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Botkin Lumber Co. Uses Kent Corp Machinery to Expand Its Efficiency
Key Is Fingerprint Reduction in Materials Handling

By Staff
Date Posted: 7/1/2002

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Missouri – Botkin Lumber Company, Inc., which dates back nearly 70 years, has ridden the tide of change from its original Reynolds County, Mo. location to today's three locations. In the 1950s Botkin Lumber moved to Farmington, Mo., expanded to a second location in Taylorville, Ill in 1986, and then added a former Georgia-Pacific distribution center location in Cape Girardeau, Mo. about four years ago.

Albert Cleve and three other investors replaced the four original Botkin family owners in 1977; he and Butch Wade bought out the other two investors in 1992. This year, Albert and Butch separated the company, with Butch taking the sawmill at Farmington as Botkin Lumber Products and Albert owning Botkin Lumber Co., Inc.'s Cape Girardeau plant and Taylorville and Farmington assembly facilities. As the sole owner of Botkin Lumber Co., Albert employs about 125 people, including his wife, Karen Cleve, and his two daughters, Katie Cleve and Jennifer Blum. Wayne Cox works in full step with Albert in virtually every aspect of the company.

Botkin Lumber Co. now has annual sales of $25 million or more in its four divisions. Botkin's sales are divided fairly evenly between four overall categories: lumber, CHEP lumber, industrial products, and wood packaging.

Botkin processes virtually all of its lumber at the Cape Girardeau plant from which it ships directly to customers and its own two assembly plants. The Taylorville and Farmington plants have limited cut-up operations and concentrate mainly on assembling pallets, crates, and other wood packaging.

Minimize Fingerprinting Using Kent Corp.

As Botkin has adjusted to changes in technology, it has focused heavily on minimizing the number of times that a piece of lumber has to be handled. Albert has heavily automated the material handling aspect of moving wood through various processing stages. Albert said, "Other companies typically cut material to length and then stack it, move it, feed it to a resaw, stack it again, and repeat the processes with other phases. In our operation, lumber is handled only once when it goes to the multi-trim. It is not handled again until it goes to the chamfering machine. We tried to automate everything that we possibly could. We have taken most of the fingerprints off the lumber by conveying, dealing, changing direction, and other automated handling."

When contemplating recent changes in its lumber cutup operation, Botkin chose Kent Corporation as its machinery supplier. Sam Baker, president of Kent Corp., designed a lot of decks, infeeds, board dealers, and other equipment and systems. Albert said, "Sam is pretty much an engineer. He can look at an idea and see how to move lumber and do it efficiently, putting as few fingerprints as possible on it. He'll do it automatically through electronic eyes and switches."

Without the automated material handling systems, Albert estimates that the Cape Girardeau cut-up facility might require as many as 150 workers. Instead, it now only requires about 75 people. Albert was happy when he stated, "We almost doubled production and didn't add any people."

Sam said, "Most of the equipment we built for Botkin Lumber was material handling equipment. It included belt conveyors, chain decks, self-dumping hoppers, stack-n-racks, waste conveyors, etc. We customize these products to fit a customer's needs. Kent is large enough to handle the requirements of a larger customer like Botkin but small enough to be able and willing to meet its customization needs.

Kent manufactured chain decks that are 80 feet long and two feet wide, three-strand decks with board tumblers, incline decks that feed 2x6s edge-ways into a sizer, conveyors that fit underneath existing equipment, and stack-n-racks made for every conceivable material length.

Kent Corp. is working on an entire line of equipment to cut blocks at high speeds and feed them directly into the GBN nailer. Sam indicates that this should eliminate five people and provide total automation to cut enough blocks to feed two nailing lines.

Albert had known Sam since before he started his own machinery company. There were several factors in his decision to rely heavily on Sam. Albert said, "If there is a problem, he gets to the bottom of it. He stays hooked on it until he's taken care of it. That's really a plus. Sam is probably at the top of my list as far as people who will stand behind their equipment. He said he would stand behind it, and he does. That is the biggest thing. I can't drive it home enough."

Being a small supplier which is located close enough to respond quickly has worked in Kent's favor. "He's very competitive," said Albert, "His response time and manufacturing time are short. I almost always have something on order for him to build."

Sam said, "Our customization ability and attention to a customer's needs is what people expect and get from Kent. We are large enough to fill any order and yet small enough to customize our machines to fit a customer's needs instead of selling them a one-size-fits-all product."

