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A&L Wood Follows Trends Of Markets, Customers for Profits: Pendu Scragg Mills, Cut-Up Equipment Supply Pallet Stock
A&L Wood: Pendu scragg mills and cut-up equipment enable Pennsylvania company to produce the lumber it requires for its pallet manufacturing operations.
By Carolee Anita Boyles
Date Posted: 1/1/2007
MOUNT PLEASANT MILLS, Penn. — When Gary Leitzel and Herbert Apple started A&L Wood, they made a crucial decision about markets. Instead of picking a single product and sticking to it, they would follow market trends and make whatever the market demanded. It’s a philosophy that has worked well and has resulted in a thriving pallet business.
They have taken a similar approach to decisions about equipment. They chose Pendu scragg mills that would provide efficient production no matter what kind of pallets they were making and what kind of lumber they required.
The company’s two Pendu scragg mills have been a contributing factor to A&L’s success, Gary noted.
“We run two Pendu scragg mills and a Pendu slab reclaiming system,” he said. “Having them makes us more efficient and more flexible as far as lumber goes and gives us a better lumber supply. We can bring a log in and cut what we need out of it, which means that we don’t have to rely as much on sawmills to provide us with the exact size of cants that we need.”
From its location in central Pennsylvania, A&L Wood supplies pallets to a variety of customers in New Jersey, Ohio, Maryland, New York, and, of course, Pennsylvania. The company makes pallets to spec for many industries and has considerable business with manufacturers of building supplies.
“Whatever the customer wants, we make it for him,” Gary said. “Most of them are two sizes. We make mostly 40-by-40 pallets and 36-by-48 pallets.”
Gary had a winding career before he started A&L Wood with Herb, his father-in-law. “I started out as an art major at Penn State and then taught art for two years,” he said. “Then I drove trucks for five or six years in the construction industry.”
The region supports many fruit orchards, and Herb had an orchard, too. There was a bumper crop of fruit in 1979, producing strong demand by growers for 25-bushel bulk wood bins.
“There just weren’t enough bulk bins to go around,” Gary recalled. “My father-in-law had been working with another mill, making some bulk bins, but there was still room for more to be made. So we formed A&L Wood and got into that business.”
The next year, not surprisingly, the fruit crop was not as big, and demand for bins was not as high, either. Gary and Herb started transitioning into building pallets.
“Since there had been oodles and oodles of bulk bins made the year before, there just wasn’t as much of a market for them for a couple of years,” Gary said. “We still made some bulk bins, but we started to put some pallets into the mix, just to help make everything flow smoother.” A&L Wood continued to make some bulk bins for the next five or six years, but gradually the company turned more and more toward making pallets, eventually phasing out bulk bins altogether.
From the very beginning, Gary and Herb followed the market when it came to wood products, from bins to pallets – and whatever kind of pallets their customers required.
“We made pallets for any manufacturing industry,” Gary said. “Back then we were making them for a lot of chemical companies — chemicals and plastics, things like that. We’ve always just followed the market and gone wherever it went.”
After Herb’s death, Gary became the sole owner of A&L Wood. Today, the company employs about 45 people.
“We own 18 acres but presently are using only about 10 of those acres,” Gary said. “We have approximately 28,000 square feet of plant space, and 5,500 square feet of warehouse space under roof.”
A&L Wood is affiliated with Keystone Wood, which Gary started with his brother-in-law in the mid-1980s.
“Keystone Wood is kind of the sales arm of A&L Wood,” Gary said. “It sells the pallets that we manufacture. Keystone also has a small manufacturing operation of its own and makes some specialty-type pallets.”
Establishing Keystone Wood strengthened A&L Wood in areas of sales and marketing and customer relations. “It’s increased the number of pallets that we’re able to sell,” said Gary. “And by going more to direct sales, it helps us keep in contact with our customers.”
A&L Wood buys ‘gate wood’ from loggers. The company buys mixed hardwoods, including oak, maple, poplar, ash, beech, and birch.
“We buy logs seven inches to 14 inches in diameter, and 12 to 24 feet long,” Gary said. “Once we have the logs on the property, they’re stored. As we need them, we run them through the Morbark debarker.”
The logs travel along a conveyor, and an equipment operator decides to kick them off to the appropriate Pendu scragg mill. “He makes that determination based on what each mill is cutting out of logs that day and the size we’re trying to cut,” Gary said. “If both scraggs are cutting the same thing, he just keeps both decks full.”
Each scragg mill line begins with a Pendu cut-off saw that cuts the log into bolts. “We try to cut them two to three inches over finished length,” Gary said.
The Pendu scraggs are end-dogging mills. “The operator determines the maximum size piece of wood he can get out of that bolt,” said Gary. “We normally cut two sizes on each scragg in order to get the best yield from each log.” A pair of circular blades removes two sides of the log, it is turned, and the other two sizes are sawn off. Now the cant is ready to be resawn. (Large cants will be split first to 3-1/2 inches or 4 inches.)
