Edwards Wood Products
Using Brewer and Viking machinery to manufacture a combined 80,000 pallets per week at two facilities, Edwards Wood Products has to be considered one of the leading pallet companies in the country.
By Tim Cox and Dr. Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 9/1/1999
MARSHVILLE, N.C. — When visiting Edward’s Marshville plant, it is a little hard to tell at first glance that you are approaching a large pallet and lumber mill. Nestled among the rolling hills of rural North Carolina, the facility spreads over 100 acres. After seeing this exceptional facility, it is even more difficult to visualize that Edwards Wood Products was started 30 years ago by a truck driver in a chicken coop.
After getting clearance at the plant entrance from a security guard, one next visits the main office, which resembles a ranch style home. Jeff Edwards, president of Edwards Wood Products, and his father, Carroll, founder of the company, have offices here, as well as the administrative staff of 11 people. The second office, directly behind the main office, houses the Human Resource department, as well as the pallet scheduling manager. Numbered buildings and golf carts to quickly reach the plant’s buildings give a hint of the size of the plant that awaits each visitor.
A large crane which unloads tree-length logs to feed a Price drum debarker is highly visible from any vantage point on the property. To the left of this area is a large metal building that houses the machine shop and parts warehouse.
All that is before you see anybody building pallets. With a pallet manufacturing operation that manufactures around 50,000 new pallets a week and a second facility at Laurinburg N.C. that produces another 30,000 pallets, Edwards Wood Products is recognized as one of the largest pallet companies in the country. In fact, one of the largest anywhere in the world.
If companies were ranked by nailing capacity alone, they might win hands down. According to Viking Engineering and Development, Edwards operates more Viking pallet assembly systems than any other pallet manufacturer. The company has 11 Viking nailing machines, including eight at its main plant in Marshville.
Yes, the operative word at Edwards Wood Products is "big." But to hear Jeff tell it, the company’s dramatic growth in the past two decades is due to old-fashioned business concepts like quality and service.
It certainly has had something to do with his business acumen and also that of his father, Carroll Edwards, the 62-year-old chief executive officer who launched the business in a chicken house. About the only clue Jeff will divulge about his father’s business savvy is that Carroll started out with a tremendous determination to build a strong company and was willing to put forth many long hours of hard work to make that happen.
It also has something to do with their employees. Their approach to hiring key people, according to Jeff, has been to try to recruit the best people for the job. For example, when they needed someone to keep an eye on their numerous Viking nailing machines, they hired a Viking technician. Both Carroll and Jeff feel that good employees are the backbone of a strong company. Being a family owned business, they have tried to incorporate this feeling of "family" into the company. They try to instill in their employees a spirit of cooperation and concern for one another. Five employees have been recognized for 20 years service and several more for ten years service.
Whatever the reason or reasons, there’s no arguing with the company’s success. Edwards Wood Products has annual sales of about $80 million. Its pallet operations account for about 40% of revenues. Another 30% is from its grade lumber sawmill. The remainder comes from the sale of chips and residual products.
The company has three locations covering 300 acres with a combined total of about 400 employees. Its operations are organized under five corporations. Its headquarters, main pallet mill, grade sawmill, and trucking subsidiary are based just outside of Marshville, a small community some 35 miles southeast of Charlotte. Sixty-two miles further east, in Laurinburg, the company operates another pallet manufacturing facility and a chip mill. (The company receives about 65 loads of wood per day at both Marshville and Laurinburg.) In Blacksburg, S.C., 78 miles south of Charlotte, Edwards Wood Products operates a pine sawmill with about 34 employees that manufactures timbers; the timbers are sold to other companies to be dressed and treated for eventual sale as landscape timbers.
Edwards Wood Products also employs its own forestry staff that buys standing timber and timber lands. The company contracts its logging.