Production Efficiency

Like most pallet companies, Botkin Lumber utilizes a variety of machinery suppliers. Albert helped design the company's automatic breakdown system and grading deck. In addition to Kent Corporation, other industry suppliers with machinery at Botkin are G. Wine Sales, GBN, Brewer, Baker Products, and Froedge.

Froedge helped Albert design the breakdown system. Botkin utilizes five G. Wine Sales M2L automatic board stackers, replacing a small army of people stacking pallet stock. Albert noted Greg Wine for the support behind his machinery. Stacking is an important function behind the efficiency of Botkin's remanufacturing operation.

Botkin uses Brewer chamfering machines and still has a few Baker resaws and machines in its arsenal of machinery.

The company has a GBN block pallet assembly system at its Cape Girardeau plant and a Campbell nailing machine at the Taylorville location. The ability to efficiently manufacture block pallets is important. GBN nailing equipment is known as machinery that can build block pallets efficiently.

Botkin uses walking floor trailers to transport wood fiber residue to animal bedding customers. Shavings and sawdust are removed by a dust collection system to the trailers.

Kent customized one of its Blockhead band resaws to meet the needs of Botkin, who wanted to consistently split 2x6 SYP at over 120 feet per minute. It had to be self-fed, and jam-up problems had to be eliminated because there was no operator at this station. Some other machines had failed to meet this requirement. Sam customized a Kent Blockhead by adding more power and more speed, and creating special hold downs and railing devices to eliminate jam-ups.

Sam also built two five-head trim saws and one three-head trim saw. These Kent multi-trim saws weigh almost twice as much as a KM-16 and have saw blades underneath instead of on top.

Some incoming lumber is brought to a deck and through a break-down into a waterfall unscrambler and finally a board dealer. Individual boards are dealt out to a TPI certified grader who determines the best cut.

For example, a grader may determine that an 8-foot section of a 16-footer wold make a #1 or #2; typically graders can grade out an 8-foot piece. The upgrade is trimmed from the middle or one end, and the remainder is cut into packaging or industrial material. In this manner, Botkin is able to buy lower grade material and upgrade it to higher valued material.

Boards that meet the grading criteria are dropped out automatically to an infeed system for Whirlwind trim saws where defects are removed. Saw operators pull a board through to a stop, make the cut, and pieces are routed away on conveyors.

Material that will not make a high-grade board will be cut to length on one of the multi-trim saws into pallet or crate components. The components make a 90-degree turn to a Kent Corp. single-head resaw. From the resaw, pieces go through another grading station. Suitable deck boards are conveyed to a chamfering machine. Most material is stacked automatically on M2L board stackers.

Other lines process incoming lumber directly into pallet or crating stock. A typical line cuts material to the correct lengths on multi-trimmers. The shorter material is routed to single-head horizontal band resaws where it is center split into two deck boards. Some of these finished deck boards will also be chamfered.

The Botkin People and Products

A three location business with 125 employees requires constant attention to employee coordination and training in a quest for efficiency. Bud Rice, human resources manager, stated, "We reward our employees for their dedication and hard work."

Botkin's 110-Percent Reward Program recognizes one person at each location each month for going beyond what's required and providing the extra effort required. Monthly safety drawings and awards reward employees for maintaining an accident-free environment.

During an annual Christmas dinner employees receive awards for contributions made throughout the year. Each summer Botkin sponsors an employee retreat for its supervisors, managers, and other key people to recognize their accomplishments and provide additional leadership training. Dr. Ed Brindley, publisher of the Pallet Enterprise, was honored to be the guest speaker at this summer's retreat, held at Barkley Lake in Kentucky.

Training at Botkin includes certifying graders through TPI. In-plant training at each location works with employees throughout the operation to ensure they know what needs to be done and how to do it as safely as possible.

Botkin Lumber works almost entirely with Southern Yellow Pine. It mainly buys No. 2 and No. 3 2x6 in random lengths that may range from 4 feet to 20 feet. Botkin remanufactures its pine through such steps as resawing, ripping, notching, cutting grooves, and chamfering. Botkin Lumber is certified by TPI to grade stamp and heat treat lumber and pallets.

In addition to the pallets manufactured at Botkin Lumber, a major part of the company's business is selling cut stock to other pallet manufacturers, recyclers, and crating manufacturers. Albert stated, "We manufacture anything from a $5 pallet to a $5,000 missile box." Sales are handled by a team headed up by Jesse Moore from Mid South & Associates with Jennifer Blum, Katie Cleve and Sherry Bohnert adding support.

