Pallet Express Adds Grinding Capacity, Heat Treating Service
N.C recycler uses West Salem Machinery hog to make high quality mulch
By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 7/1/2003
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Great matches begin in many ways, but shared outlook is one sure starter.
The president of Pallet Express Inc., Michael Briggs, has never met the president of West Salem Machinery Inc., Mark Lyman. Yet Michael and Mark share a similar business philosophy. As it happens, when Pallet Express decided to add a horizontal hog grinder last summer, it chose one from West Salem Machinery (WSM).
"We try to provide as much custom service as possible," said Michael, who co-owns Pallet Express with Lynn Bell, vice president of the company. Over at WSM, Mark does too. (See accompanying article.)
Pallet Express goes the extra distance to help customers deal with nettlesome and potentially costly challenges to doing business — such as removing wood waste and cardboard filler from their sites. In the current tight economy, said Michael, extra effort is particularly important "to help all survive" until manufacturing improves.
Of the 5,000 to 6,000 pallets that Pallet Express recovers each day, about 70% are returned to use with no more than a minor repair, such as replacing a deck board. The remainder are dismantled in order to reclaim usable lumber for repair stocks and to assemble ‘renailed’ pallets. Pallet Express also manufactures combination (‘combo’) pallets, hybrids of new and used lumber; they account for 5% of renailed pallets. Pallet Express sells about 5,000 pallets each day.
"Everything we receive, we try to sort and re-utilize," said Michael. The company seeks "to use as much wood as we possibly can" from recovered pallets and "to keep as much wood waste out of landfills as possible." The company also reclaims and recycles nails — collected from two grinders — and cardboard, which are both sold.
Scrap wood — broken boards, end trims and material collected from customers — is processed in one of two grinders, a Cresswood HF-60 and the WSM model 3456BH horizontal hog that Pallet Express added in June 2002. The two grinders together produce up to 80 tons of mulch per day.
Pallet Express colors about 70% of its mulch. The other 30% is marketed as boiler fuel or material for playground surfaces —Play Mulch. The Play Mulch has been evaluated by Detroit Testing Laboratory Inc. in Warren, Mich. and rated suitable for playground activities.
The WSM model 3456BH horizontal hog grinder has three magnets to remove scrap nails from the grindings and an 8-foot oscillating screen to produce a fine-textured mulch, said Michael. The self-cleaning magnet over the vibrating infeed conveyor and the magnetic head drum were supplied by WSM.
The high quality mulch product from the WSM grinder got the immediate attention of Pallet Express customers. The company has received "a lot of compliments about the consistency and quality" Michael reported.
The need to increase grinding capacity and his interest in a low maintenance machine led Michael to WSM. He ultimately was sold by the "really good customer service" WSM offered, which included "general help at setting up" the machine and "getting the best product flow."
The WSM grinder incorporates several machine features that Michael values. "It has a quick easy way of rotating hammers," said Michael, which reduces hammermill wear and maintenance costs. In the peak season, spring, the WSM machine runs 16 hours daily.
The WSM grinder has a 300 horsepower electric motor. (WSM also offers a diesel-powered model 3456BH.) "We had to have a special service just for the grinder," said Michael, and the local electric utility, Duke Power, installed it. The arrangement of running the grinder off the power grid works well, he said.
Although Pallet Express can recycle and grind a large volume of scrap wood to a high quality product, pallet recycling is the company’s top priority. The company has a well-honed approach to pallet recycling in its 14,000 square-foot plant.
Four-way pallets are not pre-sorted. GMA pallets go directly to one of 15 stations where employees make needed repairs. Damaged boards are removed manually, and replacement stock is fastened with Bostitch power nailing tools and nails.
All other incoming pallets are pre-sorted into one of three categories: ‘ready-to-go’ pallets that can be immediately resold, pallets that need repairs, and pallets to be dismantled for recycled lumber.
Pallet Express is equipped with five band saw dismantlers in its lumber recovery area. The company has two Clary Sidewinder machines, a Clary Hustler, an Industrial Resources Rapid Cut II, and a Pallet Systems Mfg. dismantler.
