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Commitment to Plant Maintenance Integral to Volume Manufacturing
Maintenance is an important aspect of any pallet manufacturing business. A few industry leaders share what they do to keep their equipment running well.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 8/8/2001
Plant maintenance is an important aspect of any manufacturing business, and likewise in the pallet industry.
In order to keep machines and systems operating and running efficiently, they must be properly maintained. Most machines and equipment require regular preventive maintenance of some type. In addition, wear parts must be replaced, and repairs must be made when equipment breaks down.
Depending on the size of the pallet company and the amount of machinery and equipment it has, plant maintenance can represent a significant commitment — and cost.
Pallet Enterprise talked to representatives of four high-volume pallet manufacturing companies to get their insights into plant maintenance programs.
All were large enough to support dedicated or full-time maintenance personnel. In addition, all made plant maintenance the responsibility of other employees, particularly those running and operating large machinery systems, such as automated pallet assembly machines and lumber cut-up lines. Each company has significant ongoing commitments to maintenance in terms of spare parts and other supplies and tools and additional equipment.
Edwards Wood Products
North Carolina-based Edwards Wood Products manufactures about 80,000 pallets weekly at its two combined pallet plants and is recognized as one of the largest pallet companies. The company, which also operates a grade lumber sawmill and a pine sawmill, has extensive, industrial-size operations and equipment. At its main location, for example, incoming pallet logs are handled by a Fulghum crane and fed to a Price Industries drum debarker. The plant is equipped with numerous Viking nailing machines as well as other pallet and sawmill equipment.
At Edwards Wood Products, eight employees, including one electrician, work full-time to maintain the company’s extensive sawmill and pallet machinery. Two or three are assigned in each of the company’s main departments, but they work together on large, special jobs. "If it’s too big, we’ll get some outside help," said Randy Whitaker, who oversees pallet lumber operations. The maintenance personnel recently installed a metal detector, he noted, and some contractors provided assistance with that project. Another fairly recent project: installing a new Holtec package saw.
"We make our shafts and replace them, our own rollers. We install a lot of equipment, too. We’re pretty much self-sufficient unless we’re doing a major job," said Randy.
Edwards operates more Viking pallet assembly systems — 11 — than any other pallet manufacturer, including eight at its main plant in Marshville. In the pallet plant, two men work on the Viking nailing machines, performing routine maintenance, changing out wear parts, and making repairs.
In the pallet lumber mill, a Cooper scragg mill must be regularly maintained, including bearings, chains, gears, hydraulics, air cylinders, shafts, and more. The mill must be greased weekly, for example, and every weekend it is inspected and necessary repairs are made. Blades are sharpened daily and usually changed out on Friday; the Edwards staff sharpens the blades but they are sent out for hammering.
Blades for the company’s Brewer Inc. gang saws normally are sent out for sharpening. Edwards personnel also replace teeth on blades with inserted teeth although carbide-tipped blades are normally sent out for service.
Maintenance personnel also are engaged in metal fabrication projects, such as building or replacing hand rails, catwalks, and so on.
At Edwards, maintenance tasks normally are scheduled — the company has programs in place to replace components at certain times, to make adjustments at intervals, inspections at appointed times, and so on. The company also is in the process of developing a system of computer records to track maintenance.
"Everything that moves has to have maintenance," said Randy.
The company has a fully-equipped maintenance shop that has welders, a lathe, knife sharpening equipment, plasma cutter, cutting torches, and more. It is stocked equally extensively with spare parts: chains, bearings, sprockets, rollers, motors, and more.
B&B Lumber in Jamestown, N.Y. operates two sawmills and a pallet plant with about 110 workers. The company ships about 1.5-1.7 million pallets annually, according to president Jeff Booher.
Operators of major machinery systems are responsible for day-to-day and some weekly maintenance tasks. Other maintenance work may be performed by the company’s staff of seven full-time maintenance personnel.
The maintenance staff includes an electrician, two employees who primarily do welding and machine shop work, two others who do purchasing and miscellaneous maintenance jobs, and two who are devoted to maintaining the company’s fleet of rolling stock.
