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Kansas Pallet Recycler Reaps Benefits from Automating Repair Operations: AMS Automated Repair Line Enables Company
R&R Pallet: Kansas pallet recycling company increases production and reduces labor with new automated pallet repair line from Automated Machine Systems.
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 2/1/2008
GARDEN CITY, Kansas — The meat packing plants in southwest Kansas and southeast Colorado operate around the clock and employ a huge workforce. The meat packers rely on the services of many vendors, including R&R Pallet of Garden City, Kansas.
Any business that is serious about supplying meat packers must be able to accommodate their schedule, noted Rodney Wadel, president of R&R Pallet. Rodney and his brother, Richard, vice president, are the owners of R&R Pallet. Their father, Walt, is also a vice president involved in the business.
R&R is predominantly a pallet recycling business, and it does a lot of business in GMA pallets. About 80% of the used GMA pallets it recovers are recycled and sold.
Like other pallet recycling businesses, R&R keeps van trailers at customer sites to accumulate used pallets. When the trailers are filled, R&R drops off another empty van and retrieves the one that is full. The company has about 100 trailers in a service area that stretches about 300 miles in any direction from Garden City.
Most pallet repairs are made with recycled stock. The company has operations to dismantle damaged and scrap pallets, recover usable lumber and remanufacture it into pallet parts. About 95% of repairs are made with recycled lumber; the other 5% are made with pre-cut stock, usually oak material.
R&R Pallet has about 50 employees. They work overlapping shifts in order to maximize use of equipment and provide full service for customers.
New pallets are built from pre-cut pallet stock. A Viking Champion 305 automated pallet assembly system, purchased a year ago, nails new, odd-size pallets, such as 48x48. It is the second Viking machine that R&R Pallet has owned.
The heart of the company’s pallet recycling operations is an automated repair line supplied by Automated Machine Systems Inc.(AMS) of Jenison, Mich. The repair line was installed in the spring of 2006. “We designed the system with AMS,” said Rodney.
In deciding to automate its pallet repair operations, R&R was limited by the size of its building. Rodney did not want to add space; working within the dimensions of the existing plant was a non-negotiable parameter, he explained. “I wanted to utilize the center of the shop,” said Rodney, an area about 200 feet long by 120 feet wide.
AMS was fully committed to providing custom design and modification services to fully meet the requirements of R&R, said Rodney. Ultimately, he chose AMS to design and supply the system for a fundamental reason. “AMS was the one that worked with me,” he said. It was “the best” at giving him what he wanted.
Rodney decided to implement a ‘nail-on-the-fly’ repair line. With a ‘nail-on-the-fly’ or continuous motion repair line, pallets are prepped – the damaged lead board removed – before they go on a conveyor. The prepped pallets move along the conveyor, past workers on both sides who nail on the replacement deck boards as the pallet moves by; the pallet moves continuously — hence the term, ‘nail-on-the-fly.’ Rodney preferred this approach over other repair operations in which workers pull or
Rodney also had certain preferences for the new repair line. For example, he wanted to use a pallet de-stacker at the start of the line, not a tipper.
The AMS automated repair line has had a big impact on the company’s pallet recycling operations. It enabled R&R to increase production and reduce labor. “We’re doing about 4,000 pallets in eight hours with 12 people,” said Rodney. The new system abolished the need for nailing tables, work stations where pallets are individually repaired. “I totally eliminated them,” said Rodney.
Here is how the division of labor breaks down for the 10 people who work on the AMS line. Seven workers use pneumatic nailing tools to nail on replacement deck boards; four work before the flipper to nail on repair stock to the bottom face of the pallet, and three are stationed after the flipper to attach replacement boards to the top face. Three other workers are stationed at the start of the line. One operates the de-stacker, feeding used pallets to the line and diverting ready-to-go pallets to a stacker. The other two operate a lead board remover to take off damaged leading edge deck boards.
One worker is stationed at the end of the line, where there is an AMS-T-TEK four stacking system to automatically stack various grades of repaired pallets with the push of a button.
AMS designs and supplies various systems for automating pallet repair operations, including continuous motion assembly line repair, work stations, top and bottom, and straight line repair. AMS equipment and systems increase production, help control labor costs and make the work easier for employees. A system can pay for itself within 12-18 months, according to AMS.
