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Anderson Still Pins Growth on Providing Strong Service
Anderson Forest Products: Essentially there has been only one name for Anderson Forest Products since it first automated its pallet manufacturing operations decades ago: Viking.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 4/1/2001
TOMPKINSVILLE, Ky. — Essentially there has been only one name for Anderson Forest Products since it first automated its pallet manufacturing operations decades ago: Viking Engineering & Development Inc. Anderson, a prominent manufacturer of hardwood pallets, has relied on Viking for 20 years for automated pallet assembly equipment.
"As far as I’m concerned, Viking is the only show in pallet assembly," said Kerry Anderson, vice president of the company.
Anderson Forest Products is a diverse company with operations in three states. The company has an affiliated sawmill business that manufactures hardwood grade lumber for domestic and foreign markets. At its plant in Tompkinsville, Anderson manufactures pallets and also reels for the wire cable and rope industries. The company has a small facility in Nebraska where it manufactures pallets and reels, and it also has a small facility in Arkansas where it assembles reels.
The lumber operations produce some 400,000 board feet per week of grade lumber and pallet cants. The Tompkinsville plant manufactures about 30-35 truckloads of pallets per week, and the Nebraska plant, about 3-4 truckloads. Reels are a very significant portion of the company’s business; reel production is about 3,500 per day at Tompkinsville and 800 daily in Nebraska.
The sawmill employs about 90 workers, and the Kentucky pallet plant, 110. The Nebraska plant employs another 18 workers, and four workers staff the Arkansas facility.
The company has grown steadily and continues to expand. Last year the business grew about 20%, and Kerry expects similar growth in 2001.
His father, Billy Joe Anderson, started the business in his mid-20s when he bought the sawmill in Munfordville, Kentucky; Billy Joe was working for a lumber company at the time. The sawmill manufactured grade lumber, and in 1972 Billy Joe added pallet manufacturing operations. Workers assembled pallets by hand, but within a few years the company added a pair of used Morgan nailing machines. In 1975 the pallet manufacturing operations were moved to Billy Joe’s hometown of Tompkinsville, about 60 miles away. Four years later the company made another strategic expansion, venturing into the manufacture of wood and plywood reels for the wire and rope industries.
Anderson completely revamped its sawmill in 1990 with the installation of three new Salem 6-foot band mills. The company later added drying and planer and finishing operations and put in additional kiln capacity and pre-drying facilities in 1997; it now has 450,000 board feet of dry kiln capacity and 350,000 board feet of pre-drying capacity.
Grade lumber is sold to domestic and foreign customers. Anderson did considerable business in Pacific Rim markets until the Asian economy soured, when it switched to European markets.
All cants produced from the sawmill are trucked to the pallet plant, supplying about 60% of the raw material required for the pallet operations. The company buys additional cants and also pallet cut stock from other sawmills.
In the pallet mill, nearly all of the company’s cut-up operations have been supplied by Brewer Inc. The plant is equipped with a Brewer twin-select cut-off saw and a Salem single cut-off saw. Once cut to size, cant material is resawn on a pair of Brewer double-arbor gang saws. One of the gang saws has a Campbell stacker behind it.
Anderson recently added a Brewer three-head horizontal band saw system that is being used to recover deckboards from thin slabs of SPF and aspen. The pallet plant also is equipped with several Brewer chamfering and notching machines.
For its reel manufacturing operations, the company uses panel saws and a CNC machine to cut plywood and OSB that are used for the ends or flanges. Material for reels made of laminated lumber is cut to size on an L-M Equipment package saw and fastened together on an FMC machine that drives and clinches nails; the laminated panels are cut on a bandsaw into circular flanges. The work of assembling the flanges and cores is done by hand.
Anderson began its association with Viking Engineering & Development in 1981 when the company invested in a Viking Duo-Matic automated pallet assembly system. By 1985 Anderson was running the machine on two shifts.
Anderson installed a new Viking Turbo 505 nailing machine last fall — the fourth Viking system it has owned. The company typically acquires a machine from Viking in a 4-5 year lease-purchase agreement and trades it in for a new replacement machine at the end of the lease, according to Kerry.
The company launched operations in Nebraska in 1998 in order to serve a customer that opened a new manufacturing plant in the state. "We followed the customer out there and then picked up other business," said Kerry, who joined his father at Anderson in 1983.
The Nebraska plant also has pallet manufacturing and reel assembly operations. The plant mainly buys SPF pallet cut stock, so there is little lumber remanufacturing equipment other than a few chop saws and rip saws. Workers manually assemble reels from parts that arrive in knock-down form from Anderson’s Kentucky pallet plan. Operations in Arkansas also involve manual assembly of reel components made in Kentucky.
When time came to equip the Nebraska plant with a pallet nailing machine, the company considered systems from other suppliers and tried them, Kerry said. Anderson elected to stay with Viking, however, because of the quality of the company’s machinery, its service and support, said Kerry.
Anderson equipped its Nebraska facility with a Viking Sentinel, and the company has been pleased with its performance. "For the requirements we have (at the Nebraska plant), it does the job," said Kerry.
Viking introduced the Sentinel at the Richmond Expo in the spring of 1998. The machine represented a new marketing strategy for Viking, the leading U.S. manufacturer of automated pallet assembly equipment. Prior to its introduction of the Sentinel, Viking focused on large-scale, high-volume pallet assembly systems. With the Sentinel, Viking entered the entry-level market for smaller pallet nailing machines, too.
