employees and their families, and understanding and exceeding expectations of customers.
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