Most of the company’s growth has come in the past 20 years due to substantial capital investments in its plants and machinery. This year it made more improvements, including the addition of yet another Viking nailing machine. In fact, when it comes to machinery, the company is a showcase for Viking and Brewer Inc. Besides its numerous Viking nailers, the company has relied heavily on Brewer gang saws — it has eight in all, seven of them at Marshville — and other Brewer machines for manufacturing pallet lumber. Its three cut-up lines are Brewer Twin Select machines. Its improvements this year also included two new Brewer thin kerf gang saws.
Jeff remarked on the differences between the pallet industry’s two principal machinery systems for resawing cant material into pallet lumber - gang saws and horizontal bandsaws. While the advent of the bandsaws allowed companies to reduce kerf, gang machines have been known for high volume production, he noted. Edwards Wood Products has had a preference for gang technology. "We’ve always been more production-oriented here," explained Jeff, 38, who has a personalized license plate on his car with the word "PALLET." With Brewer’s recent success in reducing gangsaw kerf, the company hopes "to have the best of both worlds" with the pair of new saws — thin kerf and high production.
"We’ve been real pleased with their products," Jeff said of Brewer’s machinery. "They run their business like we try to run our own — make a quality product and emphasize service."
Carroll grew up in Marshville. He drove a brick truck for 12 years — he owned two rigs and hired a driver for the other one. However, back problems forced him to give it up. Thirty years ago, at age 32, he started making pallets in the chicken house on his property with one full-time worker and another part-time.
"He’s done a good job with it," said Jeff, who joined his father full-time after graduating from high school in 1978 and became company president in 1993. "He’s just worked hard all his life," he added.
Carroll still comes to work every day. His involvement now is primarily with the sales personnel and the wood procurement and land management staff. In addition, he has numerous other business interests, including cattle farming. Just three years ago he started an entirely new business — a propane gas company. "He likes to keep a lot going on," Jeff observed.
Jeff has two sisters who also work with the family business. Tina Edwards is one of the company’s two pallet sales people, and Lisa Ammons works in the company’s administrative offices.
Jeff, who enjoys golfing although he has little time for it, lives with his wife, Teresa, and their two children, Jeffrey Jr., 15, and Krystle, 13. His son is working at the Marshville plant this summer.
The company prospered but remained relatively small until the late 1970s. Its first milestone was the purchase of 60 acres at its Marshville site. After constructing a building, the company started manufacturing pallets at its new facility in 1978, at first relying on cants and cut stock for raw material. By the time it had moved out of the chicken house into its new quarters about a mile away, Edwards Wood Products had about two dozen employees and annual sales of about $2 million.
The move triggered a growth spurt through the mid-1980s. A year after the move, the company installed two Evans scragg mills. The reason was two-fold: Carroll believed they could manufacture their own pallet stock more cost effectively, and at the time he simply could not buy enough cants and cut stock to keep pace with production. Two years later, in 1985, it added two more Evans scragg mills. In 1987 the company put in the grade mill, partly because of the large volume of big logs the company’s timber buying was generating. Further growth in the 1990s prompted more improvements at Marshville, including construction of several ponds to supply water for a wet log deck and the addition of dry kilns, plus expansion with the opening of the Laurinburg plant and the development of the Blacksburg pine sawmill.
Edwards Wood Products, a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association and the National Hardwood Lumber Association, is predominantly a manufacturer of new hardwood stringer pallets and makes some 150 different pallet sizes and specifications. It focuses heavily on manufacturing and has not ventured into pallet management services. The company has added a pallet recycling operation in recent years, but it usually ships only one or two loads per day of recycled pallets. As much as 75% to 80% of its Laurinburg production is 48x40 pallets, although they are not all GMA pallets. Edwards manufactures over 100 different sizes at its Marshville facility, including a lot of 45x45s, 48x42s, 40x40s, 72x30s, and 60x30s. Specialty pallets, such as 72x30 and 60x30, made of heavy, 1-inch deck boards, are on the increase, according to Jeff. The company also makes some block pallets. A typical order for Edwards Wood Products would be a truck-load, although the order may have two or three different sizes on the truck.
The company’s pallet operations serve customers mainly in North Carolina and South Carolina, which have aggressively recruited and landed new manufacturing industries in the past two decades. "A lot of pallets go to South Carolina," said Jeff. Its customers include businesses in such industries as chemical, film, paper, and automotive parts.