The Sentinel was designed and manufactured to be attractive to both pallet manufacturers and recyclers. Sentinel owners range from companies that produce 300 pallets a day that can be assembled by machine to larger companies that may require a low-volume system for short runs. The Sentinel can be operated by one man and has an automatic stacker.
The Sentinel, which has a small footprint so that it can be used in companies with limited space, can assemble pallets with new or used lumber, ranging in size from 28x28 to 60x60. It is capable of assembling pallets with two, three or four stringers and pallets with butted boards or solid decks as well as single-wing or double-wing pallets.
Computer controls ensure consistent nail locations. Sensors measure each deckboard to determine the number of nails and nail locations.
Another important benefit is that the machine, like other Viking nailing systems, uses bulk nails. In fact, it is the only pallet assembly machine in its price range that uses bulk nails.
Bulk nails offer several advantages over collated nails, including lower cost. Bulk nails may be 40% cheaper than collated nails, depending on the region of the country and quantities ordered, and may cost even less.
In addition, based on standards for nail performance, bulk nails are more resistant to pallet joint separation. The bulk nail has a larger head, is slightly longer, and — unlike collated nails — has continuous, deeper spirals. Pneumatically powered nailing tools are not capable of consistently countersinking nails, and their high nail insertion speeds actually destroy wood fiber around the nail, which impairs holding power; hydraulically powered nailing systems completely countersink nails and push them into the wood in a way that promotes the effect of screwing the nail into the wood, which minimizes damage to wood fiber and increases holding power.
Viking designed the Sentinel with a unique stacking mechanism. The stacker grips the finished pallet, picks it up, and places it in a stack on the plant floor. The advantage is that a stack of finished pallets can be moved with a pallet jack instead of a forklift. Pallet nailing machines typically are equipped with stackers that accumulate pallets on steel rollers, and they must be removed with a forklift.
At Anderson’s Nebraska plant, one worker operates the Sentinel and assembles about 400 pallets per day. "It’s a good machine for what it’s designed for," said Kerry. "It’s not (for) mass production. It’s operator-friendly."
The machine runs at a pace that allows the operator to grade pallet components before placing them into the machine, Kerry noted; parts with slight imperfections can be turned inward while defective parts can be culled.
Kerry initially was concerned about the Sentinel stacking mechanism but said it has performed well. The company operates the Sentinel on one shift although production sometimes runs 10-12 hours daily.
New Viking Turbo 505
Anderson’s other Viking machine, the new Turbo 505 at Tompkinsville, has significantly faster change-over time than the older Turbo 505 that it replaced, according to Kerry. "That’s where they’ve really improved this machine, the change-over time." By the time the left-over lumber from one production run is moved out and replaced with the parts for the next pallet size, "the machine is ready to go. It’s a very quick change-over." The hydraulic system is "way ahead" of the older model, he added.
"That’s what I like about Viking," said Kerry. "Every time you buy something, it’s...better than before." The company has enjoyed a double-digit percentage increase in pallet production with the new Turbo 505, he said.
The new Turbo machine has a modem connection that allows Viking service personnel to remotely dial into the system via telephone and perform trouble-shooting and diagnostic work. That feature has helped keep down-time to a minimum, Kerry said.
At Tompkinsville, in addition to assembling pallets on the Viking Turbo 505, Anderson manufactures a limited volume of pallets by hand with power nailing tools. It has two work stations staffed by four employees making custom pallets, including block pallets. The custom work is performed as a service to customers and is not a niche market that Anderson seeks out.
Anderson is not heavily into the GMA pallet market, Kerry said. "We make everything from heavy-duty drum pallets to 1/2-inch expendable pallets," he said. The company manufactures 70 pallet sizes, said Kerry, who called the figure a conservative estimate.
Orders typically are for truck-load quantities. About 80% of the time, a truckload will contain pallets of the same size. "Very rarely does a truckload have more than three sizes," said Kerry.
Anderson’s pallet customers include businesses in food processing, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Its market area generally is within a 500-mile radius. The company has a fleet of 14 tractors and 50 trailers to do its own shipping.
The company has limited pallet recycling operations for a few customers who require the service; Anderson retrieves their pallets, refurbishes them and returns the used pallets to the customers. It provides a similar recycling service to some reel customers.
About two years ago the company added wood recycling operations in the form of producing mulch and colored mulch. The company invested in a Rotochopper machine to grind wood waste into mulch and color it; Anderson previously processed scrap wood in a grinder and sold it as raw material to a charcoal manufacturer. Colored mulch is marketed in Kentucky and Tennessee and additionally in large metropolitan areas. The company’s most popular colors are dark brown, black, and red.
Billy Joe, 60, continues to work every day. Kerry’s duties pertain to operations. "Dad is the strategist," he said.
When asked to assess the reasons for the company’s high level of success and growth, Kerry cited a couple of reasons, including his father’s strategic thinking. "I think he’s done a good job as far as seeing niches in the market and exploiting those," he said. His father has been willing to consider new opportunities and to change.
It was at his father’s initiative, for example, that the company ventured into reel manufacturing. At the time, Anderson had a pallet customer that also used cable reels. "He wanted to try it," said Kerry.
Certainly, serving customers has been an important factor in the company’s staying power. Anderson has helped customers to reduce pallet costs, Kerry noted.
"One of the things that’s unusual about us is that we have several customers that we’ve retained since we first started. We have a core group of customers that has been with us at least 15 years. We feel that the service we give them is what sets us apart. Anybody can make a pallet, and some companies make good pallet products. But good service is hard to find. It’s the same way with reel customers. It’s all about service and relationships with those customers."