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Colored Mulch Unit Rounds Out Kaple Lumber, Pallet Mill
Addition of colored mulch business unit rounds out Kaple Lumber and its pallet manufacturing operation; Ohio company turns to Becker-Underwood Second Harvester
By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 8/1/2000
SHILOH, Ohio — Six years ago, the owners of Kaple Lumber Co. noticed a demand for colored mulch and started a new division, Kaple N-ViroMulch, to meet it. Decisive, yes, but strategic product placement is the legacy of Kaple Lumber.
When Ben Kaple, the grandfather of the five cousins who now co-own the business, started the company in 1896, he made a similarly astute assessment. Ben bartered a sack of potatoes for a log, had the log sawn and made more money from the resulting lumber than the vegetables promised. He quickly completed the transition from potato farmer to lumberman, explained grandson Paul Kaple, vice president for sales and marketing at Kaple Lumber, who talked with Pallet Enterprise about the company’s current endeavors.
Besides lumber and mulch divisions, Kaple Lumber also includes a pallet manufacturing division, Crestline Wood Products, thanks to the 1997 purchase of an existing company. The three business lines complement each another. For example, the sawmill provides 25% of the material for the pallet operation. Waste wood from slabs, trim ends, chamfering and notching feeds the colored mulch operation, which accounts for 15% of sales by the parent company.
Mulch sales are brisk and growing, according to Paul. "From November 1999 to date," he said in mid-June, "we’ve sold 26,000 (cubic) yards." In the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31, 1999, sales totaled 25,159 cubic yards.
April, May and June are peak months for mulch sales with another surge in the fall. On one day this past spring, the company had 15 tractor-trailer rigs loading mulch in a single day, Paul noted. The mulch division relies on contract haulers.
In January the company invested in a Becker-Underwood Second Harvester mulch coloring system. Kaple Lumber chose the new machine for several reasons. "What they say they do, they will do," said Paul, who has enjoyed a good rapport with Becker-Underwood’s representatives. "Any little problem we have had, they have solved the problem. A lot of other companies make coloring systems, but I am not going to switch."
Several features of the Second Harvester get high marks from Paul. For one, the system produces about 33 percent more colored mulch per hour with the same amount of water as the machine it replaced. That saves water and produces mulch that is easier to handle.
"The nice thing is when the mulch comes out of the machine, it is fairly dry," explained Paul. "A lot of other machines (the mulch is) wet, almost dripping." The Second Harvester mulch is so dry "you can load it in a semi right away."
The Becker-Underwood Second Harvester uses about 26 to 27 gallons of water per minute to produce 120 cubic yards of mulch per hour. Kaple Lumber taps three wells to supply water to its mulch division. "You need a lot of water," said Paul.
The company has a heated block building for the mulch operation, a building that was designed by Paul. The building contains four bins, each with a volume of 500 cubic yards, where red, brown, gold and black colored mulch are stored.
In addition to supplying mulch coloring equipment, Becker-Underwood supplies its own line of Mulch Magic PF colorants in bright red, red, dark red, black, dark brown, brown, gold and rose and also the Mulch Magic DS colors of blue, green and yellow. Paul’s customers have asked about the more unusual colors, but his company stays with four basic hues to facilitate storage and overall logistics.
Coloring increases the value of mulch up to 400%, according to Becker-Underwood estimates. Its Second Harvester series equipment runs on the principle of continuous mixing of mulch and colorant and promises better retention times for color. Because the colorants are made from natural materials, they pose no waste hazard and are exempt from Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
The persistence of the colors has been rated good through seven freeze and thaw cycles. Since mulch decomposes over time, the color often shows as long as the strands of wood fiber do.
On average, the Second Harvester uses 50 percent less water than many other coloring systems because a pneumatic delivery mechanism enhances the blending of colorant with mulch. Becker-Underwood emphasizes custom tailoring of the coloring system size and configuration. For example, capacities of the machines vary and output in the series ranges from 30 to 200 cubic yards per hour. Each system is trailer-mounted for mobility.