Edwards Wood Products has expanded its customer base since a setback it encountered several years ago. The Laurinburg plant was developed largely on the strength of one major nearby account, Campbell Soup Co., and also to produce chips for a Willamette Industries paper mill in South Carolina. Several years ago, however, Campbell Soup began renting pallets from Chep. "That was kind of a tough pill to swallow," Jeff recalled. As a result, the company has built a larger customer base so it would not be as dependent on a single large account.
At its Laurinburg facility, which began operating in 1990 and now employs about 65, the company has a Fulghum crane and a Fulghum drum debarker. Logs are processed on one of two Cooper scragg mills, a tandem scragg and an overhead scragg. Together they produce 450,000 board feet of pallet cants per week. The cants are cut to size on a Brewer multi-trim, then resawn on one of two West Plains gang saws. The plant also is equipped with a Brewer chamfering machine, a West Plains notcher, and a pair of Cornell Industrial lumber stackers. There are three Viking nailing machines at the Laurinburg plant, one Champion and two Duo-Matics.
The combined operations at the Marshville facility employ about 220. At Marshville, most pallet lumber is manufactured in one building. Logs are hoisted by an 87-foot Fulghum crane into a Price Industries drum debarker. (The company has bought a used 155-foot Fulghum crane and has begun making plans to install it and take the existing crane to Blacksburg.) When the logs exit the debarker on a conveyor, a Prentice 410C loader places them on a deck that moves them into a Dawson Brothers 12-head log merchandising system that saws them into bolts. The bolts are routed to one of three scragg mills. Long bolts go to a new Cooper scragg that was installed this summer. Cants produced by the Cooper go to one of two five-head Dawson Brothers multi-trim saws, one for 6" cants and one for 4". The sized cants then are resawn on the new Brewer thin kerf gang saws.
Short bolts are processed on one of two Evans scragg mills, which have some components fabricated by the Edwards machine shop staff, and the cants are resawn on two older Brewer gang saws. Slabs from both scragg mills are routed via conveyors to a Fulghum chipper. The resulting chips are conveyed to a storage bin before shipping them toWillamette Industries or International Paper Company.
Another building housing the company’s nailing machines also contains another pallet lumber production line. Cants are cut to size on two Brewer Twin Selects. The sized cants feed two more Brewer gang saws. The plant also is equipped with a Brewer chamfering machine, two West Plains double-head notchers, and a Brewer double-head notcher.
The nailing machines line the walls, including the company’s newest Viking, a Champion that was acquired earlier this year. About 10 employees work in the same building, assembling pallets by hand at work tables for specialty orders like block pallets.
A second shift began operating at the Marshville facility this summer, mainly dedicated to operating the nailing machines.
Earlier this year the Edwards team reached a milestone when its oldest Viking Duo-Matic nailing system reached its 20th full year in service. During the two decades, Edwards conservatively estimated that the Duo-Matic had nailed well in excess of 6,240,000 pallets (524 million nails) on its oldest Duo-Matic.
The grade mill employs about 35 workers. It also contains its own pallet lumber production line to process the cants it produces. The line consists of a Brewer Twin Select cut-up system, Brewer gang saw, Brewer double-head notcher, and West Plains stacker. Finished material is loaded on flat-bed tractors to be moved to the pallet assembly plant.
In the grade operation, logs are separated in the yard by species. The sawmill is centered around a Salem carriage circular mill, a Ligna thin kerf gang saw, and a Crosby three-saw edger. The grade mill manufactures around 500,000 board feet of lumber per week. Dried lumber is reinspected and trimmed. Some is surfaced with a Newman planer mill. Then it is packaged and painted for shipment.
Most of the grade lumber is exported. About 40% is red oak, white oak, poplar, and sap gum, destined for export to companies that will use it to manufacture door jambs and other products. The remainder is sold domestically to manufacturers of furniture, cabinets, molding, caskets, and flooring. Principal domestic markets are in the Southeast and the West Coast. Shipments to customers on the West Coast are sent in containers via rail.
