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Samuel Kent Baker Supplies Custom Machinery for Diverse Applications: Custom Equipment Shows Supplier’s Expertise in Design, Engineering
Samuel Kent Baker Inc.: Supplier helped two diverse companies in the forest products industry with special equipment needs they had for moving and handling wood and lumber.
By Carolee Anita Boyles
Date Posted: 5/1/2007
When two forest products companies had different wood handling needs, they both turned to the same wood products machinery manufacturer. That supplier — Samuel Kent Baker Inc. — developed custom wood handling solutions that solved problems for both companies.
At Madison County Wood Products in Fredericktown, Missouri, partners Douglas Gaines and James Kesting make pallets. Their company also manufactures hardwood grade lumber and railroad ties. When they needed equipment for a new sawmill they built in 2005, they called on Samuel Kent Baker for help.
“We’re remanufacturing culled lumber coming out of our sawmill that must be reprocessed to make a sellable board,” Doug explained. The culled lumber is remanufactured with a two-head band resaw and a single-end trim saw that are 12 feet off the plant floor, above other mill machinery. Conveyors and handling equipment carry material to and from the resaw. The custom lumber handling equipment was supplied by Samuel Kent Baker.
“The incline conveyor elevates this material up to where the saws are,” Doug said. “Then the decline conveyor lets it back down to the lower level.”
Sam worked hard to design a system that would work in this application, said Doug. “Those two pieces were the biggest challenge for him because they were out of the ordinary. He came to our site and figured out the space he had to work with. Then he engineered the incline and decline to fit our sawmill.”
Knowing that Sam had experience in designing and building custom machinery and equipment was one of the reasons he chose the company, Doug said.
“We dealt with Sam because we knew it was going to be an unusual installation, and we needed to work with someone who would stay with the project until it was refined and working,” he said.
“There were several modifications we had to make after his first try,” he added, “and we all knew that was going to happen. We knew it would take two or three tries for it to work right.”
In fact, Sam’s original concept and design were very close to what the finished conveyor system would be; the modifications he made were very minor.
The Samuel Kent Baker equipment has significantly improved efficiency at Madison County Wood Products, according to Doug.
“Our whole reason for installing this equipment was to reduce our labor costs for reprocessing culled material,” he said. “Before, that process took five people. Now it works with no people. It automated that line.”
Alabama Forest Products in Pelham, Alabama needed a way to improve the way employees handled firewood. The company turned to Samuel Kent Baker. Sam’s company designed and built a state-of-the-art firewood handling system consisting of three conveyor lines and a self-dumping hopper. The system has saved time and money for Alabama Forest Products.
Harry Little, owner of Alabama Forest Products, earned a degree in forestry from Auburn University, then worked as a timber buyer for several years for a timber company. He had an itch to own his own business, so he started buying timber and using contract loggers to cut and deliver logs to mills.
Before long he bought a wood yard. Then he bought out a competitor and had a second wood yard. He incorporated the business in 1989.
“We started out as a traditional wood yard, where we bought from loggers, pulp wood cutters, tree services, and farmers and ranchers who were clearing their land or harvesting timber,” Harry said. “We had truck scales, and we would unload the wood, separate the logs, reload them, and ship the loads on tractor-trailers to different mills across the state.”
Sometimes Harry and his staff had time on their hands, so they took hickory pulp logs that paper mills would not buy and processed them into firewood.
“We started with a chain saw and a hand splitter,” Harry said. “It was just something for the guys to do while we were waiting around the wood yard.”
When Harry saw that he could add profits to the company by selling
A couple years later, Harry bought out a competitor in the firewood business; the company he acquired had a new Multitek firewood processor that is still working for Harry today.
“We used to haul our firewood in dump trucks,” Harry said. “We would just load up the dump truck and take two or three guys and go to the restaurants in the Birmingham area that bought hickory wood from us for cooking, and unload the wood for them.”
Over time, Harry developed several customers who owned restaurant chains. The increase in volume created some supply chain issues for Harry’s business.
“Someone might say, ‘Take some of this wood to Georgia,’ or Louisiana or Mississippi,” he said. “But you really can’t take a dump truck load of firewood that far and make a profit on it. So we developed pallets that we could
The pallets, filled with stacked firewood, would be loaded into trailer vans to be hauled to customers’ more distant locations. “That gave us enough payload that we could go 400 to 500 miles to deliver,” said Harry.
