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Carolina Wood Products Built a Successful Pallet and Container Company Using Relationships, Turned to GBN for Nailing Systems
The Hornes have developed a successful pallet company by building relationships with both customers and suppliers. Carolina Wood’s machinery, including two new GBN nailing systems (GBN Trailblazer and GBN Patriot), are designed to offer versatility, efficiency, and quality.
Date Posted: 12/1/2010
Marshville, North Carolina—
Founded in 1969 by Robert Horne, Jr., Carolina Wood Products applied the management practices of a family-run entrepreneurial business to build a successful wooden pallet and container business. The son of a father who owned and operated a sawmill, Robert started a business that is now owned and managed by his two sons Randy and Ronald.
Randy handles production and machinery related functions, and Ronald buys lumber, handles pallet quotes, and deals with trouble shooting. Randy and Ronald went out of their way to recognize their wives, Iris and Jackie, who handle customer relationships and office duties. Family run entrepreneurial businesses like Carolina Wood are often a family team effort. This is one of the things that makes the pallet industry so special.
Carolina Wood focuses heavily on manufacturing wooden pallets, wooden boxes, and special shipping items. Like many established pallet manufacturers, Carolina Wood Products handles selected recycling needs for customers who desire them, but it hasn’t approached recycled pallets as a major thrust.
The Hornes’ entrepreneurial spirit is reflected in not only its pallet company but also other businesses. Horne Enterprises, managed by Robert, who is now 74 years old, is a real estate business that handles mostly rental property in the Marshville area. The two brothers and their wives own and manage a new hardware store they recently opened in Marshville. The old handware store had closed, and the Hornes felt the need to fill the void.
The pallet plant’s production facilities and warehouses occupy 35 acres in Marshville, the geographic center of North Carolina and South Carolina.
Pallet Manufacturing – GBN Fills the Bill
Before the recession, Carolina Wood manufactured about 25,000 pallets a week. Since demand bottomed, in a more typical week it builds about 15,000 pallets. It is moving more toward specialty products where it can focus on the same quality and relationships with its products that it has had with its suppliers; so much of its recent business growth has been outside of typical pallets.
Recently Carolina Wood sold two Viking systems but kept one. It has always had a GBN nailing system. In 2002, it traded an older model Campbell in for a GBN Trailblazer. GBN had made so many changes that pleased the Hornes that they decided to upgrade their nailing line. Then, last year they traded their 2002 Trailblazer for a new one to again take advantage of GBN’s upgrades and the tax breaks being offered.
Randy said, “GBN has been very reliable. Its machinery has required very little maintenance. Its customer support has been exceptional; we have been pleased with the way Paul Bailey has handled our maintenance needs over the telephone; he is very intelligent. He always takes the time to talk with us. There is no guessing who you will talk with when you have a concern. We have been pleased with our GBN purchases. Most parts are available from local parts houses.”
This August, Carolina Wood installed the remanufactured Patriot nailing system that is pictured on the cover. The Hornes again turned to GBN. They do not believe you can do any better when it comes to pallet nailers. The changes they had seen in GBN’s line of machinery had been positive ones. There aren’t many wear parts.
GBN has made a lot of improvements over the years. A larger hydraulic motor drives the machinery – more power and larger shaft diameter. It uses a different side stop than it did previously. Stringer thicknesses have gotten thinner and thinner. Side stop and side clamps now hold a stringer while it is nailed. This clamp mechanism has helped to hold and control the stringer during the nailing process.
GBN now uses linear ball bearings like the ones used in CNC milling machines. The driving heads and bars which support the nail chucks are on these linear bearings. Paul said, “There is virtually no play; everything is just as precise as it possibly can be. The older guides caused more problems; they used to consist of two machined pieces of steel that wore out and caused play. Our new linear bearing, used since about 2004, takes out all the play in the driving head, chuck bar yokes, and board fence assembly.”
