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The Timbermen – A Good Example of a Pure Pallet Manufacturer Adjusting to Changes
The TImbermen, one of the largest pallet manufacturers in the Southeastern part of the United States survived a major fire in 2010 and quickly came back with the help of its suppliers Viking Engineering, Brewco, Cooper Scragg Mills, Big Ass Fans, and Pallet Machinery Group.
By Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 10/1/2012
Camak, Georgia—James Hicks, Sr. founded The Timbermen, Inc., in 1972 to coordinate the buying, harvesting and marketing of timber products. In 1978, the company entered the wood products manufacturing industry when it purchased a pallet and crate plant from Leonard Lokey on Railroad Street in Thomson, Ga. Shortly afterwards the company began construction of its hardwood sawmill in nearby Warrenton, sawing its first board there in 1979. In 1984 the company purchased land and property from ITT Rayonier in Camak, Georgia at the site of ITT’s old sawmill facility. The company moved its headquarters and pallet manufacturing operation to this site where it remains to this day.
But The Timbermen is far from just a pallet plant with a sawmill. It has adjusted to the introduction and growth of pallet recycling and rebuilt after a major fire two years ago and a couple of smaller fires in earlier years. Many pallet manufacturers have adjusted to recycling by focusing on it head-on and developing pallet recycling as a separate division. Partly because of its location in the heart of timber land and away from major markets, and partly due to its dedication to the wood products manufacturing industries, the company has taken a different approach to recycling and dedicated itself to becoming one of the largest pure pallet manufacturers in the Southeast.
Key management people in the business include Jim Hicks, Jr., owner and manager; Sammy McCorkle, general manager of operations and sales; Josh Stephens, pallet sales; Bob Lanes, lumber sales (22 years); Bobby Bellamy, pallet plant manager (28 years); Steve Cooper and J.R. Gilmer, sawmill managers (34 years); James Love, maintenance manager (27 years); Barrett Smith, planer mill manager; company staff – Teena Phillips (35 years), Teddie Love (27 years), Shirly Harden (25 years), Becky Pinion (23 years), Nancy McCoy (10 years), and Denise Wall (10 years).
Rebuilding the Pallet Plant After Fire in 2010
On January 4, 2010, The Timbermen experienced a sawmill and pallet plant’s worst nightmare, a major fire that destroyed significant portions of its manufacturing facilities. It destroyed the main pallet manufacturing facility, including three Viking tandem nailing systems, the Yates American planer mill, and a portion of the lumber remanufacturing department, including a McDonough bandsaw system.
“The weeks following the fire were some of the most chaotic, challenging, stressful, and exciting weeks of my life,” said Jim Hicks, Jr. “We made some huge decisions very quickly, and everyone here rolled up their shirt sleeves and jumped right in to manage a very difficult situation. Execution of the recovery plan was nearly flawless. I have never been more proud of any group of people before in my life.”
Recovering from a major fire can be a monumental task, but rapid response can be very important to continued support of customers’ needs. Charles Brumbelow of Viking moved very quickly to help The Timbermen find a good used nailing system. The company literally had purchased a replacement nailer before the fire was extinguished. Within a few days Viking shipped a second new Turbo 505 nailing system. Today The Timbermen has recovered and has four Viking Turbo 505s, three of them bought new and one that was in excellent condition when it was purchased to start the recovery effort. McCorkle said, “Viking reacted immediately and provided exceptional service to help us manufacture pallets for our customer base. Viking supplies us with good maintenance support, occasionally sending a team down to look over our machines and perform needed maintenance.”
The Timbermen uses a large quantity of bulk nails in its four Turbo 505s. It buys bulk nails from Viking Engineering, MidContinent Nail, and upstart Carolina Nail Systems of Mr. Holly, N.C. In addition to its high volume of machine nailed pallets, The Timbermen runs two nailing tables during the day and one on the night shift. This provides the versatility and flexibility to produce block pallets and other specialty products and short runs when needed. Pneumatic nailers and collated nails are supplied by Southern Fastening Systems, Inc.
In addition to rebuilding its pallet plant after the 2010 fire, The Timbermen had to deal with the planer mill it lost in Camak. It quickly negotiated the purchase of the Johnston Lumber Mill from Simpson Lumber Company and closed the deal within three weeks. It continues to operate this mill today as one of the South’s leading producers of 1" Southern Yellow Pine boards and moulding products. The Johnston Lumber Mill is staffed by 65 qualified people who produce approximately 35 million bd.ft. of high quality lumber products annually.