When he first opted to use pallets for transporting larger orders of firewood, handling and loading the firewood was still a tedious, labor-intensive, inefficient process. A pallet would be placed in front of a big pile of firewood, and employees would stack it by hand. “Between bending over and dealing with all the trash and undesirable pieces, the guys would wear out in a hurry,” said Harry.
He turned to Samuel Kent Baker a few years ago for a conveyor system to move the firewood in order to make loading more efficient and reduce employee labor.
“Now I can take a front-end loader and scoop up a bucket full of firewood and dump it on the conveyor,” Harry said. “That gets the wood up about waist height, which created a savings of time and labor that is of epic proportions.”
Before long, Harry needed another conveyor. “We could see that we needed another conveyor at the end of the first belt to carry the trash off,” he said. “So after a year, we bought a trash conveyor from Sam to carry the trash to a 2-yard dumping hopper that we also bought from him. It’s something we can pick up with a forklift and take to a discard pile, and it tips over and dumps the trash out.”
Harry later added a third conveyor to automate sorting wood. “If a piece of wood is on the belt that we don’t want to stack on a pallet, the third belt gives us the capacity to pull it out and take it back to the pile to be re-split,” Harry explained. “You can think of it as kind of a discard belt.”
Eventually, he added a fourth conveyor, 30 feet long and on an incline. It conveys additional firewood to the workers and can carry about 15,000 pounds of firewood at any given time.
“That allows for the loader operator to fill up the belt, leave the machine, and go do something else that’s productive,” Harry said. “Now he doesn’t have to have a machine constantly running and keep dropping one bucket at a time as the men stack the firewood.”
“The belt is five feet wide, and with a belt like that, you’d think that you’d need a 10 to 15 horsepower motor,” he said. “But it doesn’t. It has a one and one-half horsepower motor on it.”
The key, Harry said, is in Sam’s design and engineering. “Sam used a gear box that is so stout and so strong that a one and one-half-horsepower motor will run it,” he said. “And that’s really the way you should design a belt. You want to have the strongest gear box you can have, and the best reduction. Then, if something does get torn up, it will be something like the little one and one-half horsepower motor. That motor is maybe $100 versus a couple thousand dollars for the gear box. It was things like that that made me know I found the right man to build my conveying equipment.”
Except for the trash conveyor, which was a stock item, the conveyors supplied by Samuel Kent Baker were custom designed and built for Harry’s specifications.
“When you get a belt like these, you have to be able to tell the person who’s making them that it needs to be this high, this long, and it needs to run this speed and be really strong and heavy,” Harry said. “We didn’t want something that was going to wear out in three or four years because there’s not a lot of profit in the firewood business. It’s more of a high-volume business. We have to do a lot of business every week to cover our overhead. So we wanted conveyors that would last for decades. With the gear boxes he put on these conveyors, I don’t think we’re ever going to have a problem with them. We feel like he’s built the final conveyors that we’re ever going to need to make this operation real efficient.”
Automating the handling and moving of firewood with the custom conveyors supplied by Samuel Kent Baker greatly reduced Harry’s labor costs.
“At one time we had 16 men working for us, but with the conveyors we can stack with three men what eight men on a line used to stack,” said Harry. “That’s part of the savings that the conveyor belts have brought us.”
One of the big challenges he faces in the near future is the high cost of diesel fuel, said Harry. “That’s my biggest hurdle. Everything I do that’s associated with running the wood yard, with buying and selling timber in the woods, and with producing firewood — everything runs on diesel fuel.”
When he started in the industry, Harry said, he could buy off-road diesel fuel for 80 cents a gallon. Then it went up to around $1.20 to $1.30 for a long time.
“Now diesel is more expensive than gasoline,” he noted. “We try to pass that cost on, but our customers don’t want to pay it. And that’s really cutting to our bottom line.”
The personal service is what made Samuel Kent Baker an outstanding supplier to work with, said Harry.
“Being able to pick up the phone and talk to the owner is refreshing,” he said. “It’s a breath of fresh air to be able to speak to the person where the buck stops and to get this kind of quality at a really great price.”