The welders do repairs and fabricate new equipment, such as belt conveyors, log decks, and so on. They also do the mechanical drawings for in-house jobs and buy all the parts and material.
The machine shop is equipped with a drill press, milling machine, lathe, iron worker, press, a set of pullers, and more. The company also has a special cart equipped with a diesel welder, cutting torches, a full set of tools and ladders; the cart can be easily moved around the buildings or yard to work on machinery and equipment. All in all, B&B has about $100,000-$150,000 tied up in maintenance equipment and tools, Jeff estimated.
The company stocks such spare parts as bearings, belts, hoses, specialty electrical and hydraulic components, and more. "Anything that’s going to put one of our machines down, that we know you can’t get off the shelf of a supplier overnight, we’ll put that in stock," said Jeff.
Arrington Lumber & Pallet
Texas-based Arrington Lumber and Pallet Co., with nearly 200 employees, manufactures about 75 truck-loads of pallets per week. The company has three sawmills to support its operations.
The sawmills, the pallet lumber operations and the nailing department each has employees running the principal machinery, and they monitor it and maintain it as well; that amounts to 11 workers.
In addition, the company employs two full-time maintenance workers who stay busy welding broken equipment and making other repairs. These two workers also are utilized for fabrication work, modifying equipment, and rebuilding machinery. For example, they recently rebuilt a debarker.
The company also employs six workers to maintain its fleet of 22 trucks and approximately 50 trailers.
In the sawmills, for example, three workers will do "anything from changing a bearing mount to changing a saw, work on the air compressor — whatever maintenance is required," said company vice president Eddie Arrington. Machinery in the pallet lumber mill requires similar maintenance.
Every Saturday, a maintenance crew reports early in the morning to the sawmills and pallet lumber mill to go over the equipment and perform maintenance.
All reusable saw blades are maintained in-house; Arrington Lumber’s staff does the sharpening and setting. Carbide-tipped blades, used for some edgers, are sent out for service.
Like the other pallet manufacturers that were interviewed for this article, Arrington Lumber stocks an extensive inventory of replacement parts — an inventory worth about $75,000-$100,000, Eddie estimated.
Ohio-based Millwood Inc. has operations at seven plants and mills in three states. Each site has one or two full-time maintenance workers.
The company’s mill in Applecreek, Oh. has a full cut shop and serves as a lumber hub for the other plants as well as a manufacturing facility for white pallets. Galen Miller oversees the Applecreek mill, where five workers are involved in maintaining the company’s equipment.
"Preventive maintenance occupies most of their time, and break-downs," said Galen. Most preventive maintenance is performed during the company’s second shift, when less equipment is running.
On the company’s nailing machines, for example, preventive maintenance includes lubricating all grease points, checking for loose fasteners or chain links and leaks in the compressed air and hydraulic systems. Nail chucks must be regularly torn down and cleaned and the wear parts inspected and replaced.
The cut-up operations include a Brewer multi-head cant cut-up system plus a Brewer double-bay, double-arbor gang saw. Regular preventive maintenance on the gang saw is a six-hour process that includes such tasks as inspecting and adjusting the serpentine chain, checking all bearings, checking alignment, and much more.
In addition to the maintenance on the gang saw, the man who runs the machine each day is responsible for constantly monitoring its performance. He also changes the set-up on the blades, which is done about eight times a day.
The plant has a maintenance shop equipped with welders, torches, cutting tools, grinders, presses, lathes, and more. "It’s a pretty well-equipped machine shop," said Galen.
A "full line" of replacement parts is stocked, including plcs, limit switches, nail chucks, and complete nail chuck assemblies, and much more. Some parts are purchased in volume from machinery suppliers. The company also carries replacement parts for its fleet of 90 trailers.
The maintenance personnel are also qualified and equipped for a wide range of machine fabrication or modification tasks, such as making new shafts, conveyor tables, and so on. There is a special projects group that works on big jobs, such as setting up new plants, complete equipment removal, and so on.
As seen from the brief glimpse at these companies, large-scale pallet manufacturing requires a significant commitment to plant maintenance in terms of personnel, equipment and supplies in order to keep machinery and equipment operating at peak performance.