The most recent addition to the dismantling operations is the Pallet Systems Mfg. machine, and Michael has been impressed by it. The Pallet Systems Mfg. dismantler is the most economical band saw machine the company has used, according to Michael.
For cutting reclaimed material to length, Pallet Express uses two Clary Easy Saw trim saws and two Smart Products chop saws. The "very first piece of equipment" that Pallet Express bought was a Smart Products cut-off saw, noted Michael.
Pallet Express also is equipped with a Newman Machine Co. single-head notcher and a shop-built double-head notcher.
Pallets and material are moved throughout the plant with a system of bins and manual labor with one exception. Conveyors beneath the dismantlers collect reclaimed lumber as it drops from the machines and carry the material to the trim saws and chop saws. Pieces are sorted manually and cut to the lengths needed, and the finished reclaimed repair stock is stored in bins.
Pallet Express maintains an inventory of pallets in 50 sizes, ranging from 24x24 to 60x60. Monitoring inventory helps guide decisions about how much reclaimed stock should be cut to certain lengths.
Pallet Express also tracks customer use. "We like to inventory items for customers," said Michael, in order to provide quick turn-around on orders.
Used material that can be reclaimed and trimmed to 48 inches for stringers is hard to come by, according to Michael. The solution has been buying 4x6 cants and resawing them into stringers. The company buys hardwood and pine cants from local sawmills and resaws them on a Baker Products single-head horizontal band saw.
A skeleton crew works a second shift at Pallet Express. "They get things ready for the next day," said Michael. Most of the work is done by the day shift, which is on a five day week. Pallet Express has 80 employees in all.
Pallet Express, based in Greensboro in north-central North Carolina just 30 miles south of Virginia, has a fleet of 150 trailers to retrieve and deliver pallets. The company drops empty trailers at customer locations in North Carolina and Virginia and retrieves them when they have been loaded with surplus pallets. The company also has three straight trucks, six flatbeds and five live-bottom trailers for transporting mulch.
Michael and Lynn cited Dean Garner, Pallet Express transportation manager, as an important and dedicated member of the management team. Even though "transportation" anchors his title, he "deals a lot in the customer service area," said Lynn. A three-person maintenance crew tends to all equipment and trucks; the mechanics also do most welding and fabricating on site.
As a service to customers that ship products to export markets, Pallet Express can supply heat-treated pallets. It invested in a Pest-Heat heat treating system about two years ago. Pallets heat treated in the Pest-Heat system comply with European Union requirements to ensure that wood packaging is free of insects and pests. For example, the Pest-Heat system kills pinewood nematodes, Asian longhorn beetles, bark beetles, borers, termites, and other pests.
When Pallet Express got started in 1991, the company was recycling primarily hardwood pallets, and that trend continued a number of years. In the last three years, though, there has been a shift to more pine. Now, about 25% of recycled pallets are made of pine.
Pallet Express colors mulch with a Becker Underwood system. "The hot colors are red, dark brown and black," said Michael. Play Mulch is sold in its natural color. Mulch is sold bulk wholesale and retail in the Carolinas and Virginia.
Michael moved to North Carolina 18 years ago and worked in a shipping and receiving department for nine years. He got into pallet recycling as a part-time venture before forming a business with Lynn’s ex-husband. Lynn eventually bought out her ex-husband’s share and became Michael’s business partner.
Lynn likes the flexibility of owning a business despite the long hours. "I’m a single parent," she explained. "I have three children." So the flexibility is a real plus.
Lynn’s duties include bookkeeping and administration, and in the last two years she has also taken a more important role in operations. Michael focuses on operations.
When you own a business, it is possible to "make goals as high as you want," said Michael.
Lynn and Michael value their time away from the business. "I like to spend time with my daughter, Monica, and my girlfriend, Teresa," said Michael. He also jet skis and fishes. "I enjoy going to movies, out to dinner," said Lynn. She also relishes being with her three children, Amber, Kirbi and Ridge.
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