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Georgia Recycling Company Showcases Equipment and Information Technology
Bo’s Pallets: Georgia pallet recycling company is a showcase for PRS equipment and Innovative Data Systems technology to recycle pallets and carefully track and monitor operations.
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 2/1/2007
ADAIRSVILLE, Georgia — Bo’s Pallets Inc. is a showcase for equipment and technology to recycle pallets and carefully track and monitor operations.
Greg Bowen, owner and president of Bo’s Pallets, has developed a sophisticated automated system to repair pallets. The line was equipped by Pallet Repair Systems (PRS) in 2002.
On the repair line, Greg alternates an employee that is paid by the hour, then an employee who is paid by a piece rate. The employees who earn piece rate wages help keep everyone on the line working quickly. It’s a sort of “peer pressure,” said Greg.
Pallet dismantling and lumber recovery operations have long been tracked at Bo’s Pallets. Pallets are conveyed to the dismantlers, and a bar code label is scanned with a hand wand. This credits the employee for production pay. It also tracks the number of pieces of wood produced per pallet dismantled. By conveying pallets to the dismantlers, pallets are handled only once – the pallet goes off the line and either is repaired or dismantled.
Greg found something to increase the capabilities of his company when he attended the Richmond Expo in 2006. He saw a demonstration of the Mill Manager® system from Innovative Data Systems (IDS) Inc. Greg was so impressed with the system that he decided to buy it. “I ordered it when we were at the trade show,” he recalled.
Greg purchased three in-plant computer kiosks that allow employees to enter data into Mill Manager from the shop floor. The Mill Manager computer program gives Bo’s Pallets accurate, consolidated information quickly about incoming loads of pallets and pallets repaired or assembled by workers. The program simplifies relations with core suppliers and the payroll process.
According to Alan Micelli, president of Innovative Data Systems, “I’m the only one in the United States” with a system so integrated, said Greg.
Mill Manager arrived at a great time. It will help Greg coordinate the operations of two satellite locations of his business. The main plant is in Adairsville, Ga., and the satellite facilities coming on line are in Tifton and Savannah.
Mill Manager enhanced the capabilities of IDS Pallet Track® and bar coding systems, which were already in place. Pallet Track primarily tracks production of pallet repairs and manufacturing, and Mill Manager captures information related to incoming pallet cores, lumber recovery operations, and pallets assembled from new and recycled material.
The IDS technology helped the company become more efficient. The results got noticed, too. The company was selected as one of two plant tour sites for the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) Recycling & Repair Conference in Atlanta in October 2006.
Bo’s Pallets was featured in an article in Pallet Enterprise in 2002. Since then the company has expanded to use more of its 12.5-acre property in Adairsville. With the recent addition of 10,000 square feet, it now has 35,000 square feet under roof.
The PRS equipment installed in 2002 enabled the company to increase production significantly. “We engineered it to do 4,000 pallets in an eight-hour shift,” said Greg. Soon after, however, pallet cores became hard to come by. “Right after that, the core supply dried up,” Greg recalled. “We were running at 60 percent capacity on one shift.”
The much tighter core supply and increased production capability allowed Greg to begin to increase his volunteer participation in nonprofit groups. He is the area director for Gideons International, which distributes Bibles, and chairman of the board for the Good Shepherds Foundation, which creates jobs for the handicapped. He is active in the Bartow County Education Foundation, Hands Across Adairsville and is an elected member of the local school board. Greg is a deacon in his church and is a member of Civitan International.
Still dedicated to these community endeavors, Greg began thinking about restructuring his plant in order to reach its full capacity. He “decided to get busy again” with his company, he explained. He modified the recycling and repair operations, adding more PRS dismantlers, stackers and trim saws. The changes increased the company’s production capacity to 5,000 pallets per eight-hour shift. “We’ve already set new records over 5,000,” said Greg.
The decision to stay with PRS when investing in more equipment was an easy one for Greg. “We’ve had great results with PRS equipment,” he said, and PRS has responded rapidly to requests for service or technical assistance. Bo’s Pallets also relies on PRS for bandsaw blades for its dismantling machines as well as plates for plating and splicing operations.
Working alongside Greg is Colt, his son. Colt handles customer relations, cultivating long-standing relationships with suppliers, which is a crucial part of helping Bo’s Pallets stay healthy and expand. “If you want to grow a business, you have to have someone taking care of the customer,” said Greg.
Bo’s Pallets previously used a Rotochopper machine to grind wood waste into mulch. The machine is still at work, but technically not for Bo’s Pallets. Greg, with three partners, set up a separate company called Earthcycle that produces mulch, and the Rotochopper now is part of Earthcycle’s operations.
In modifying the company’s pallet recycling operations, Greg also changed the configuration of a conveyor belt that collected wood waste. The wood scraps are now conveyed into a hopper, which is periodically dumped into a walking floor trailer to be transported to Earthcycle.
“One of the reasons we chose PRS in the beginning,” explained Greg, is that the PRS equipment is easily interchangeable and provides a great deal of flexibility. “We can put pallets on or take pallets off either side” of the repair line, said Greg. A used pallet that will not be repaired can bypass the repair operations and be conveyed directly to dismantler.
About 20% of the company’s production now is new pallets, which represents a change. For cutting recycled and new lumber to length, Bo’s Pallets is equipped with five PRS Optimax trim saws and two Samuel Kent Baker chop saws. The addition provided more space for cut-up operations, and they will be expanded further. Greg plans to add machinery this year to manufacture pallet components from cants.
