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Production at Recycling Company Takes Off with AMS Automated Repair Line: C&C Pallet in Colorado Realizes Other Benefits
C&C Pallet Remanufacturing: Production at Colorado pallet recycling company takes off after company invests in AMS automated repair line; company reaps other benefits from automation.
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 12/1/2007
COMMERCE CITY, Colorado — For a textbook example of a business with feet in the real world, look to C&C Pallet Remanufacturing Inc. Brothers Curtis and Chris Booz — the C&C in the company name — started their 15-year-old enterprise by bootstrapping, growing and adding equipment as profit allowed.
C&C added an automated pallet repair line from Automated Machine Systems, Inc. in the spring of 2007. AMS installed the equipment and got the repair line up and running in just five days. The C&C decision to choose a supplier for the automated repair line took considerably longer. “That was a process that took a year and one-half,” said Curtis.
Talking with AMS across 18 months, Curtis grew confident that AMS understood the needs of C&C. “We were trying to find a way to increase production without adding employees,” he said. He also wanted a repair system for which new employees could be readily and easily trained; he got it with AMS.
“The whole idea was speed,” said Curtis. “We decided to go with nail ‘on-the-fly’ instead of pull off, push on.”
In nail ‘on-the-fly’ automated repair lines, workers on either side of a conveyor line nail on replacement deck boards as the pallets, prepped earlier by other workers, move by on the conveyor. In some other pallet repair lines, workers pull off a pallet from a conveyor line as it approaches their work station, make the necessary repairs, and push the pallet back onto a conveyor line. In some systems, a stack of pallets is delivered to each repair station, the worker pulls them off one at a time and repairs them, then puts them onto a conveyor. AMS supplies various types of repair lines and is not limited to one particular system.
The installation process went smoothly, according to Chris. “AMS did a very good job of flying their guys in. They were here sun up to sun down. On the fifth day we were fully operational.”
In order to halt production at C&C Pallet Remanufacturing for a few days during the installation process, the company prepared in advance. “It was a very large commitment,” said Curtis. To guarantee that pallets would be available for customers, C&C employees worked overtime in the two weeks prior to the shutdown in order to increase its inventory of ready pallets.
C&C formerly sorted incoming used pallets. Now, there is no need to sort the pallets in advance. Stacks of four-way pallets can go directly to the AMS automated repair line. “It has cut down on labor,” said Curtis.
At the start of the line, an AMS tipper lowers a stack of pallets so the pallets can be singulated and inspected. A C&C worker is stationed at an AMS Deckmaster deck board remover. He decides if a pallet is ‘ready to go’ and can continue down the line or if a damaged deck board must be removed with the Deckmaster. Any pallets prepped with the Deckmaster also go back onto the conveyor.
In the next phase of the line, two workers are on one side and two on the other. Using pneumatic nailing tools suspended overhead, they nail on replacement deck boards. At the next stage, an employee inspects the finished pallets and directs them to the appropriate AMS stacker; he inspects them for grade — C&C has four grades of pallets — and pushes a button to move a pallet into the right stacker.
C&C has 22 employees. About six employees work on the AMS automated repair line: one at the tipper and Deckmaster station, four nailing on repair stock, and one at the stackers.
The AMS automated repair line bumped up production almost overnight, and gains are still being realized. “Production numbers continue to go up,” said Curtis. “On a bad day, we have a 30 percent increase; on a good day, 55 percent.”
Workers earn piece rate wages. The increase in production enabled the company to adjust the rates downward, but employees still earn the same wages because they produce more pallets.
Another important benefit of the AMS automated repair line is the improvement in work conditions and ergonomics. Automation makes the work much easier. Employees do not have to lift and move pallets. The improved work conditions reduce fatigue, and the environment is safer. Worker safety and comfort have been a top priority since the inception of C&C, Curtis emphasized.
Curtis and Chris both know every part of their business, but as their company has grown, they have subdivided the management tasks. Curtis handles marketing and bookkeeping.
Chris oversees operations, acting as foreman. Among other things, he makes sure the employees keep the work area clean and that they wear personal protective gear — gloves, safety glasses and ear plugs. C&C enjoys a good safety record and has had few claims for workers’ compensation, said Curtis. “We expect to continue to be safe with AMS.”
C&C sells about 20 truckloads of pallets per week. The company keeps an inventory of about 10,000 pallets.
Cores are obtained from two sources. C&C keeps trailers at customer locations to be filled with used pallets, and it buys used pallets.
