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Opportunity Comes Knocking for Brit; His Pallet Company Grows Quickly: Holden Pallets Is First Application of AWMV LT300 Head Rig in Western Europe
Holden Pallets: British man starts pallet manufacturing operations for his employer, and business flourishes; Holden Pallets is first company in Western Europe to use AWMV head rig.
Date Posted: 8/1/2007
When Anglo-Dutch steel giant Corus wanted to improve the efficiency and cost of its pallet program, the answer was right in one of its steel mills in northern England.
Corus manufactures flat, rolled steel. The company used its own resources to produce thousands of pallets to transport steel throughout Europe.
A rolling mill operator at the company’s plant in Blackburn, Lancashire offered to set up his own pallet manufacturing business. David Holden, an ex-Royal Marine, presented Corus with a plan for making pallets and a price.
Corus jumped at the opportunity. Manufacturing wood pallets was not a core business activity for the successful, giant steel producer. Erratic timber supplies added to the distraction.
That was in 1996. David, 40 at the time, started building pallets in a nearby garage, equipped with a used cross-cut saw and a generator. Working long hours, he quickly was able to produce about 400 pallets per week.
Corus executives were delighted and awarded him a contract to supply pallets to more of its rolling mills. Its timber costs were slashed by one-third.
David was happy to see his business grow, but his enthusiasm was tempered by the hard nature of the work and the now quickly expanding operations. He and his wife, Lesley, co-owner, took a hard look at their prospects. In order for David to be able to reduce his working hours to something more manageable, they decided to reorganise, invest in some machinery and equipment, and rent a larger facility.
Now, Holden Pallets Ltd. supplies six Corus mills: Leeds, Caldecot (in Wales), Wednesfield, Cross Keys, Blackburn and Scarborough. Holden Pallets supplies 75% of the pallets required at the Corus mills. The key to the expansion has been Holden’s new sawmill and wood processing plant in Darwen.
Outsourcing the supplying of pallets to David and his company has been a relief for Corus. “We are naturally sharply focused on quality steel production, so the manufacture of 50,000 pallets per year for Caldecot alone was a nuisance factor,” said Philip Hopkins, operations manager of the Corus mill in Caldecot, South Wales. “It took a lot of resource and time and timber supplies were sometimes erratic.”
In addition, with the sawmill and resaw equipment he invested in, David is able to supply pallets of higher quality, Philip added.
A Quantum Leap
At the Holden Pallets mill in Darwen, the workhorse is an AWMV LT300 thin-kerf band head rig. (AWMV is the industrial division of Wood-Mizer Products.)
Holden Pallets was the first application of the AWMV LT300 band sawmill in Western Europe. AWMV has other LT300 mills operating in North America, Eastern-Central Europe, and Australasia.
The LT300 represents a quantum leap for Holden Pallets. In addition, it is complemented by several other pieces of equipment and machinery from AWMV and Wood-Mizer: a Wood-Mizer LT20 portable band sawmill, an AWMV six-head band resaw, a Wood-Mizer edger, and AWMV material handling equipment — a log loader, incline conveyor and transfer deck.
The cost of the AWMV and Wood-Mizer equipment was about one-fourth the cost for setting up a traditional sawmill operation in Great Britain, according to David, “but it does the same job.”
Corus representatives have acknowledged the improved quality of the pallet lumber, he said.
Of more importance to David is the thin-kerf technology of the head rig, portable band sawmill and the multi-head resaw. The thin saw kerf of the band blades that run on the AWMV and Wood-Mizer equipment results in a greater yield of usable lumber.
“This compares favorably with the large kerf of traditional sawmilling,” noted David. “In effect, it permits price values that are very different from traditional sawmilling charges.”
David buys logs from British timber, Sitka spruce but also some larch and pine. They are supplied by logger Robert Tweddle of Carlisle at the rate of about 75 tons per week. David specifies logs from about 12-27 inches in diameter although he has used some as large as 35 inches.
David’s plant in Darwen occupies 1.5 acres. Logs are moved into the steel portal framed building and placed next to either the LT300 or the LT20.
“Two men working with the LT20 turn out sawn boards at half the speed of the LT300, which is operated from a remote operator by one man – or woman!” said David. In fact, his wife, Lesley, is trained to operate the LT300 and often runs it when Dave Berry, the regular sawyer, is unavailable.
Lesley also resharpens saw blades with a Wood-Mizer blade maintenance package, which includes an automated sharpener and a tooth setter-gauge. The blades for the LT300 are resharpened every three to four hours and the blades for the LT20 every eight hours.
Once learned, it is simple to perform cutting and handling operations with the LT300 joy stick controls, noted David. The automated setworks quickly and accurately position the cutting head to the right depth for pre-set pattern cutting.
At Holden Pallets, the AWMV LT300 and Wood-Mizer LT20 are used as primary breakdown machines to square up the log and also to saw flitches and boards with the LT20 generally used for small, extra runs of pallets. (The AWMV LT300 is capable of sawing grade lumber.)
The cants produced by the LT300 move along an inclined conveyor and transfer deck to the AWMV six-head multihead band resaw while the flitches and boards are off-loaded and fed to the Wood-Mizer edger. Finished material is cut to length by manually-operated chop saws.
Pallet components are assembled with the aid of jigs, pneumatic nailing tools and collated fasteners. Finished pallets are loaded directly onto trucks for delivery. From log to truck-load of pallets is one continual process. The sawmill equipment is powered by a generator, which is more economical than industrial electrical service.
Investing in equipment enabled David to eliminate a second shift but maintain the same production. Overall, the machinery represents a revolution in terms of speed and efficiency of operations.
Holden Pallets has five satellite facilities at Corus mills. All are supplied with some pallet stock by the company’s sawmill, and they supplement their allotment with components they manufacture at each facility. Nationwide, Holden Pallets employs 23 people, 11 of whom are at the Darwen mill and headquarters.
Installing and setting up the AWMV and Wood-Mizer equipment was relatively simple, according to David. “The industrial band sawmill and its ancillary equipment can be quickly set in motion on virtually any level surface,” he said, “whereas traditional sawmills of the same scale were affixed in concrete within dedicated buildings.”
“Not only does this reduce set-up costs, but the equipment also can be moved to another site in a different part of the country where commercial opportunities arise or when local planning issues demand relocation. Such a move is a major event for traditional sawmills but can be achieved in three days with this equipment.”
For example, when the equipment was relocated to a different facility in Darwen, it was up and running in the new location within days, David explained. “When we changed our site from one part of Darwen to another, we finished production on a Thursday evening and were at full production at the new one by 10 a.m. the following Monday with the generator powering the LT300 and the rest of the equipment.”
David’s business already is a success and is positioned for further growth and expansion.