At Kaple a front-end loader is used to move the mulch that pours from the Second Harvester and to load trucks or to feed the conveyors directed toward the storage bins. Two 40-foot Patz conveyors move the mulch from the Second Harvester to the storage bins. Red and brown are moved on one conveyor and gold and black on the other.
Prior to coloring, the mulch is churned out by a Morbark 1000 tub grinder, which itself is being upgraded this summer to a Morbark 1300. The Morbark 1000 was purchased with a grapple attachment, but the new grinder will be fed using a log loader from the logging arm of the lumber business. A Case 621-B front-end loader moves mulch from the Morbark to the Second Harvester. (Becker-Underwood also supplies an attachment to the Second Harvester that conveys output from a grinder to the coloring system.)
The mulch division listens closely to the needs of landscapers, said Paul; they account for more than 97% of its customer base. (Retail outlets account for about 2 1/2% of sales.) Landscapers request specific sizes of mulch. Typically the waste wood is put through two grinds, one with a large mesh screen and a second with a smaller mesh screen.
The magnetic head on the belt conveyor of the Morbark grinder gets a special mention. It removes "99 percent" of any metal that may be in the wood, said Paul.
The mulch division grinds all year and stockpiles the production. The company serves customers in the north central Ohio region. To visualize the geographic area, start at the south shore of Lake Erie. Imagine Toledo on the west and Cleveland on the east as two points of a triangle. Midway between the two cities and about 60 miles south of the Great Lake lies Shiloh, the third point in the triangle. (Shiloh is located 20 miles northwest of Mansfield, a town of about 50,000 and the birthplace of writer turned "scientific farmer" Louis Bromfield.)
The company does not use bark recovered from its sawmill for producing colored mulch. Bark is processed by a Montgomery hammerhog and is sold with its natural color.
"Bark, sawdust, chips, pallet lumber — they are all by-products (of the lumber division)," said Paul, emphasizing that the sawmill and its lumber manufacturing operations are the linchpin of the three-part business. Sawdust is sold to local farmers as bedding for cattle. Chips are sold to an Ohio shingle factory that uses them to make felt paper that underlies roof shingles.
Fifty-four employees keep the three divisions of Kaple Lumber running. There is a great deal of cross-over, but the sawmill and the pallet operation each employ about 26 workers, with two or three in the mulch division.
Kaple buys standing timber and does its own logging. The company does manual felling, using about a dozen Stihl chain saws. "We tried mechanized logging," said Paul. "It doesn’t work because less than one-half of one percent (of what we cut) is clear-cut." The logging operation is equipped with a pair of Cat 518 skidders and three Prentice loaders. Transport is done with company-owned trucks — two Internationals and two Freights pulling Pitts trailers.
Ohio has an active group of consulting foresters who offer services for private landowners. "They mark the timber that needs to be cut and the trees are sold on sealed bids," explained Paul. Kaple cuts on private land only and works within a 60-mile radius of Shiloh.
Kaple Lumber specializes in sawing red oak, white oak, ash, cherry, hard maple, soft maple, poplar, hickory and walnut for the furniture market. The sawmill operations are spread among three buildings — two for lumber manufacturing and one for grading — but a plan is in the works to consolidate into one building.
The Crestline division produces about 6,000 pallets each week. In addition to converting low-grade and small logs into pallet material, Crestline also buys cants for manufacturing pallet components and purchases some cut stock.
Southern pine, which usually is too expensive for pallet lumber, nevertheless is sometimes used. Paul explained, "Southern pine is too expensive for pallets, but we will cut Southern pine for big boards for large pallets when the other cants are too small."
In addition, "A few customers call for pine," Paul added. Customers have other special needs too. "For one customer, the pallet has to be (made of) kiln-dried hardwood."
The pallet division has several customers in the automotive parts industry and the grocery business. All pallets are custom made and range in size from 30x32 to 60x92.
In the pallet shop, the company is equipped with a Brewer cut-up saw to cut cants to size and a Brewer gang saw for sawing the sized cants into deck boards and stringers. The shop also is equipped with a West Plains double-head notcher and a Brewer chamfering machine. Some pallets are assembled on a Viking Engineering Duo-Matic nailing machine. Cants and grade-outs from its own sawmill supply about 25% to 30% of the raw material required by the pallet shop; The company also buys additional 3 ½-inch square cants and 4x6 cants.
