For over 30 years the leading pallet and sawmill magazine in America.
Recyclers ‘Ripe for Automation,’ Says Supplier
Smart Products: Recyclers 'Ripe' for Automation.
By Diane Calabrese - Contributing Author
Date Posted: 4/1/2001
Smart Products, a Leader in Bandsaw Dismantling Equipment, Poised for Expansion, Continues Innovation
MUNCIE, Ind. — The forest products industry has been made up of relatively small, independent companies until recently, notes Ron Waechter (pronounced like WECK-tor). The nature of the businesses worked well for increasing efficiency, he said, but now the industry is "ripe for automation." Smart Products will supply equipment to help companies move in that direction.
Smart Products is a machinery supplier that primarily serves pallet recycling businesses. The company is recognized as a leading supplier of pallet bandsaw dismantling machines; it has sold more than 1,200 of the machines to pallet recyclers.
The company is on the verge of introducing a new, innovative dismantling machine that still is based on bandsaw technology, and it is also poised to expand its product line into other areas.
Smart Products was founded by Ron and Tom Waechter. (They share a surname by coincidence; the men are not related.) They started Smart Products Co. Inc. in 1993. Tom is vice president and Ron is president.
The two men were well suited for their partnership. Both have a strong background in machinery. Tom previously operated his own machinery business and had experience in logging and sawmills, and Ron had a lengthy career in the pallet industry.
"I was trying to buy a bandsaw," said Ron, recalling what first brought him together with his business partner. "One (I considered) was extremely expensive. One (I looked at) was poorly made. I was at the Richmond Expo and I met Tom. He said, ‘I can make you one. I will trade you a forklift.’ "
By the time the machine was ready, the trade was no longer in the picture. Ron and Tom were so pleased with the machine that resulted from their initial talk and collaborative quest that they decided to sell it. "We put an ad in Pallet Enterprise," said Ron, and got a great response. Soon after they took four machines to the Atlanta Expo and exhibited them, and the machines were well received by the pallet industry.
Tom thought of the name for Smart Products. "A light bulb went off in my head," he said. (Smart Products uses a picture of a light bulb in some of its advertisements.)
Tom’s role in Smart Products is machinery design and development. His forte is design. He grew up on a farm near Oldenburg, Ind. His father had a small welding shop, and farmers would bring their equipment to be repaired. "I have a three-dimensional mind," said Tom, who became interested in design as a young man and has taken classes in computer-assisted drafting, electrical work and other areas.
When he designed the multi-head horizontal band resaw that launched his first company, Waechter Machinery, in 1986, Tom drew on his experience in sawmills. "In the early eighties, I was logging," said Tom. "I got into sawmills and saw (them) sawing with real heavy circular saw blades." The experience brings back vivid memories of "sawdust everywhere."
But there were other problems for the sawyers as well. "The horsepower requirements were tremendous," recalled Tom, who was certain he could design a saw that would yield "more boards from the cant."
So he did. Tom developed a single band resaw based on thin-kerf technology, and then a horizontal model. "It was the very first of many resaws (now on) the market," said Tom. Not only did the change produce more boards and less dust, there was also a nice bonus in lower energy use.
Tom likes to design machinery, but he was not fond of the day-to-day logistics of running a business. Consequently, he sold Waechter Machinery in 1990 and went to work as a product engineer for another manufacturer of wood products equipment. In that setting, someone else took care of the paper pushing, which suited Tom. Still, he wanted to be able to devote more time to inventing and making prototypes.
Tom was happy to forge a partnership with someone whose expertise complements his. "I have the talent to develop good, reliable machines," said Tom. "Ron is very good at the administration side of the business."
In addition to Ron and Tom, a third individual is a key figure at Smart Products: sales manager Brad Kirkaldy. Each one of the three men brings something special to the company.
Brad joined Smart Products as sales manager in 1999. The native of southern California studied business, psychology, woodworking and more at a community college before moving to Indiana. He worked as a cabinet maker and then sold pallet and woodworking machinery for 13 years. Brad met Ron on a sales call to Delaware Box and Pallet. He liked what he learned about Smart Products and joined the company.
Brad enjoys the challenge of "solving problems" for customers. The "many ways of coming up with a solution" for a particular customer’s requirements give him a lot of satisfaction.
The Smart Products machinery line is ‘user-friendly, Brad noted. Since many parts are ‘off-the-shelf’ components, customers can easily make their own repairs.
Ron co-owns Delaware Box and Pallet Co. with his brother, Joe. Their parents originally owned a poultry farm on site in Muncie, Ind., that is now Delaware Box and Pallet. Ron and his father started Delaware Box and Pallet in 1970. Ron took over the helm of the business when his father died in 1976.
Ron became experienced with machinery by virtue of his service in the Indiana Air National Guard, from which he recently retired after 22 years. He served as an aircraft mechanic and gained experience and knowledge working with everything from electrical systems to hydraulics. He understands the value of low-maintenance equipment. "I can’t imagine being in business and not being able to repair equipment," said Ron, who also is a commercial pilot.
Both Smart Products and Delaware Box and Pallet are based in Muncie, which is about 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis. Ron and Brad both work out of the Muncie facility. Tom works out of the Smart Products manufacturing facility in Saint Maurice in southeast Indiana.
Simplicity and economy are at the heart of the Smart Products philosophy. "My trademark has always been a machine with three legs," said Tom, "so it sits well on floors." The secure footing is just one example of the attention the company gives to customer requirements. Forklift pockets are another special feature Tom adds to equipment in order to make it easier to move machines.