Timbermen has five divisions. Its forestry division buys and sells pine and hardwood land and timber. The sawmill division cuts both hardwood and pine logs into pallet lumber on its two Cooper scragg mills. Its planer mill in South Carolina is now separate from its sawmill and dresses about 35 million bd.ft. of SYP purchased from other mills. The pallet factory builds about 45,000 pallets a week. The wholesale lumber sales operation promotes its products in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
The Timbermen’s mission is to be the most reliable and cost effective supplier of high quality industrial wood products in the Southeastern United States. It continually strives to be progressive and innovative so that its customers can realize the many benefits of well manufactured wood products.
The Timbermen is one of the largest pure pallet manufacturers in the Southeast. In the 18 years since we last featured this company, it has grown from manufacturing about 20,000 pallets to building around 45,000 pallets a week. While The Timbermen does not directly handle the pallet recycling needs of its customers, it works closely with recyclers that are located closer to its customers. Hicks said this kind of relationship has worked well for them. It often comes down to the people involved in the equation. The Timbermen manufactures new pallets and lets its recycling contacts handle its customers’ recycling needs. Hicks said, “When possible a sawmill needs to be located close to its resource, and a recycler needs to be close to the customers.” The Timbermen has worked closely with one major recycler, Taylor Pallets and Recycling in Anderson, S.C., but it has worked with several others as well.
One of the changes that the Timbermen has made to accommodate customers has been to move more toward softwood pallets. The supply of hardwood cants has been somewhat restricted due to competitive low-grade hardwood markets (crossties, board roads, mine timbers, etc.). The Timbermen still manufactures mostly stringer pallets; it builds a few pine block pallets but not enough at this time to justify buying a block pallet nailing machine. Hicks said, “It is hard for block pallets to compete with white wood stringer pallets, especially if products don’t fit well on a 48x40.” The Timbermen has not become involved in the 48x40 block pallet market. It competes heavily in the market for sizes other than 48x40. Over 60% of The Timbermen’s pallets are now built from SYP instead of mixed hardwoods.
At one time The Timbermen built SPEQ pallets for the SPEQ program. Hicks said, “We haven’t built any SPEQ pallets in a long time. They seem to have gone away. For customers wanting a third party quality audited pallet, it was a good program.”
Timbermen provides special services to go along with its established quality products. Like many pallet companies today, it supplies heat treated pallets. Timbermen has two Converta Kiln pallet sterilizers; one is new. Timbermen modified the new one for kiln drying pallets; the old one is used as a heat treatment chamber. It uses Timber Products Inspection (TPI) to certify this service.
Everybody is well aware today of the problems with excessive surface moisture on pallets that have been heat treated. One of Timbermen’s special services is supplying dry, mold-free pallets. It is one of the few pallet manufacturers known to us that uses large fans to dry its steamy pallets that come out of its heat treatment chamber. Two Big Ass Fans inside its main pallet storage building help dry surface moisture after heat treating, and of course they move large volumes of air to provide a more comfortable atmosphere for its people. After the fire, Timbermen decided to provide more ventilation for drying in its pallet storage area.
The Timbermen has avoided being heavily involved in trucking. Many pallet companies handle their own trucking, particularly those who are heavily involved in recycling. Drop trailers require quite a bit of service and attention. The Timbermen contracts out its deliveries to Williams Brothers Trucking in Hazlehurst, Ga. Of course loggers supply their own trucks. Hicks said he is happy to let somebody else deal with trucking headaches.
The Timbermen has grown to the point where it employs 182 people to produce 300,000 bd.ft. of precut pallet parts per week in its scragg mill, another 300,000 bd.ft. of pallet parts per week in its Camak lumber remanufacturing department, 45,000 pallets a week in its pallet plant, and 35 million bd.ft. of lumber annually in its sawmill.
While 182 employees doesn’t sound very small, The Timbermen functions in an industry that is dominated by small businesses, so it has to deal with the same issues. Dealing with government regulations and issues is always a challenge. The Timbermen has complete safety programs. Everyone is trained in lock-out tag-out procedures. It uses a safety consultant who works closely with many members of the Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association (SLMA).
In addition to the SLMA, The Timbermen is active in the Nation Wodden Pallet and Container Association, which supplies it with the PDS Pallet Design System, which has been an important pallet service for close to 30 years. The Timbermen uses PDS extensively; every pallet quote includes a PDS analysis. McCorkle said, “We use PDS heavily. It has been a very good tool to help provide a professional service for our customers.”