Paul Bailey of GBN said, “We changed from a 3/8” diameter to a 5/16” drive pin. Nails have become more expensive over the years, forcing customers to use smaller gauge nails with smaller heads. The new chucks and drive pins hold the nail heads up straighter, resulting in fewer bent nails. All of our new drive pins are now 5/16”.
GBN has changed its nail pick design. The standard Trailblazer uses a new pick plate design to pick up to 28 nails per stringer utilizing two pick plates. The Patriot’s improved nail picking system went away from its AC laminated solenoid design to a tubular 24 volt DC nail pick solenoid – it is more reliable. GBN redesigned the whole system in 2008. It made a change under the stringer feeder so the chain pieces on the chain would open up more reliably. There is now more room for stringers to drop into position.
At the Richmond Show this May, GBN demonstrated its frame design changes. The new frames are fabricated using 4x8 tubing, while the old ones used 4x8 angle. The tubing roughly doubles the strength of the frame, providing more rigidity and strength. The tubing is more consistent and offers four flat mounting surfaces for linear bearings, etc. GBN now retrofits all its remanufactured machines with linear bearings as well.
Carolina Wood hand nails custom boxes and over-sized pallets. It uses Bostitch hand nailing tools and collated nails. Hand nailing provides flexibility of products to Carolina Wood’s machine nailing efficiency.
Randy said, “We buy our bulk nails from Mid-Continent Nail; we have been with them for over 12 years. We like the fact that they are made in the United States. We do not have to be worried about receiving a shipment.
Other production machinery at Carolina Wood includes a West Plains double head notcher, a Newman double head notcher, a Newman single head notcher, and Newman chamfering machine. All have served well the company’s specialty tooling needs.
Precision Saw supplies both circular and band blades to handle Carolina Wood’s production needs. Precision also provides sharpening services, including sharpening Holtec carbide tipped blades. Carolina Wood has a small bandsaw sharpener on site to sharpen blades twice a day for its West Plains bandsaws.
Carolina uses Econotool indexable notcher heads and inserts.
Pallet Lumber and Cutup Systems
Carolina Wood, located in the heart of both hardwood and Southern Yellow Pine country, tends to focus more on hardwood products, but builds products out of whatever species best fits the product and the job. Softwood dimension is normally pulled-to-length, while hardwood cants and boards are the primary wood sources that Carolina Wood uses. Most supplying mills sort to length. Carolina Wood has a close working relationship with a number of local and regional sawmills; it buys most of the production from many of them. This requires that Carolina Wood be able to cut whatever the mills supply from boards through dimension stock and cants.
Most material comes in cut-to-length. Carolina sorts its lumber to length and cuts packages of lumber on one of its two Holtec package saws that it has had since 1990 and 1992. Randy said, “We have very good relationships with all of our machinery suppliers. Holtec is a good example. We are very happy with our Holtec saws. If I had to get another package cutoff saw, I would call Holtec again. They are still running like they did when we put them in almost 20 years ago.” In addition to cutting bunks of both softwood and hardwood, Carolina Wood’s Holtec systems cut plywood panels that are used to construct crates and boxes. The Holtec systems replaced two earlier KM16 cutoff saw systems. The computerized systems program the cuts. Pulled-to-length material makes crosscutting with a package saw efficient.
The company cuts cants to length and then resaws them into boards on its five-head West Plains resaw systems. Randy said, “We look for machinery that requires very little maintenance. We have been pleased with our West Plains Machinery resaw lines over the years. It is heavy duty equipment.”
Carolina’s Pendu double arbor gang saw cuts both 4/4 and cants. It is versatile enough to switch between different materials. The Pendu has the tooling capability to cut strapping grooves when needed; its tooling includes moulding cuts when needed.
All of Carolina’s manufacturing machinery runs off of electricity, except for its diesel MorBark grinder.
Most pallet manufacturers are involved in pallet recycling at some level. Carolina Wood does a small amount of recycling for customers who request it. It picks up old pallets as customers request. According to Randy, about half of them get ground into wood fiber. The rest are repaired.