When Tom and Ron began to develop the first machine offered by Smart Products, a bandsaw pallet dismantler, they shared a common objective. They wanted the machine to be a workhorse yet economical.
With a product line that includes a portable bandsaw dismantler as well as stationary bandsaw dismantlers and trim saws, Smart Products focuses on meeting the needs of pallet recyclers.
The Smart Products line of machinery includes bandsaw pallet dismantlers, including machines specifically designed and built to be operated by one person. The dismantlers feature 10 and 15 hp gear reduction drives, push-button operated table height adjustment, and improved hydraulic blade tensioning. Smart Products also offers a portable bandsaw dismantler that can be towed by a pick-up truck.
The Smart Products board trim saw can cut up to four stringers at once or deckboards stacked up to 6 inches high. Its automatic feed single end trim saw is equipped with a three chain feed system.
Delaware Box and Pallet produces both new and recycled pallets and does an annual sales volume of just under $2 million. In addition to pallets, the company manufactures boxes, crates, skids, and corrugated containers. A significant portion of the company’s business is wireband boxes and pallets for the automotive industry.
The company, named for Delaware County, occupies nine acres. The main production area is located in "an old chicken house," said Ron. The building is about 220 feet long by 40 feet wide. "It used to house 20,000 chickens," he said.
Delaware’s operations comprise four departments: lumber cut-up, recycling, pallet and box assembly, and assembly of corrugated and other containers. The corrugated output fits with Delaware’s role as a distributor for Tri-Container Corp.
To produce new components the company buys and resaws cants from sawmills within a 100-mile radius and also 4/4, 5/4 and 6/4 random length lumber. Crates and boxes are made mainly from new wood. "(We buy) hardwoods and some plywood," said Ron.
For its cut-up operations, Delaware is equipped with a Baker Products band resaw. Stringers are notched on a "very old Hazelthorne notcher," said Ron.
All the pallet recycling equipment at Delaware Box and Pallet is from Smart Products. The pallet company serves as a showcase-in-action for Smart Products machines, particularly dismantlers and trim saws.
Delaware is equipped with three Smart Products bandsaw dismantlers. Each machine is operated by one worker, and they can disassemble pallets ranging up to 52 inches to 64 inches. A Smart Products trim saw is used to cut used pallet components to size; the trim saw operates with an 18-inch nail cutting carbide blade that can saw up to four stringers at a time or deckboards stacked 6 inches high.
The company has a few avenues for disposing of scrap wood. Delaware has a diesel-powered Rotochopper machine for processing wood waste. Some of the ground wood fiber is sold for animal bedding, but most of it is marketed for mulch for landscaping. The company is not producing colored mulch although Ron is assessing potential customer interest in colored mulch products. This past winter saw a strong demand for scrap wood for firewood because of rising home heating bills.
Delaware serves customers within a 100-mile radius of Muncie, a city of about 65,000 residents. The company’s customers include light manufacturing businesses. The company has two semi-tractors and a dozen trailers for shipping and retrieving pallets and containers. Some trailers are left at customer locations to allow easy drop-off and removal of used pallets.
When he is not busy at work, Tom likes riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and restoring a 1956 Chevrolet. He enjoys spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren. Ron’s chief pastime is flying.
The Smart Products’ assembly facility is in Saint Maurice. The company has nine employees, including Tom, Ron and Brad. Fabrication work is largely out-sourced.
"I use a lot of laser technology for sheet metal parts," said Tom. "We found you can job that out and keep inventory down...keep costs down. We have main frames fabricated by a welding shop. We have painting done by another subcontractor...(the same for) electrical."
Smart Products provides same-week delivery. "We get an order and we can pull sub-assemblies together overnight," said Tom. A full-time office employee and two machine assembly workers round out the roster. A contract trucker is tapped when needed.
Smart Products sells internationally. It has customers in Australia, England, Germany, and countries in Africa. When shipping machines abroad, Smart Products sends equipment to Delaware Box and Pallet to be crated for transport.
Several new products are on the horizon at Smart Products, which is a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. Tom is in the process of developing a single-head notcher and Ron is working on a new automatic board sorting system. The sorting system will be designed to be used in conjunction with a trim saw introduced by Smart Products two years ago.
The machine that Tom is most excited about is a vertical twin bandsaw pallet dismantler, which is already patented. It will remove deckboards from both sides of the pallet at the same time, according to Tom, who said it potentially can reduce labor costs in pallet dismantling operations. In operating an ordinary bandsaw pallet dismantler, workers use the machine to remove deckboards from one side of the pallet, then turn it over to remove the boards on the other side. The twin bandsaw pallet dismantler may be able to increase production four-fold, estimated Ron, who likes to focus on outcomes and is excited about the one-pass capability of the new machine.
The expansion into notchers is a direct result of customer interest. "I feel we’re missing out on notcher sales," said Tom. "We have an excellent reputation. (We) get calls from people who are very satisfied with our products and want a notcher." The addition of a notcher to the company’s product line will make it easier for Smart Products customers to obtain all the equipment they need from a single supplier.
"I love to design," said Tom. "I need to be always thinking forward to something new."
(Editor’s Note: For information on Smart Products or its machinery, call the company at (800) 401-0099 or visit the Web site at www.smartproductsinc.com.)