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GluLam Plant Relies on Pendu Manufacturing For Custom Machinery, Equipment
Rigidply Rafters manufactures glulam beams and components and approached Pendu to create a customized material handling system for its facility.

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 4/1/2003

RICHLAND, Penn. — Ingenuity trumps inaction. So manufacturers of wood products consider the mixed messages economic experts send. Then they move on. By seeing a challenge instead of a constraint, manufacturers go forward. To succeed, they exploit inventiveness and a can-do effort. For members of the wood products sector, resourcefulness and flexibility are the norms of business. Over its four decades, Rigidply Rafters Inc. has added to its roster of product offerings. The list now includes, trusses for all types of roofs — residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural structures — as well as beams and posts.

The beams are used for a wide variety of applications, such as headers for framing door openings, exposed beams and other interior finish components that will add an architectural flourish to a home or office. Posts are used mainly in post frame structures, agricultural buildings and garages. Clever ways to expand and deepen a customer base often start with making products better and more efficiently. Consider what Rigidply Rafters does with the abundant and fast-growing species belonging to the Southern yellow pine group.

Rigidply takes Southern yellow pine lumber and makes it into a value-added product. By gluing and laminating the pine boards together to make glulam beams and other components, as they are known in the building industry, the company enhances the load-bearing ability of the wood. And that is just the beginning.

Ed Lehman, plant manager at Rigidply Rafters in Richland, Penn., has worked for the company for 30 years, mostly in the glue line. He is an expert on the continuous improvements in lamination technique, which Rigidply has been quick to implement. He discussed why consumers have such a strong interest in laminated components. There are "a number of reasons" for using laminated, Ed noted. Strength is a big reason, but so is the ability of laminated components to "stay straighter." These engineered wood products also are sought after for their appearance, often showing up in decorative or interior finish applications.

Rigidply buys kiln-dried lumber from mills in Southern states, such as Georgia and Alabama. The material is stored under roof until it is re-graded. Rigidply also checks it for moisture content. "We’ll re-dry some if it’s not dry enough" to be laminated, Ed explained. Re-drying is done in a heated building — not a dry kiln — with fans, an environment that reaches 120 degrees.

Of course, the faster that components can be fed into the glue line, the greater the rate of production. Rigidply recently added new automated material handling equipment that has boosted production. Pendu Manufacturing supplied the automated material handling system that feeds Rigidply’s Western Pneumatics fingerjointer line. The system was custom designed and built by Pendu. "It’s working real well for us," said Ed.

Rigidply told Pendu what it needed, what it wanted to move where, and the collaboration began. "They are good people to work with," Ed said of Pendu, which is located not far from Rigidply’s operations.

Pendu offered to develop whatever the company needed, Ed noted. "They said if that’s what we want," they would build it. As an example, he noted a feature that simplifies movement of materials. "Pendu made a sling sorter for us," said Ed. The custom-designed and built, automated 21-bay sling sorter drops incoming lumber into bins according to different grades and lengths.

Components are assembled, and the joints cure as the assembly process continues, explained Ed. The curing method used by Rigidply entails radio frequency (RF) or dielectric heat sealing. Essentially, the dielectric heat results from oscillating frequency of an electromagnetic field in the radio wave range. The glue responds by changing its molecular form, adhering to the wood and creating the bond.

Glulam beams are planed to produce a smooth finish, and Rigidply has two planer lines. The beams then are cut to length on a Pendu custom-designed cut-off saw with computerized end stop, and then they go to a stacker custom-designed by Pendu to handle long beams. For some applications, Rigidply drills holes in the components, depending on the contractor’s specifications. Rigidply can also stain components for customers.

Trim ends and other waste wood generated from Rigidply’s manufacturing operations is used to fuel several wood-burning furnaces. Rigidply provides custom manufacturing of glulam components. An order may consist of a single beam or materials for an entire building. Rigidply belongs to the American Institute of Timber Construction (AITC), and the AITC stamp is put on its glulam beams.

