Pendu Line Boosts Missouri Pallet Cut Stock Company
When a Missouri pallet cut stock company wanted to increase production, it turned to Pendu Manufacturing Inc. for a new production line featuring two gang saws.
By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 5/1/1999
GATEWOOD, Mo. In the southern Missouri Ozarks, tracts of land that are part of the Mark Twain National Forest have a peculiar geometry. The angular-shaped parcels of this national forest make a map-green mosaic that stretches from near the Mississippi River almost to the Oklahoma border.
Below this national forest mosaic sits the town of Gatewood, a mere stones throw from Arkansas. Although somewhat remote from the main Midwestern and Southern transportation arteries, pallet manufacturers in Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois know that Gatewood is home to Dalton Lumber, a cut stock producer with a reputation for meeting its customerss deadlines.
"This business depends on quality and delivery times," said Tom Dalton, owner, president and chief salesman. "Thats the name of the game. You have to produce at the price you say and on time. Those are the two expectations. You cant promise one customer a load of stringers and then sell them to someone else. Thats how you lose customers."
Production at Dalton Lumber, which has annual sales of about $2 million, starts with cants sawn from the regions abundant hardwood forests. The company buys cants from sawmills in both Missouri and Arkansas. "This area is hilly country," Tom noted, "and it runs naturally in hardwood red oak, white oak, black oak, sycamore, ash, gum, hickory. But no poplar or hackberry." Dalton Lumber buys cants in 8-foot and 10-foot lengths.
Tom sells consistently to long-standing customers, and he knows how to keep them satisfied. "The people we sell to buy from several different suppliers," he said. "We work together so that it keeps everybody going."
A typical cut stock order at Dalton Lumber is two tractor-trailer loads. The company ships a large volume of notched, 48-inch stringers and 4-inch and 6-inch deck boards in such thicknesses as 1/2, 5/8, 11/16 and 3/4.
Dalton Lumber is a family business. Tom, 49, devotes his efforts mainly to sales and maintaining and servicing machinery, including sharpening saw blades. His wife, Marilyn, is company secretary, and their son, Tommy Wayne, is vice president in charge of operations. The business has seven employees who are not family members.
The Dalton family owns 900 acres. The business, situated on 400 of them, operates out of two buildings, one 30 feet by 60 feet and the other 160 feet by 50 feet. (Tom is making plans to add more space.) Although stringers and deck boards can be manufactured in either building, one facility is usually devoted to making a single type of pallet part. The remaining 500 acres consists of 200 in timber and 300 that was cleared for farming and cattle. "We plant wheat and convert it to pasture," said Tom. "If you dont put cattle on the ground it will grow up in bushes and go back to nature pretty quickly."
The companys pallet stock manufacturing operation is heavily automated. "Its all automated," Tom said. From cants to stringers and deck boards, no one touches the wood until the finished parts are ready to be off-loaded from a Pendu stacker.
Deck boards are made in the small mill building. Cants are loaded into a pit unscrambler and then conveyed to a Baker Products cut-off saw to be cut to size. The sized cants then go to either a Morgan Saw Co. bandsaw system or a Pendu junior gang saw to be sawn into deck boards.
Stringers are manufactured mainly in the big mill building on a new Pendu line that includes two gang saws. The new Pendu system features an unscrambler, cut-off saw with in-feed and out-feed rolls, a Pendu 4000 gang saw, end-line notcher, a Pendu 4300 gang saw, and Pendu stacker. Live rollers move the material from one stage to the next.
Dalton Lumber buys cants in dimensions ranging from 4x4 to 6x8. The 6x8 is typical.
In the big mill with the Pendu line, a bundle of 20 cants, stacked four high and five wide, is fed onto the switch roller bed. The bundle is busted loose, and the cants fall over one row at a time. The cants are further separated in the pit unscrambler; from there they head to the chop saw. After being cut to size usually 48 inches on the cut-off saw, the Pendu 4000 gang saw splits the sized 6x8 cant into two 4x6 pieces. Next the wood goes through the in-line notcher, which cuts notches all the way through. The notched 4x6 material is fed to the Pendu 4300 gang, which saws it into four 1 3/8-inch stringers. The next and last stage in the line is the Pendu stacker.
The 4000 is used primarily to size or split material, Tom noted. "It gives us a lot more options. You cant cut stringers out of a six-by-eight. You have to split it up." The Pendu gang saws are double-arbor systems with three to six blades per arbor. Dalton Lumber runs blades as low as 0.099-inch kerf on the Pendu gang saws.