Edwards Wood Products added its dry kilns in 1994. It now has eight SII kilns with a combined capacity of 600,000 board feet. Edwards dries between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 board feet per month. The kilns are run by a Hurst 300 hp wood fired boiler that is fired with sawdust generated from the company’s mills.
The company also purchases green lumber and sells some green lumber. It is starting a business this August to distribute lumber of other species that are not indigenous to the region.
The site also contains one building that is dedicated to its pallet recycling operations.
Even the operations of its trucking subsidiary illustrate the care and commitment father and son have made to the business. Part of the decision to get into the trucking business was the ability it gave them to exercise more control over shipping, but part of it was to have greater control over the important — and sometimes only visible — link with customers: the truck and the driver. Ninety-five percent of the time, Jeff noted, it is the truck drivers who have personal contact with customers. The trucking unit started with a fleet of 25 Peterbuilt tractors in 1990. The staff and drivers — the trucking business has 75 employees in all — compiled some pretty impressive statistics that underscore both Edward’s exceptional fleet maintenance program and its impressive driving record. The 25 original tractors amassed a combined 24 million miles without the need to overhaul a single Cat diesel engine and without an accident that rendered a vehicle a total loss. Only once has Carroll ever seen one of his trucks on the side of a road, idled because it was broken down, according to Jeff. Today the trucking division has a fleet of 51 tractors and more than 200 trailers of various types. No doubt one reason for its solid performance is that Carroll, an ex-trucker, still has a strong interest in the company’s transport operations. Edward’s Transportation runs about 100,000 miles per week dedicated exclusively to hauling products from its three manufacturing plants.
The company puts a strong emphasis on safety. "We push safety hard," said Jeff. Workers throughout the mills wear hard-hats, safety glasses, and ear plugs. Among other things, the company sponsors a monthly safety-oriented contest called safety bingo, and it rewards workers in a department or section with a lunch for consistent achievements in safety. The programs have helped reduce safety-related losses in each of the last four years.
Many pallet company owners have pointed to Edwards Wood Products over the past two decades as an example of achievement through hard work and dedication to working productively with its people. Our industry has every reason to continue watching this outstanding company as a benchmark for excellence. The Edwards family and its extended company family continue to exemplify goals for other pallet companies.
Brewer Looks Into the Future with Thin Kerf GangThe pallet industry has responded enthusiastically to the thin kerf technology Brewer Inc. has developed for its new gang saws.
The Kentucky-based pallet and sawmill machinery manufacturer currently is taking about 16 weeks to fill orders for its new gang saws, according to Bill Hendrix, director of marketing. "The reason is this new thin kerf," he said. "This thin kerf can pay for itself with the increased yield."
The response of the pallet industry to the company’s innovation, which it launched last year, has been "pretty much overwhelming," he said. Brewer is receiving a lot of inquiries from existing customers, Bill indicated.
Edwards Wood Products (see accompanying article) recently installed two new Brewer gang saws, one machine that can process 4-inch cants and another that is designed to handle 6-inch material. The 4-inch machine saws with .099-inch kerf while the 6-inch model achieves .115-inch kerf.
Brewer is marketing its new generation of thin kerf gang saws under the model name Midas .099. It is in the process of obtaining trademark rights.
The Brewer thin kerf gang saws utilize a lubrication system of the company’s own design. The saws may be operated with one of several lubricants that are readily available on the market, according to Bill, as well as any supplier’s blades.
The company is continuing to devote resources to further research and development, Bill said, but partnering with blade suppliers will take on greater importance. "It’s going to be a combination of the two, the gang saw manufacturer and the saw blade manufacturer," he said. "I don’t think it’s anything that can be accomplished independently...If we’re going to go any further, we’re going to have to work together."
Brewer is striving to develop thin-kerf technology that will meet or exceed bandsaw kerfs, said Bill. "That’s what we’re pushing for, and I don’t think we’ll be satisfied until we get there."
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