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The Pallet Factory Increases Production of New Pallets
Viking Machines Automate Nailing; Converta Kiln to Enable Heat-Treating
By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 9/1/2004
With its three locations, two in
Since its inception in 1977, The Pallet Factory has focused mainly on lumber recovery and pallet recycling. In the last three years, however, it increased new pallet production significantly. The company is currently producing about 40,000 new pallets per week.
One of the biggest changes at The Pallet Factory in recent years has been this move to increase new pallet production. New pallets now account for about 33% of pallet production. Total weekly pallet production is about 110,000, which includes new, combination, re-manufactured and recycled pallets.
For manufacturing new pallets, The Pallet Factory relies on sawmills to supply it with pre-cut pallet deck boards and stringers. Virtually all (95%) of the cut stock is hardwood, according to Mike’s son, Joshua (Josh), who is vice president. The company has suppliers in
In its recycling operations, The Pallet Factory receives about 85,000 used pallets weekly. It dismantles about 13,000 pallets per week to reclaim used deck boards and stringers for repair stock and to assemble pallets of recycled lumber.
The Pallet Factory has been buying heat-treated spruce-pine-fir (SPF) and aspen pallet stock from
Plant manager Jaime Doyle, Mike’s nephew, researched kiln and heat-treating equipment suppliers before choosing the Converta Kiln Inc. dry kiln and pallet sterilizer. Converta Kiln is based in
The Pallet Factory selected Converta Kiln for many reasons, said Josh. “They’ve been building kilns for 35 years,” he noted. “It’s the best-built kiln on the market. The burner is 3.5 million BTUs. We can charge and heat-treat 630 48x40 pallets every two hours.”
Three temperature probes are configured so “as soon as the third probe clicks to 133 degrees, the core temperature,” it “takes just 45 minutes” from that point to complete the treatment, said Josh.
The Converta kiln-sanitizer will enable The Pallet Factory to meet the requirements set by the International Plant Protection Commission (IPPC) for treating softwood and hardwood wood packaging. (IPPC specifications for phytosanitary requirements dictate a core temperature of 133 degrees Fahrenheit in order to eliminate the risk of wood-eating insects.) “We will be using propane or natural gas,” said Josh, switching back and forth between whichever fuel is cheaper.
Although The Pallet Factory has strong roots in pallet recycling, adapting to meet customer requirements has led to growth in a number of directions.
And customer requirements may be quite varied. “We have a company that orders 21 different pallet sizes from us,” said Michael, ranging in size from 36x31 to 77x25. If a customer needs crates or other kinds of packaging, The Pallet Factory will supply them.
There have been considerably supply and price pressures on low-grade hardwood markets in recent months, Josh noted. He pointed to the strong demand for rail ties and flooring, which compete with the pallet industry for raw material. Prolonged wet weather, which hampered logging, compounded the scarcity -- and corresponding rise in prices.
Michael serves on the board of both the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) and the Western Pallet Association (WPA). He also is a member of the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association. Involvement in the pallet industry trade groups gives him ample opportunity to observe industry trends.
To counter the shortage of low-grade hardwood, Michael began to buy eucalyptus pallet stock from
The Pallet Factory has locations in
(Editor’s Note: Automated Machine Systems Inc., or AMS, now owns MSI and all new MSI equipment carries the AMS nameplate. AMS, which is headquartered in Jenison, Mich., purchased MSI in early 2003.)
The company uses reclaimed pallet components for repair stock and to assemble pallets made of used lumber.
The four Viking automated nailing machines are used for new pallet assembly. Custom pallets and small runs are assembled manually with Stanley-Bostitch power nailing tools and fasteners. Local companies supply saw blades and bulk nails.
The Pallet Factory has a fleet of 450 trailers and 17 single-axle tractors. Trailers are left at customer locations to be filled with surplus and damaged pallets; when a trailer is filled, it is retrieved and another empty trailer left in its place.
With 210 employees, The Pallet Factory runs two shifts at
Automation “has been good for us,” said Michael of the
The innovations in
Keeping pace and moving ahead at the same time are twin goals for The Pallet Factory. To train workers, the company often contracts for short courses to be taught on site in such subjects as wood grading and equipment use.
Wood waste from the
When customers request fumigation, The Pallet Factory contracts with a pest control company to fumigate pallets on-site in
Over the years, The Pallet Factory has expanded to meet whatever request a customer may have. Even in
“We try to be a people” company,” said Michael. That means serving and also doing the most possible for employees. “We’ve always wanted to be able to furnish medical insurance for all our employees.” This year the company began providing Blue Cross-Blue Shield health insurance coverage for all employees. The Pallet Factory also has a 401K program to allow employees to save for retirement.
Being a board member at NWPCA and WPA has been valuable, said Michael. “I think the more active you are, the more proactive you can be.”
Michael has a great deal of insight into the pallet industry thanks to his years of experience. “After you’ve been in it for 27 or 28 years, you get to know what’s happening,” he said.
As busy as he is, Michael gets to take time away from the business for two activities he enjoys. “I like to hunt and fish,” he said, “mainly for the fun of it.”
State-of-the-art facilities have been essential elements in the success at The Pallet Factory, said Michael. Perhaps equally significant has been the total pallet management that the company can offer clients, guaranteeing customers a steady supply of fresh pallets and quick removal of used pallets. The Pallet Factory can also help customers with pallet design.
“It’s been challenging,” said Michael. But he clearly enjoys being able to work in an industry that he believes is poised for more automation and more significance in the future.