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Getting Leaner and More Efficient: Cole Pallet Adds Corali Line, Boosts Productivity
Cole Pallet: Midwest pallet manufacturer adds Italian high-speed Corali line, focuses on plant improvements and lean thinking. Beyond adding a new machine, some of the most important improvements are better plant processes.

By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 12/3/2018

DEKALB, Illinois – Being the first is never easy, but it is frequently rewarding. Cole Pallet Services Corp. is the first pallet company in the United States to add a Corali nailing line designed to produce stringer pallets at a rate of up to 500 pallets per hour. And the company is not done yet, it has plans to upgrade its cut-up plant too.

“We were drawn to the Corali machine because of its speed and production capability. We thought it was time that this Italian high-performance machine was brought to the United States,” stated Brett Cole, president of Cole Pallet. During my visit in April, Brett pointed out that the machine was making half pallets at the time; and it could pump out a new one every 4.5 seconds.

Brett added, “It has been a learning curve. But we anticipated that, and I am proud of the progress that we have made thanks to the excellent support from the Corali team in both the United States and Italy.”

What makes the Corali machine unique? It is designed for speed and performance. Every detail seeks to improve the speed of the process. For example, the machine stores pre-positioned nails for faster firing. Custom modules can be added for pallet rotation, stacking, corner cutting, turnover devices, automatic banding, labeling, nail pressing, stenciling, heat branding and plastic cover application. Since 1957, Corali has been making wood products equipment, and it has become a major name in the European and global pallet manufacturing sector.

 “Corali is known for high-speed automation, and Cole Pallet wants to move in that direction,” explained Brett.

By the time they are done, it will take about a year to reach the desired production goal. Brett said, “Our best day so far is 2,800 on an eight-hour shift. I don’t think we are far off from 2,000 pallets every single day, then we move onto 2,500 and finally we hope to reach the goal of 3,000 pallets per day.”

Corali’s top production figures are based on the experience of European pallet companies that use better quality wood and have better lumber sortation and control than most U.S. pallet manufacturers. But the numbers that Cole Pallet expects to reach are still impressive.

Some in the U.S. industry question if the European technology is worth the price, but John Cole, vice president of Cole Pallet, thinks the payback will be worth the investment. He said, “Labor is only getting tighter, and we want to automate as much as possible. Investing now is the right time because money is relatively inexpensive compared to historic interest rates.”

               

Learning Process, World-Class Support

Installing a system that has never been tried in the United States for producing stringer pallets takes courage and patience. But Brett insists the process has been worth the effort. He commented, “It has been a big learning curve, and we are getting better every day.”

Cole Pallet has had to do a better job of culling out inferior quality lumber and using it to produce hand-built pallets. He explained that the Rayco nailers can take almost anything, but the Corali nailers need a bit better material. However, the difference between the two in terms of lumber quality is not as great as some would expect.

One change that made a huge difference was switching to nails with a pointed tip instead of a blunt tip. Those have driven better using the Corali nailing heads.

A big reason that the process has gone as well as it has is the world-class service offered by Corali. Brett commented, “Corali’s support has been second to none from what I’ve seen in this industry. The Corali-USA technical rep works out of our office and helps me out with technical issues all day, every day. Corali is paying for that.”

Jeff Jensen, president of Corali-USA, stated, “The Cole pallet machine is linked to Corali via the internet so that our technicians from Europe can remote into the machine and troubleshoot any issue that arises. We use high-end PLCs that make tele-servicing easy.”

Getting the right people to run the machine is critical to success too. Brett admitted, “I think our biggest mistake was that I hired some equipment operators from outside of our industry. It didn’t work because they were not used to the pallet industry and didn’t know the lumber. It just wasn’t a match, and it took me two months to give up on them. And then I brought our key operators from the Raycos over and we’ve been getting better every single day.”

 

Focusing on Operational Improvement Starts with Lean Thinking

For several years the company has been focused on driving sales growth, but this year management is shifting its attention to operational efficiency. Brett stated, “This year we are taking a year off sales growth focus and committing ourselves to improving our overall process. We hired a manufacturing engineer. So, we understand our weaknesses and we are trying to address them on a daily basis.”

Cole Pallet recently hired a mechanical engineer, Marco Dias, who previously worked summers building pallets for the company. Once he graduated, he wanted to come in and run the company’s Corali line. Brett commented, “Marcos has taken control of the Corali line, and the numbers are proving it.”

He added, “Marcos has been working with the Corali and Rayco operators to optimize production, help improve lumber quality and reduce waste.” 

The Cole Pallet team has been focused on getting the right information to make the best decisions. Explaining the company’s recent lean focus, Brett declared, “Data, data, data is #1. If you are not collecting data then you are making assumptions on what the issues are based on opinion, not fact.” 

So, what data points is Cole Pallet tracking? Brett said, “We are tracking board footage based on species, component, shift, machine, dimensions and quantity produced. In our cut plant and in our assembly plant, we are tracking pallets per man hour/machine.”

Team leads are calculating pallets produced compared to the established goal. This allows workers to monitor performance and focus on running tighter schedules. For more information on key metrics, see Sidebar.

The Corali line is a sizeable investment. Cole Pallet management stated that getting the most out of the machine required creating realistic and aggressive goals for the operators.

Analyzing data helps managers identify problem areas and provide direction that can assist the operators in achieving goals. This lean approach also seeks input from the line operators because they are the closest to the true production issues.

Beyond the new Corali line, the next big investment in equipment will upgrade Cole’s lumber production facility. They have added functional pieces to increase capacity, including a 2-head WoodMizer re-saw and a refurbished 5 head chop-saw.

Measurements are guiding the improvements at Cole Pallet. Brett said, “We are measuring and seeking to

on the number of pallets produced per man per hour, board footage per man per hour at the cut plant, and then our entire process flow from start to finish.”

Significant sales growth has led to some good business problems to have. Brett explained, “We’ve kind of outgrown our shoes a little bit, I guess. From an operations perspective we’re starting to choke and cough. That’s why we’re looking on fixing our operation side. We must get more efficient before we go into another growth phase.”

The biggest choke point right now is the cut plant, which must stay ahead or the rest of the operation bogs down. Cole Pallet moved its plant manager, Jerome Coleman, from the main pallet assembly building to the cut plant. Brett commented, “Ever since Jerome went over there most of the time and focused more attention on that part of the operation, we’ve been seeing our board footage produced on a daily basis go up and up.”

 

Adding the Right Piece of Equipment Reduces Material Flow Issues

One of the other big additions has been a new heat treatment chamber from BOLDesign Inc. of North Carolina. In the past, finished pallets had to be taken over to the cut-up plant to heat treat loads. While it isn’t a long drive, it adds extra handling and creates inefficient materials flow.

A major concern was getting the right size unit for the space and desired capacity. Brett said, “We chose BOLDesign because its staff took our design and made a custom unit at a very good price. The craftsmanship of the chamber is great. We designed this unit to fit on our site.”

About 25% of the pallets produced by Cole Pallet are heat treated for ISPM-15 compliance.

 

Committed to Service

Both of the Cole brothers were new when they entered the pallet industry in 2014. They bought an existing building, changed the name and have focused on growth. Brett has a military background, and John comes from the fertilizer industry. And they both know what it takes to keep customers happy.

Brett suggested, “We go above and beyond to service customers. Our commitment to ensure quality and consistency is one reason that customers keep on coming back.”

That is one of the reasons that Cole Pallet chose Corali. Beyond just the machine, the Cole brothers wanted world-class service and support too.

For more information on Corali, visit www.corali-usa.com, email jeff@stitchingandgluing.com or call 513-588-3199.








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