The new Pendu line, installed in January 1997, allowed Dalton Lumber to increase production substantially. "Before we got the Pendu system, we were cutting 18 to 20 bundles of cut stock a day," said Tom. With the Pendu system, production increased to 40 bundles. The company has gone from buying $8,000 to $10,000 worth of cants per week to $20,000 to $30,000. In addition, the system reduced labor costs by as much as $1,500 to $2,000 per week, making the machinery payments affordable. Tom is pleased with the investment and the results. The gangsaws increased production 10-fold, Tom estimated, while reducing labor costs at the same time. "Our payments are not that much, so we come out that much better. You pay labor, and the moneys gone." Tom singled out Mercantile Bank in Doniphan with helping him finance the Pendu capital investment.
When it was time to put in the new line, it was a fairly easy decision for Tom to add more Pendu equipment. A big factor in his decision was the kind of service he receives from the Pennsylvania-based machinery supplier. "Pendu is very dedicated to getting replacement parts out for all equipment," he said. "Anything I call them on, I can get it next-day air, and thats as good a service as youre going to get. Pendu keeps all the spare parts on hand, so you get the replacements you need right away."
Dalton Lumber disposes of waste wood by selling it for firewood. Sawdust is sold to a Missouri business that makes fuel pellets for wood stoves.
When the business was smaller, Dalton Lumber contracted with truckers to ship orders. As they grew, the company also invested in its own trucks. "We bought our own trucks so we were no longer dependent on others to deliver our product," said Tom.
Dalton Lumber sharpens its own blades in-house. In fact, Tom does some of the sharpening work himself. "We keep the blades sharpened at the plant, and we run them until they wear out," he said. "We use them until they heat up and warp, and then we pitch them. This is something you learn in the trade. You run a blade until the teeth wear out; you resharpen the blade and run it again. You can tell when the blades gone its black from the heat."
His approach to sharpening is based on simple economics and convenience. It would cost $5 per blade to have them sharpened elsewhere and a drive of 30 to 40 miles (one way) to pick them up or drop them off. Sharpening in-house "is our best option," said Tom. "We sharpen 70 blades a day, so its a matter of economics and efficiency." Dalton Lumber buys blades from both Sharp Tool Co. Inc. and a local supplier.
Tom is a big believer in properly servicing and maintaining his machinery even if it means long hours for him. The company usually does not run on Saturday, but Tom frequently comes in on Saturdays to do maintainenance. He also arrives at work earlier than most employees. "Im in here with another guy at 7 a.m. to sharpen the blades and get things ready to start at 8 oclock. We pull (the blades) at noon when everyone else is having lunch and sharpen them again. We run them from 1 p.m. to quitting time. I work Saturdays and sometimes Sundays we do maintenance and get things ready for Monday morning. Thats what you have to do if youre the business owner. The worker gets his check on Friday and goes wherever he wants, but not the business owner."
In 1970, Tom started a sawmill business that manufactured hardwood flooring and railway ties. At the time, Tom worked for a company that made vinyl products; he supervised the printing, stamping, and silk screening processes. He worked weekends to get the sawmill business off the ground. In 1984, he began working at the sawmill full-time. The company started making cut stock for the pallet industry in 1994. In the early years, "Wed process the timber into ties and throw the slabs away," Tom recalled. "Then we started processing the slabs into deck boards, and that lead to greater orders of deck boards." Tom invested in machinery from Baker Products and Morgan Saw Co. "We were cutting six or seven bundles of cut stock per day, mostly decking. Thats how we started. Then our orders got bigger, and we moved into the notched stringer business." They added the Pendu junior gang saw in the mid-90s and doubled production with the same labor, and Tom began marketing more products. A friend who was running the sawmill offered to buy the equipment, and Tom decided to sell it and concentrate on cut stock.
Tom is planning to integrate his business in the near future with a scragg mill that he already has bought; a local machine shop is busy fabricating the mill. With automated systems, he believes he can add a scragg mill without hiring more labor. In the past, when the family converted acreage of small timber to pasture or farm land, they simply pushed down the trees with a bulldozer, piled them up and burned them. The same small timber, once the scragg mills is operational, can be used to manufacture cut stock for pallets reducing the need to buy cants.
At that point, the business may be positioned for another strategic change to pallet manufacturing. "We dont make pallets right now, but we may start that in the future," said Tom. But for now, however, "Our business is to get the loads on the road and to the customer, on time."
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