The company’s lumber recycling operations are housed in a 2,000-square-foot building. C&C has a National Pallet bandsaw dismantler to disassemble used pallets. About 400 pallets are dismantled daily. A National Pallet end trim saw is used to cut reclaimed boards to length. A shop-built chop saw also is used to cut used lumber to length. The company also has a few work stations in the building to repair additional pallets, and about 500 are produced there each day.
The AMS automated repair line is in the company’s other building, which has 7,000 square feet. “We had a couple of limitations because of the dimensions of the building,” said Curtis. AMS staff used computer-assisted drafting software to design the plant layout and found a way to make it fit. The repair system has a curved segment of roller conveyor instead of an L-shaped turn; the radius conveyor saved enough space to ensure a perfect fit. Curtis had some concern about how pallets would move along the arc, but the AMS design keeps them moving.
Chris also maintains equipment. He came up with an idea to save time when it comes to greasing the equipment in the AMS automated repair line, which has numerous fittings to inject grease. Chris connected fittings with plastic tubing, reducing the number of points where grease is injected.
Waste wood is hauled to a company that grinds the debris. C&C pays a tipping fee of $100 per truckload. Although the company does not have its own grinding operations, processing residuals into a saleable product is “something we think about all the time,” said Curtis. The company is limited by space; it leases a three acre site for its operations.
The AMS automated repair line is readied each day for the repair workers. Bins are filled with replacement boards and replenished again at noon. “The only thing the guys on the repair line do is repair,” said Curtis. Nailing tools, balanced and suspended overheard, are easy to reach and use.
Nearly all pallet repairs are done with recycled lumber. When new wood is needed, C&C buys stock cut. The company has equipment to cut random length lumber to length, but for now buying pre-cut material is more efficient.
Incorporated in 1992, C&C actually has longer roots. Curtis and Chris began working together years earlier, shortly after a pallet company at which they had both worked was sold. They contacted businesses, hauling away pallets by day and repairing them at night. It was a bootstrap effort. “We never paid ourselves a lot of money,” said Curtis, instead putting their profit back into the business and upgrading equipment.
C&C uses connector plates to repair damaged or cracked stringers; a #1 recycled pallet with connector plates sells for a higher price than a #2 pallet with a ‘plug’ or companion stringer. The company has several platers supplied by Pallet Repair Systems. In fact, the platers were among some of the first equipment that Chris and Curtis bought for the company.
Ready pallets are stored outside. Some customers want dry pallets — no snow or rain on them; in those cases, C&C can use trailer vans to store them temporarily.
Besides standard 48x40 pallets, C&C supplies many smaller sizes. The “48x40s are our bread and butter,” said Curtis. The company also supplies some custom pallets, such as 36-squares and 22-squares.
“We prefer to spot all our trailers,” said Curtis. C&C promises a 24-hour turnaround from when a customer calls to when a trailer is picked up. To make the most of every mile, C&C always tries to haul freight before dropping an empty trailer and hooking up to a trailer that is full of used pallets. The company’s two semi-tractors are Internationals.
C&C uses Stanley-Bostitch pneumatic nailing tools and collated nails supplied by Empire Staple. It buys saw blades and more – chalk for marking, ear plugs, gloves, safety glasses, etc. – from Saw Service & Supply. The company also is equipped with a notcher supplied by Trace Equipment.
Customers include almost every sector of the economy, including medical, agricultural, food and beverage. “I’m not sure there’s an industry we don’t serve here in Colorado,” said Curtis. “Chris and I decided early on it is better not to have all our eggs in one basket.”
Most customers are within a 75-mile radius of the center of Denver. “But we do sell pallets out of state – Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico.” Those go out with a contract carrier and typically on a backhaul rate. Commerce City, a town of about 21,000 residents where C&C is based, is located just north of Denver.
“One of the things that Chris and I are very proud of is our honesty and integrity,” said Curtis. “If a customer brings me 500 pallets I can repair, I don’t pay them for 490 pallets. If I tell you a price today,” it will be the same price tomorrow. Curtis believes that “what goes around, comes around.”
Customer contracts are negotiated individually. Some customers will accept a flat rate of payment for pallet cores; others want to be paid a premium for repairable #1 and #2 pallets, which they ask be tallied and reported separately.
Chris started working for a pallet company right after high school. Curtis headed to New Jersey and a job with United Parcel Service for several years, but he moved back to the Centennial State because he missed his family and the scenic beauty of Colorado. He began working for the same pallet company, but both men found themselves looking for work after the business changed hands.
Chris immediately began recycling pallets on his own. He picked up pallet cores in a pick-up, repaired them as needed, and sold them. Curtis soon joined him.
“We think it’s a dynamite business to be in,” said Curtis. “It can be very rewarding.”
In their spare time, both men spend time with their families. Curtis and Chris both are married and have children.