Two buildings at the factory are dedicated to used pallets. In one, a Smart band dismantler does a good job of taking apart junk pallets to reclaim lumber. The other shop is dedicated to rebuilding GMAs. They repair stringers with blocks and replace broken boards to develop B grade or #2 GMAs. Carolina Wood isn’t involved in stringer plating. It does not actively pursue buying used GMA pallets. They are just mixed in with the pallets that are hauled off for customers. Recycling constitutes about 5% of the company’s business.
Randy stated, “Recycled pallets make such a mess and take up so much room. We really don’t like them. Recycled profit margins have fallen significantly during the recession.”
Carolina Wood grinds its scrap wood and pallets in a Morbark 1000 into chips that are sold to power producers as bio-fuel. There are no other markets for wood fiber in the area at this time.
In the last year or two a North Carolina law has made it illegal to dump pallets in landfills. Landfills also have grinders that will come by and grind wood into chips. North Carolina landfills charge by weight; they do not want to take things that are recyclable. You can no longer dispose of pallets just any way.
One of Carolina Wood’s special features is extra-large custom designed pallets. The longest pallet it makes is 33 feet long. Another specialty is small and large boxes; they incorporate OSB, plywood, spruce, pine, or hardwoods, combined with foam, plastic, etc. Carolina Wood is setup to build virtually anything out of wood. This makes up about 20% of its business today but is still growing. They like it because it offers better profit margins. Most custom boxes use high grade spruce or pine lumber and panel products. Hardwoods are typically not used there.
Another feature at Carolina Wood is heat treating. It has a Kiln-Direct pallet treating chamber that it bought about four years ago. It is still running the same burner. The Hornes were attracted to Kiln-Direct because of its reputation. Randy said, “I have always gotten good support but have not needed much.”
Carolina Wood heat treats about 600 pallets a day, double what it did a year ago. It expects heat treating to continue to grow. Ronald said, “Heat treating has been good for us and for the industry. It has eliminated a lot of the back yard plants, cutting them out of the service added market.
Carolina Inspection Service handles inspection of Carolina Wood’s heat treating program. Ronald stated, “Carolina Inspection has very thorough. If anything out of the ordinary comes up, such as dunnage stamps and bark requirements, Carolina Inspection has helped us with accurate information. Dave Struthers, our quality inspector, has been very informative. He is here every month, always willing to sit down and talk.”
One of Carolina Wood’s customers orders SPEQ pallets from the SPEQ quality program. Timber Products Inspection handles inspection duties for this customer. They have had good dealings with TPI.
Another special service at Carolina Wood is eliminating mold and treating wood to inhibit the growth of mold on finished pallets. It isn’t some kind of high tech solution. Ronald said it can be as simple as learning what kind of species not to use – avoid high sugar content species, such as sweet gum. Before assembling into a pallet, the company can dip every piece of wood into X Mold chemicals. Pharmaceutical and government pallets may have a mold free requirement. Carolina Wood uses a dip tank for dipping packs of lumber before assembly. Carolina Wood typically doesn’t saw wood until it is about ready to assemble it. Dipping no more than three days before assembly keeps it fresh and reduces the chance of mold. Carolina Wood indicates it doesn’t have any mold complaints from customers. One of the things it does is triple its exhaust time to cool pallets off quicker when heat treating is over, using a 45 minute cooling time instead of 15 minutes. The lumber sits for a day or two after dipping before it is taken to a GBN for assembly.
Ronald said, “A successful pallet company needs to get involved in the service end of its products such as heat treating, fumigating, and mold treating. Anybody in the pallet business needs to be willing and ready to adapt yearly or more often. Changes are everyday and we need to be able to adapt to serve our customer base. In the future more clients are going to want a PDS pallet design analysis. We use PDS more and more often. Big Box stores request PDS analyses.”
Robert Horne has often said, “A GMA doesn’t bring any more money today than it did when we first went into business.” The pallet business is a challenge that is best met by professional management. You have to adjust to changes to stay competitive and continue to be profitable.