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Baker Products Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary: Bandsaw Concept, Employees & Customer Service Power Baker’s Success Story
Baker Turns 20: Over the past 20 years, Baker Products has become an industry success story by championing bandsaw technology; learn what makes this company tick and find about its latest equipment innovation.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 5/1/2008
What started as a way to improve lumber yield for a southern Missouri pallet company has escalated into one of the industries’ biggest machinery success stories and best known brands – Baker Products. From one product and a handful of customers, Baker has grown to over 32 products offering machines that help process from the raw log all the way to the finished wood products. Having established numerous customers all over the globe, Baker has developed one of the most widely recognized brands in the pallet and sawmill industries.
It was twenty years ago this month that Baker Products first introduced the industry to its horizontal band resaw at the East Coast Expo in Richmond, Va. To celebrate this momentous occasion, Baker is giving away one of its “ABX” Band Resaws. In addition, one lucky customer will win a stock car racing experience. A chance to win one of these prizes, as well as, hats, knives and other gifts, will be available to customers that stop by booths N-4 and N-5 at the Richmond show.
Beginnings of the Bandsaw Revolution – Baker’s Early History
Ed Baker, founder and chairman of Baker Products, developed his first band resaw out of necessity. Back in the early 1980s, Baker’s pallet mill was faced with rising cant prices, and Ed knew he had to find a way to get more usable lumber out of his raw material supply. His first model showed such promise that he hired Wayne Swyres, who continues to work as Baker’s research and development director, to help design and build a higher production band resaw for recovering lumber from slabs & cants.
During the next few years, other local pallet mill owners began asking Ed to sell them a resaw like the one he had built for himself. After selling the first two resaws he built, Ed realized the demand for resaw equipment in the industry and started selling resaws in 1988 under the Baker name. Baker Products is the trade brand name for the equipment, and Ellington Industrial Supply Inc. is now the actual manufacturing entity.
Ed told the Pallet Enterprise back in 1989 that he developed his first resaw
The story of Baker Products mirrors the story of the pallet and lumber industries over the past twenty years. It has ridden the bandsaw’s wave of popularity and has extended its product line to include band sawmills, moulders, portable sawmills, cut-off saws, planers, scragg mills, edgers and more. Clyde Reed, Baker’s sales manager, added, “Two years ago Baker diversified into finished products machinery, including planers and moulders. The Baker line truly goes from the log to finished lumber products.”
Baker experienced significant growth in the 1990s becoming a dominant player in the pallet lumber equipment sector. Ed and his many key employees have worked for years to build the company into an industry success story.
Keeping Roots in the Pallet Industry
Edward L. Baker Enterprise, the pallet mill that Ed Baker founded, has been in operation for about 22 years. It serves accounts in the SE Missouri region and has been a critical part of Baker’s success story. Mike McNail, Baker’s current president and CEO said, “Many of our design changes have happened as a result of running our equipment in our own pallet mill before the equipment is sold and shipped to a customer’s facility. It has really played a valuable roll in helping us perfect our equipment.”
Mike declared, “We have not lost our roots in this pallet business; we still operate a complete cut-up line and resaw line to process our cants. Our pallets are then nailed on a Viking Turbo 505 and heat treated with a Kiln-Direct kiln. It is a successful business in itself.”
Leadership Transition at the
After pioneering the company through its major growth stage, Ed Baker retired in 2003. He handed the helm of the company over to Mike McNail. Mike has been with the company for twelve years.
Ed and his wife Brenda remain the owners of Baker Products and Edward L. Baker Enterprises, although they have turned their personal attention to cattle and farming. They operate a 500 head cow-calf operation and are actively working on growing Bermuda grass for hay production. Mike smiled as he said, “While Ed has retired from the business, he is still putting in long hours, only now it’s at his farm.”
Mike may be more laid back when it comes to running the company than Ed was, but he is just as intent on the continued success of Baker Products. He has focused on cutting costs and keeping sales up despite the sluggish sales environment in the U.S. forest products industry. He has turned to his employees to help him identify ways to save money and boost sales.
Just before Mike took over the top spot, the company had started practicing open book management. With open book management, employees are given access to all company financials, with the exception of payroll. The management team meets regularly to discuss the financials and then passes them on to the rest of the employees.
Mike said, “Open book management has allowed us to get employees more involved with the day-to-day operation of the company…It is the people who are out on the floor who know how to save the company money.”
Baker employees sit down and discuss critical numbers in the company (weaknesses on the financials), and they focus on ways to improve those numbers. When a goal is met and exceeded by the company, a percentage goes back to the employees. Major components of this effort have been establishing the goals and working together to make employees aware of costs. Mike added, “Open book management has proven to us that a more informed employee makes a better employee.”
Beau Henderson, Baker’s production supervisor, has been with the company for 19 years. He started out working in the pallet mill. Beau added, “The mentality of upper management has gone from a position of striving to build a company to giving back to the employees.”
Baker’s People Fuel Its Success
Employee longevity is something that sticks out to you when you visit Baker’s production facility. Mike conveyed, “We currently have several employees with over 20 years at the company. There are employees here who worked for Ed back in the early pallet and sawmill business.”