The cants are resawn on either a Pendu gang saw or a bandsaw line; stringers are normally cut on the gang saw and deck boards on the bandsaw. “If we have a customer who needs a perfectly clean, sawdust-free deck board, that goes to the Pendu, also,” said Gary.
For notching stringers, the material goes directly to a Pendu in-line double-head notching machine.
The pallet lumber goes through a Pendu double-end trim saw to be cut to the precise finished length. “That can be anywhere from 32 inches to 54 inches,” said Gary.
Slabs coming off the scragg mills are routed through a Pendu slab recovery system. “There are inspectors in that area who look at the slabs and determine if they’re heavy enough to get boards out of them or not,” Gary said. “If it’s not heavy enough to get boards out of it, it’s sent directly to a wood hog. If it is heavy enough to reclaim some lumber out of it, then it’s passed through a Pendu edger and resaw. Edgings also go to the hog.”
The company has two Viking pallet assembly systems for automated nailing — a Viking Duomatic machine and a Viking Turbo 505. It buys Magnum bulk nails for the Viking machines from Mid-Continent Nail Corp. For the small volume of pallets that are assembled by hand, employees work with Stanley-Bostitch pneumatic nailing tools and collated fasteners. Finished pallets are put into storage or prepared for immediate shipment. The company also has a heat-treating chamber for customers that require pallets for export; the chamber is a trailer van with Temp-Air heat-treating equipment. A&L’s heat-treating procedures are audited and certified by Package Research Laboratory.
Gary has continued to rely on Pendu machinery and equipment since A&L first began buying pallet and sawmill machinery.
“The first saw we had was a Pendu,” he said. “We bought it back in 1979. We have stayed with Pendu because they’re easy to use and they have a short set-up time. We also get good support from Pendu, and they have good parts availability — when we need a part, it’s often shipped out the same day. We feel the guys from Pendu are really good, honest people to deal with.”
The Pendu staff is readily accessible for service or technical assistance, noted Gary, and has been an effective resource to A&L Wood. “I can talk directly to the owner of the company or the engineer,” he said. “We can pass ideas back and forth, and they help us solve problems. You know, oftentimes the user knows more about the saw than the manufacturer does. The guys at Pendu listen to us and are willing to help us make changes so that the saw runs the way it should.”
Pendu has steadily improved its mach inery products, too, according to Gary. “They’ve gone from good products to great ones,” he said.
A&L Wood has the advantage of being located only about a two-hour drive from Pendu. “Sometimes if we’re down, while the guys are tearing the machine down, I’ll send someone to Pendu for the part,” Gary said. “By the time he gets back, the guys here are ready to put in the new part.”
A&L occasionally has modified equipment and machinery to improve performance further, and Pendu always has been ready to help.
“They’ll often send someone in to make the modification for us,” Gary said. “It’s often something that’s only applicable to our operation. It’s just about impossible to make a machine that fits everyone perfectly, so it’s not surprising that we’ve had to make a few little changes.”
Mulch produced by the wood hogs is sold for landscaping, and sawdust is sold to farmers for animal bedding.
A&L Wood puts a strong emphasis on safety. The company has a good safety record, and Gary intends to keep it that way.
“We have a safety committee with a representative from each department in the plant,” he said. “They meet once a month and make recommendations about things that need to be replaced or improved. Those recommendations are given to the maintenance department, and they carry them out. I’m not a member of that committee, and that way they can please themselves.”
The company also employs a safety director who is responsible for safety training. “He can pull anyone in and go over the employee handbook and all the safety rules we have,” Gary said. “New people work with an experienced operator for a period of time to be taught on that machine. All forklift operators are certified, and our safety manager is certified to teach.”
The safety program is backed up with financial incentives. “If we go one full year with no time-loss injuries, employees get an extra day off at Christmas,” said Gary. “If we go 150 injury-free days, they get a special lunch of their choosing.”
A&L Wood also offers employee benefits, including health insurance and a 401k retirement plan.
Gary takes pride in building high quality pallets for customers. “The customer can depend on the pallet working for him, and he can depend on getting it on time,” he said. “We try to maintain an inventory of 25 to 30 loads in the warehouse at any given time. That way, if someone comes along with a rush order, it’s easier for us to fill it. That way we don’t have to build everything today to be shipped out tomorrow.”
The biggest challenge Gary sees in the company’s future is labor. It is increasingly difficult to hire people who are willing to do hard work.
“It’s becoming more and more of a problem,” Gary said. “It’s mostly the young kids who don’t want to work. We’re lucky because we have a large Mennonite community in the area,” and they have a strong work ethic.
“I try to treat my employees very fairly and treat them with respect,” Gary added, “and hopefully that will benefit us. In addition to that, we plan to continue to automate the plant as much as we can so we don’t need to expand our labor force.”
Gary would like to see the company starting to diversity into other lumber products in a few years.
“I’d like for us to not be so reliant on just one thing,” he said. “I’d like to expand the sawmill operation to include some grade lumber as well as pallet lumber and to add some industrial hardwoods.”
“I would like to continue to step back and just watch over the company without having to micro-manage anything so that I don’t have to come in here every day when I’m 65.”