The Timbermen verifies all of its new hires to make sure they are legal and satisfy all government requirements. It currently has about 30 Hispanic workers in addition to its white and black work force. Hicks said, “Our people are good hard workers. We are happy with them. It typically comes down to attitudes and expectations. Our management has a positive attitude and high expectations. Our people reflect that back in their performance.”
Sawmilling for Pallet Lumber
Fortunately The Timbermen’s sawmill, which had just been rebuilt in 2007, was not affected by the big fire. Two new Cooper short log, end-dogging scragg mills with Lewis Controls for optimization manufacture about 300,000 bd.ft. of precut parts per week; most are used internally to build pallets. It supplements its own lumber production with outside 8’ to 16’ lumber from other mills. All of its scragg mill output is resawn in-line into precut pallet parts, both hardwoods and softwoods.
Hicks said, “Cooper people are scragg mill people. In addition to being close geographically, the Cooper name is well known for its scragg mills. They provide good service. The Cooper scraggs handle slab edging.”
McCorkle said, “A team of machinery specialists from a number of different machinery suppliers worked together to custom design our sawmill five years ago. Robert Cooper from Cooper Machine, Bill Hendrix from Brewco, Chuck Corley and David Burns from Corley Lewis Controls, and Greg Wine from Pallet Machinery Group coordinated their design features into a complete system that takes logs and converts them into stacked pallet lumber with little to no human intervention.
Cooper built the log delivery system as well as its first short log, end-dogging scragg mill with vertical edgers. Lewis Controls provides the technology to optimize the lumber from each log. Given the variation of logs, optimization is a challenge. McCorkle said, “The Corley Lewis Controls scanning system for scraggs does an excellent job. The total scragg system can break down any log up to about 21” in diameter without having to return any cants or slabs back for a second pass through. The vertical edger recovers a three-sided slab for processing into deck boards.”
When asked about why they chose Brewco resaw systems, McCorkle said, “We wanted to go to 2” bands. The wide 4" bands require too much maintenance and take too much kerf. The 1" and
1-1/4" bands are not as fast. Brewco was the only saw manufacturer who made 2" systems. They are faster. The 2" saws work better with the pressure guides to stabilize the blades. Bill Hendrix and Brewco were good about working with others to help coordinate the design of the whole mill. This automated system requires very little physical handling of material, particularly on the center cant portion of the log. The only pieces that may be physically handled are usually the three sided slabs.
The Timbermen has a computer analysis program that keeps and analyzes all of the saw blade data on wear, sharpenings, etc. This helps provide maximum blade life. Kenne Saw and Supply (Munkfors blades) and Precision Saw Works (Wood-Mizer blades) supply thin-kerf bandsaw blades to keep The Timbermen’s thin-kerf bandsaws running productively. B.H.Payne and Quality Saw Works supply circle sawblades for The Timbermen’sawmill. Econotool indexable tips are used on the notching machines.
A Brewco B-1800 with run-around breaks all cants down into 3.5" or 5.5" thick. Then two six-head Brewco bandsaw lines break the cants down into either deck boards or stringers. Two three-head Brewco lines saw the slab edgings into material that is retrieved from the side slabs. The cants are edged before they are dropped from the scragg mill. Vertical arbor edgers on the scragg edge the slabs before dropping them to go through the Brewco three-head resaw.
About 80% of the cants on the Brewco horizontal resaw system are cut into decking with the rest made into stringers in the lumber reman department. Two double-head high speed Brewer in-line notchers trail a Pendu gang saw and a Mereen Johnson gangrip saw for notching stringers. Stringers from the Brewco resaw systems can be directed through these two notchers as well. A stand alone Brewer chamfering machine is used to chamfer decking when required.
Two M2L stackers from Greg Wine’s Pallet Machinery Group stacker line stack the finished lumber coming off The Timbermen’s Brewco resaw lines. The Timbermen is still running some of the Pendu stackers it has run for many years.
All pallet plants and sawmills have to deal with wood fiber residues. Unlike some fiber generators, Timbermen has chosen to sell its wood residue to others who process it. Bulk chips go to paper mills, the sawdust is sold to pellet manufacturers, the bark is ground for mulch to sell to others for processing, and Timbermen grinds a lot of its pallet mill scrap into boiler fuel with a Montgomery Hog.