History is a good thing in the equipment business because you are familiar with previous customer orders, older models, changes in the technology and the general knowledge that can only be gained by years in an industry. Many of these key employees are not people that you normally see because they are behind the scenes people making everything work perfectly. Daniel Fox is just one of those people. He has been at Baker for 20 years and is the lead assembly technician on multi-head saws. If you have ever bought or seen a Baker multi-head system run, you were more than likely looking at Daniel’s workmanship.
Daniel stated that he likes working at Baker’s because it is a good work environment with great people. He said that small changes through the years have made the resaws better. Some such changes are advanced hydraulics and the use of flat steel construction as opposed to steel tube material.
While looking proudly at some of his employees, Mike boasted, “The biggest reason for Baker’s success is our people.”
Beau agreed and added, “Our success comes because we have the mindset to work with our customers. We are willing to take the chance to try new things and back it up when the product gets out in the field.”
Manufacturing in the Missouri Heartland
Most of Baker’s parts are manufactured onsite with a few items produced by local vendors. Being in such a remote location, the company has learned to rely on its own ability to produce what it needs to manufacture Baker equipment. The company has grown even though it faces a slowing period as the overall U.S. forest products industry has contracted and cut production. Mike stated, “One of the things that Ed has done to help Baker grow is to invest money back into the company. We run state-of-the art lasers and CNC mills to ensure precision parts.”
Faced with rising raw material prices, Baker has moved to flat steel instead of tubing, which is less expensive but more importantly, more accurate to machine. Mike added, “Buying flat steel and laser cutting the parts has allowed us to utilize most of the sheets of steel, which in turn reduces scrap waste.”
Situated atop an Ozark mountain overlooking the valley and town of Ellington is the 80 acre piece of land that houses the pallet plant as well as Baker’s production facilities and offices. Ellington, Mo. is a town of 1,045 inhabitants. Besides the manufacturing space, Baker has a large warehouse for parts storage and its service department. Baker offers next day service and parts through its service center. During business hours, customers can call Baker’s tech support center and discuss any problems with knowledgeable staff.
Baker stresses safety on its equipment and within its workforce. It is involved in a program run by federal OSHA called the Safety and Health Recognition Program (SHARP). This program recognizes small employers who operate an exemplary safety and health management system. Acceptance into SHARP by OSHA is an achievement of status that will single you out among your business peers as a model for worksite safety and health.
Baker Innovation & Product Line Expansion
Baker recently began selling planer & moulder systems with a variety of units for those who want to recycle old boards into new boards or to size a board to the desired thickness. This is the only equipment sold under the Baker label that is not manufactured in the Missouri heartland. Baker’s automated single planer models are equipped with a helical cutter head that provides a longer cutting life than standard straight blade cutter heads. Look online at www.baker-online.com to find complete information about Baker’s new planer line. Baker’s Web site offers videos, information sheets and an online cart for electronic orders.
The newest item in production is the Baker M6 Sidewinder DeDuster ™ It is faster than the M4 model and is capable of dedusting boards coming out of a resaw with eight or more heads.
The key change in design between the M4 and the M6 is wood flow. The M4 is hopper fed with boards going through end-to-end, whereas, the M6 feeds boards through side-to-side, increasing efficiency by 91%.
Baker claims there are other benefits to sideways dedusting. For example, brushing is done parallel to the resaw blades, so the brushes get into the grooves, cleaning out trapped particles that other dedusters might leave behind. Another advantage of sideways dedusting is the positive, non-slip board feed and separation. Two chains pull the boards through one at a time without slipping. This also helps separate boards that are stuck together with frozen sawdust.
The Baker M6 DeDuster’s dust chamber can be set up to use an auger, a conveyor belt, or a 5-inch dust collection pipe to remove sawdust.
The latest innovation out of Baker’s R&D department will be unveiled at the Richmond Show. It is a board stacker designed to automatically align bundles and place crossouts in the stacks.
Wayne Swyres stated, “We are also working toward developing a completely unmanned stacker.” It looked far from finished when I saw the prototype design in February. Wayne smiled and said, “Oh, yeah, this is pretty far along compared to some of our earliest inventions before a Richmond Show. I remember still assembling and painting machines as we were traveling to some of those earlier shows.”
Baker also has a mid-level sawmill on the drawing board for later in the year. The plans are to have hydraulics available and allow it to be customizable to suit the needs of the customer.
Through the years, Baker has introduced a number of firsts or significant improvements to sawing technology. Clyde stated, “We designed the first ever de-duster for sawdust-free pallet lumber, the first band double end trim saw, the first no air, no electronics chamfering machine, and the first chop saw.”
Baker’s biggest technology innovation has been its work on thin kerf sawing technology. Clyde said, “Our thin kerf technology has saved customers 20-30% on raw materials (lumber) when compared to the old conventional gang rips.”
Bright Future for Baker and Its Bandsaw Technology
Maybe the truest sign of Baker’s success is that the company had a strong leadership team in place when the founder decided to back off from daily involvement in the company. It has not missed a step and continues to be a strong leader in the bandsaw market.
As for the bandsaw, Baker continues to believe it has a bright future as companies look to cut costs and improve yields. Mike said, “Advancements in band blade technology and manufacturing techniques continue to improve bandsaw
If you would like to find out more about Baker’s equipment, visit www.baker-online.com or call (800) 548-6914.