R&R relies on equipment from Pallet Repair Systems (PRS) for its lumber recycling operations. “Our whole tear-down system is PRS,” said Rodney, who has used PRS bandsaw dismantlers since the earliest years of R&R. The company is equipped with two PRS Prosaw-15 bandsaw dismantlers, a PRS chop saw, and a PRS Optimax Millennium trim saw.
For customers that require heat-treated pallets, R&R has a Temp-Air heat-treating (HT) system fueled by propane. The Temp-Air system, a little more than a year old, has a capacity of 400 pallets. Package Research Laboratories (PRL) is the auditor for the R&R H-T stamp.
R&R Pallet buys saw blades from Saw Service & Supply Inc. and buys Stanley-Bostitch nails from R.V. Evans Company.
Scrap wood is processed by a West Salem grinder. The grindings are sold to Garden City, which uses the material for mulch. The West Salem grinder was purchased through AMS as a completely integrated system for R&R’s pallet repair facility.
R&R Pallet first started in Colorado, born of a combination of ingenuity and necessity. “I was managing a trash company, a disposal company, and I needed extra money to raise my family,” said Rodney. He started removing pallets from the trash and repairing them at night. His employer at the time did not approve of Rodney’s industriousness, however, and he lost his job.
“I actually started the business in Fort Morgan, Colorado,” recalled Rodney. Soon after, he expanded to a second location in Denver. A facility in Dodge City, Kansas came next. In 2000, he decided to consolidate operations to a single location in Garden City, a town of 30,000 residents about 50 miles northeast of Dodge City.
Between 1995 and 2000, Rodney’s brother and father joined him in the business. All three men had backgrounds in farming. Walt grew corn, milo and wheat in southwest Kansas for decades until he left farming to work with Rodney; he is semi-retired now but remains an important mentor and advisor to Rodney.
Rodney was 25 years old when he started R&R Pallet in Colorado. “I just found out that I could do it,” he said. He had no prior experience in the wood products industry.
A combination of flexibility and focus has helped him to succeed, said Rodney. “In the pallet business, you have to be open to change,” he said. “We started with no money. We were dead broke.”
Rodney makes a practice of making goals and putting them in writing. “I have a little book that I write down goals at the end of the year,” he said. Putting objectives in writing makes it easier to assess progress.
Supplying strong service to customers has been an important focus of the business. “We’ve always strived to provide the best service possible,” said Rodney. “If they call and they need something, we make it happen,” regardless of the hour or day.
Rodney owns two other businesses, including one that is directly related to R&R Pallet. A trucking business, R&R Logistics, also is based in Garden City. It has a fleet of 14 Kenworth tractors plus van trailers. The trucking business serves meat packing businesses, among others. “We take meat out of packing houses and pallets in,” explained Rodney. The company has refrigerated trailers for transporting meat products. Rodney also owns a sports bar, Jax Sports Grille.
AMS has been a supplier to the pallet industry since 1997. In addition to providing automated pallet repair and sortation systems, the company supplies component machinery and equipment for recycling pallets. Products include stackers and de-stackers, lead board removers, tippers, flippers, conveyors, platers, and machinery for dismantling used pallets, such as bandsaws, and TrimTrac trim saws, chop saws and round tables to remanufacture the recycled lumber into pallet parts. The company also offers equipment for painting and stenciling pallets and a wide range of conveying systems for pallet material handling. In addition, the company offers computer software solutions, from a simple drawing program to a full ERP system that manages data flow in, out and across a business while integrating with accounting packages for complete business management.
Pallet companies can benefit from automation even if it is implemented step by step or in phases, according to AMS. Recyclers realize gains in production and savings in labor and other costs. There are other benefits, too. For example, automation can improve conditions for workers, reducing stress
AMS offers a wide range of options and approaches to automating pallet repair and recycling operations. For example, it can design and supply systems such as the continuous motion or ‘nail-on-the-fly’ repair and also other approaches to pallet repair operations. AMS will integrate a single piece of equipment with existing machines or supply an entire line, whatever a customer needs. Its commitment to fitting even the smallest pallet company with what it requires opens up automation to all.
“Anybody that’s trying to work with a lot of pallets” ought to look at automation, said Rodney. Virtually any pallet recycling business can cut its labor costs by 50% and produce the same number of pallets in the same unit of time, he said.
AMS met all his expectations for the new system. “AMS will save you time, it will save you money, it will save you workers’ compensation cases,” said Rodney.
When Rodney and his brother take time away from the business, they enjoy racing motocross motorcycles, and Richard also does some drag racing. Brothers and father alike also enjoy spending time at a nearby lake.