Adairsville is 50 miles northwest of Atlanta. “We service a wide range of customers,” said Greg, “from the company that only needs a few pallets to the Fortune 500 company ordering by the thousands.”
Bo’s Pallets has eight tractors and 150 trailers for ‘drop and hook’ service to customers – leaving empty trailer vans and retrieving them later when they are filled with used pallets — and just-in-time delivery.
Bo’s Pallets uses Max pneumatic nailing tools supplied by Kentec Inc. “They come in once a week,” said Greg, who prefers to have long-term relationships with his suppliers. “We try to be loyal to our suppliers as long as they give us good service,” he said.
Greg regularly analyzes his operations, equipment and overall business strategy. He makes adjustments if he can get a better outcome.
For example, Greg saw a PRS palm-controlled plater at the Richmond Expo trade show. He had wanted an alternative to a foot-pedal controlled plater for safety reasons, he indicated. He bought the PRS plater right away. It is safer, he believes, because the operator must activate it with both hands, so his hands are not in the way of the hydraulic press.
Plating operations are important at Bo’s Pallets, Greg explained, because using plates in pallet repairs helps maintain a higher grade of pallet, which sell for a higher price. Plates are used to repair cracked or damaged stringers. “A plated A pallet is more valuable than a B pallet,” noted Greg.
Bo’s Pallets also started pallet heat-treating operations. Greg invested in a pallet heat-treating system supplied by Kiln-Direct, and he personally loaded the first charge of pallets into it in August.
Greg chose a small system that heat-treats about 350 pallets at one time. “We were getting a lot of people who needed small runs,” he explained, orders for 50 to 100 pallets. The company heat-treats about three charges per week in the Kiln-Direct system, which is heated with propane. The certifying agency for the company’s heat-treatment process is Package Research Laboratories.
Kiln-Direct provided the solution suited best to Bo’s Pallets. “It’s been great,” said Greg. The system has been set up in an existing space that can accommodate a second system if demand warrants.
Bo’s Pallets, which has about 50 employees, is equipped with two Gap automated nailing machines. One of the reasons he chose the Gap nailer is that the company can use them to assemble new pallets, pallets made of recycled lumber, or ‘combo’ pallets – pallets made from a combination of new lumber and recycled lumber. The company also has about 10 work stations that are devoted to assembling pallets with pneumatic nailing tools or repairing pallets.
Greg credits his management team with helping Bo’s Pallets to become a leader in the pallet industry. “Office manager Betty Graham has been amazing in helping all of our team members be the best they can,” he said.
Reflecting on the last few years of operation at Bo’s Pallets, Greg recalled how an inquiry prompted him to realize the full potential of his company. “Two guys approached me about buying the business,” he said. He thought about their offer long enough to carefully consider and document the growth potential of his company. When he looked at the potential, he decided he ought to be making the most of it himself. “I’ve got such a great team,” said Greg. He wanted to keep them in place and provide new opportunities for everyone.
Growth and expansion must be carefully managed, Greg noted. “When you’re in a growth spurt, as we are, you must focus,” said Greg. The solid foundation was there. Carefully planned expansion and construction came next.
The pallet recycling operations have been carefully designed and configured. “You start on one end with flow,” said Greg, so that used pallets can be handled and efficiently repaired or dismantled.
Pallets are not sorted in advance. “We don’t sort,” said Greg. A large label is attached to the first pallet that comes off a trailer van; the label is a divider between loads. The label is scanned so that data about the contents of the load can be captured.
Pallets are staged in stacks at repair stations. The worker at the station will decide if a pallet is ‘ready-to-go’ or if it will be repaired or dismantled, and he puts a corresponding bar code on the pallet. After the finished pallet is scanned, a quality control inspector examines each pallet one at a time. The pallets are sorted into one of eight stackers.
Pallet Track and Mill Manager collect data from all aspects of the operations. “I know what I’m getting from a supplier,” said Greg. “Now, we pay suppliers by grade” of core. “There’s no fudge margin. The supplier gets paid for every pallet repaired.”
“I know what I’m paying for,” Greg added, “I know what it costs to repair a pallet, and I know what I sell the pallet for. That translates into a guaranteed profit.” Having accurate information about his costs eliminates “guess work” when it comes to pricing, he said.
Mill Manager meshed well with the company’s Pallet Track system and its overall recycling operations. “It’s hand and glove,” said Greg. “I was already tracking what employees did. It’s taking pen and pencil out of employees’ hands. With Mill Manager from Innovative Data, I ramped up production without hiring more people.”
The increase has been dramatic. “Once we put Mill Manager in…we’ve almost doubled production,” said Greg. The system increased efficiency in a number of ways. For example, “The forklift operator no longer has to count pallets,” said Greg.
The Mill Manager system was very easy to implement, according to Greg. “We trained everyone in one day. All they have to know is their responsibility.”
A feature of Mill Manager that directly helps customers is constant inventory control. “If we’re in the middle of a 500-pallet run and a customer calls,” said Greg, he can check Mill Manager for an up-to-the-minute inventory and let the customer know exactly how many pallets are ready.
Also, customers or other core supplies get precise information on used pallets that they have returned to Bo’s Pallets. They receive a printed report that indicates how many pallets in the trailer were grade A, how many were grade B, and so on.