Albert noted that big manufacturing businesses are attracted to cost savings of just-in-time operations. "If one supplier fails to meet a schedule, there is a missing link in the whole system. What we found is that we best serve our customers by becoming that safety link. Typically, customers do not know in advance when they are going to need certain supplies. It is no longer like the past when pallet suppliers and companies could count on regular orders. And it's getting worse and worse."

Botkin keeps several weeks worth of raw material in inventory. In addition, the company stocks several weeks of finished inventory ready to ship - both cut stock and assembled products.

All the company's in-coming material has been kiln dried before arriving. "We just feel like kiln dried lumber is going to be a necessity rather than a luxury, " said Albert, referring to heat treatment programs for export wood packaging.

No matter what the product or the customer, the philosophy at Botkin is pretty much the same. Keep the manufacturing process straight forward, fingerprint the lumber as little as possible, and have all employees trained to do their jobs efficiently and with a constant eye toward quality control.

Kent Super-Duty Resaw Serves Sawmills

Sawmills are showing increased interest in thin-kerf technology for manufacturing hardwood lumber for the grade market. Sawmill operators have seen the small 1/16-inch band saws finally coming of age, and they are interested in achieving the same thin-kerf advantages the pallet industry has realized. But they also want high-volume production.

"They’re asking for something bigger and better but at a reasonable price tag," said Sam Baker of Kent Corporation.

Sawmills are investing in band saws to cut up 12x12 or even 16x16 squares. They will put in a band saw system to follow a head saw or even small band mills. They face four sides of the log on the head saw or band mill and then drop the square to be resawn on the band saw.

"That is where they are being used," explained Sam. "They’ve really just come into the spotlight in the last couple of years. They’re buying into what the pallet mills bought into a long time ago."

Resawing on a thin kerf band saw increases their board footage at the same time they increase yield out of their grade. "It gains them a board every three boards," said Sam, a 33% increase.

In response, Kent Corporation has introduced its new Super-Duty Blockhead Band Resaw for the sawmill market. This large resaw can run 1 ˝-inch or 2-inch blades and achieve higher speeds than band saws typically used in pallet cut-up operations. It is similar to large band mill systems that run 4-inch to 12-inch blades but priced much more economically.

The Kent Super-Duty Blockhead Band Resaw is similar to the popular Kent Blockhead Band Resaw with an important difference: it is a larger, heavy-duty machine that can saw material up to 16 inches wide.

The Kent Super-Duty Band Resaw is made of 6-inch tube steel construction. Components such as chains and rollers are built to handle large, heavy material. "It’s all extra heavy-duty," said Sam. "It’s quite a system." Kent has made a Super-Duty Band Resaw for one customer and is building a second with a Super-Duty Run-Around to go with it for another customer.

Complete Kent Blockhead Band Resaws with Auto Run-Around systems are priced at about $30,000 while the Super-Duty models are about $50,000 – still considerably more economical than many other systems.

The Kent Super-Duty Blockhead Band Resaw has a larger head and is equipped with heavy jacks to support and lift the head up to12 inches. Standard 32-inch all-steel band wheels (36-inch wheels are optional) are mounted on an oversized spindle and bearing system.

Blade tensioning is accomplished with four 1,000-pound springs – a heavy system to ensure proper blade tensioning throughout the cut. Canted back-up rollers reduce the number of times this costly component must be replaced and reduces the mushrooming effect on the back of the blade. An all new super-simple, super-duty guide system has been designed for the Super-Duty Resaw.

The Kent Super-Duty Blockhead Band Resaw features an 8-inch wide conveyor belt infeed; an extra-wide model features a 16-inch conveyor. Both powered top feed and powered side feed are available. Conveyors are made of either 8x8 or 8x16 heavy-duty steel construction.

Options include an auto lubricating system, three-phase electric power ranging from 20 hp to 40 hp, computerized setworks, and others.

The resaw can be paired with Kent’s Super-Duty version of its Run-Around system to reduce labor and material handling. The Run-Around can be completely automated to allow a single worker at a control panel to run the entire system.

Kent manufactures single and multi-head band resaws, multi-trimmers, trim saws, chop saws, block cutters, miter saws and notchers. The company also manufactures a complete line of material handling machinery and equipment, including automated returns for resaw lines, conveyors, decks, unscramblers, the stack-n-rack, self-dumping hoppers, and round tables.

For more information, contact Kent. Corp. at (800) 929-9830, fax (573) 663-7911, e-mail sales@kentcorporation.com, or visit the Web site at www.kentcorporation.com.

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