Rigidply’s glulam beams and components are sold in Pennsylvania and the surrounding states of New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and as far away as Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan. In addition to is main plant in Pennsylvania, Rigidply has another plant in Oakland, Md. that specializes in roof and floor trusses. The company’s manufacturing operations in Pennsylvania are located in Lebanon County in the southeastern part of the Keystone State. It has approximately 1,500 residents. As the crow flies, Richland is just 33 miles southeast of the state capital, Harrisburg. Rigidply is headed by company president Steve Shirk. The business was started in 1954 by his grandfather, who made laminated barn rafters.

Making components for agricultural buildings is a niche that continues to be an important one for Rigidply. "We supply a lot of material for dairy farms," said Ed. Glulam components are an "economical way of building," he noted. Dairy farm operations generate a lot of humidity and condensation, he noted, so wood building components are better suited than metal, which has the potential to rust.

Glulam beams and other components manufactured by Rigidply have been used in a wide range of other construction applications, including schools, libraries, garden centers and nursing homes.

Dwylan Lefever, general manager of Pendu, said that working with Rigidply to help customize its material handling operations is a good example of what Pendu does day in and day out. "We work with a lot of people who don’t want to buy off the rack," said Dwylan, and customers who need speed in material handling and production.

Providing solutions to lumber manufacturing and remanufacturing businesses has become a very important endeavor at Pendu in the last five years, said Dwylan. To that end, Pendu has seven engineers on staff, including one dedicated to automation, among its 52 employees. Once a system is designed, clients can see a 3-D view of what the equipment will look like. They also can actually pull it apart in the virtual representation to get a handle on how it works and how components fit together.

Pendu does all its electrical panels, hydraulics and painting in-house. It has CNC machining centers and plasma tables for high definition cutting of steel and aluminum up to 1 inch thick. The company performs all welding and fabrication. Pendu has the facilities to set up equipment and test prototypes. In fact, Pendu encourages clients not only to test their equipment at the Pendu plant, but even to use their own materials.

Helping wood products manufacturers capitalize on new areas in order to be more competitive in a changing market is part and parcel of what Pendu does. "Pendu knows wood," said Dwylan. "We can develop a machine to help them." It is never too early to bounce an idea off Pendu. "We like to get in on the concept," said Dwylan. In addition to serving the wood processing industry, Pendu also has built equipment for the cardboard, steel, and plastics industries.

Saw systems for pallet, log home and dimensional lumber manufacturers are at the core of the design and manufacturing activities of Pendu. From scragg mills to stackers and much more, Pendu can provide effective machinery and equipment solutions. Pendu gets a lot of interest from customers for stacking systems, according to Dwylan. Automatic stacking equipment is a good investment because it reduces labor costs and moves and stacks material faster. Stackers can be added to most existing production lines without changing the configuration.

Pendu’s custom-design approach is exactly what a manufacturer needs, according to Dwylan. A company may require "a different kind of machine" or simply want to "change the way a saw works." No matter what the goal, Pendu can help with its custom design and manufacturing services.

"As a Pendu customer," said Dwylan, "you can sit down with the engineers and see" the machine or component change being drawn. After that, you can "see it being made," literally walk onto the floor of the fabrication shop and talk with the people at work.

The material handling systems it designed and built for Rigidply Rafters illustrate the capabilities of Pendu, said Dwylan. When it comes to machinery and equipment solutions for wood processors, "We can do it," he said.

Rigidply has close ties to Pennsylvania and institutions of higher education that have an agricultural focus. In the mid-1990s, Rigidply helped researchers at Pennsylvania State University, State College. The university researchers wanted to know how a bridge made of laminated wood components would stand up to load. Rigidply fabricated the red maple glulam members and the fastener hardware used in the study. In February, Rigidply was one of the sponsors for a conference on ‘Building Freestall Barns and Milking Centers,’ a forum that was coordinated by the Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service in Pennsylvania.

Providing an excellent outcome for a customer takes Rigidply in many different directions observed Ed, who began working for Rigidply right after high school and whose hobbies are woodworking, hunting and hiking. "It’s always a challenge," he said. "We are always looking for ways to make things work for the customer." For example, Rigidply has supplied curved glulam components, such as arches for churches.

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