A native of Ohio, Paul started working at Kaple Lumber when he was in high school. One of the things he likes best about the business is "dealing with people," he said. When he takes time for leisure he likes to play golf, fish and attend his children’s ball games. One of Paul’s hobbies is Web page design, and it helps spread the word about Kaple Lumber via the company’s Web site at www.kaplelumberco.com.
What began as a relatively mobile operation — with Paul’s grandfather taking a log he secured in a trade having it sawn for lumber — is now anchored on about 15 acres of land with 10 buildings. Change keeps the business growing.
"Recently I had a guy from New Brunswick call me about colored mulch," said Paul. "He had seen our Web page." Given the 104-year history of innovation at Kaple Lumber, there is no predicting the opportunities to which such conversations might lead.
Becker-Underwood Offers New Mulch Coloring System
Becker-Underwood is raising the bar on colored mulch production by introducing a new revolutionary mulch coloring system. The Second Harvester Sahara, like the desert, produces a drier product by using significantly less water than Becker-Underwood’s predecessor machines, the Second Harvester 100 and 200 models.
The new Second Harvester Sahara is designed to produce large volumes of colored mulch. In addition, because it produces colored mulch that is much drier, the Sahara model is particularly suited for companies that package colored mulch in bags for eventual retail sale.
The Second Harvester Sahara will have the most appeal to large volume customers that want to bag colored mulch immediately after it is produced.
The Second Harvester Sahara can produce a minimum of 200 cubic yards of colored mulch per hour. By way of comparison, Becker-Underwood’s Second Harvester 200 has a capacity of about 150 cubic yards per hour.
"Essentially what we’ve done is taken the mulch coloring process to a whole new level," said Brent Lester, manager of Becker-Underwood’s mulch and aggregate coatings division. "We’ve taken the volume of production way up and created an ultra-efficient machine."
With an improved mixing technology, the Sahara uses 40% less water then other Second Harvester machines and significantly less than some other systems, according to Brent. The dramatic reduction of water used in the coloring process benefits customers in several ways, he explained. The drier finished product weighs significantly less, allowing companies to ship more product per truck-load, reducing shipping costs. The Second Harvester Sahara produces a more stable mulch that has a longer shelf life, making it more attractive to retailers.
The drier technology and finished product also means companies don’t have to wait until product dries before bagging and shipping. "This machine will give you the ability for instant shipping," said Brent.
The Sahara model is much more efficient at coloring mulch because of a number of improvements, he explained. The machine mixes mulch and colorant together more aggressively and longer. "We’re using a fluidized mixing process, taking and manipulating the wood to better expose the surface of the wood particles to the water and colorant being applied." Also, Becker-Underwood has introduced a micron optimizing spray delivery system that creates small uniform droplets of the colorant solution, allowing them to spread further and resulting in a more uniform covering. Using less water also improves the effectiveness of the colorants because the nonpigment additives — those which make the pigment bind to the wood particles, for example — work more efficiently: the resulting color is stronger and brighter.
Becker-Underwood has an on-site research and development facility, including a green house to test the impact of colorants on plants, and has invested considerable time and resources in the new machine. "It’s a tested and polished machine that we’re going to market with," said Brent. "That philosophy has worked well for us." The company "is continuing its position as the technology leader and innovator in the industry," he said. Becker-Underwood is scheduling appointments with customers and potential customers for demonstrations.
The Second Harvester Sahara, which is run by one operator, has a 13-cubic yard inlet hopper and is equipped with a 75 hp electric motor. Automatic stop-start controls are optional.
The Sahara will not replace the Second Harvester 100 or 200 models, which Becker-Underwood will continue to market and sell. "They’re great machines, and we feel we’ll continue to sell those as a staple in the market."
For more information about Becker-Underwood or its mulch coloring machines or colorants, call the company at (800) 232-5907, fax (515) 232-5961, e-mail at email@example.com, or Web site at www.bucolor.com.