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Pallet Services, Inc. Continues Expansion of Pallet Recycling Business: Don Matre Turns to Smart Products Machinery for Pallet Prepping
Smart Products: Pallet Services, Inc. has continued expanding its pallet recycling business during this recession. Don Matre turned to Smart Products for its new pallet prepping bandsaws for both block and stringer pallet repairs. Smart Products double-end trimsaw trims both ends of a board for cleaner lumber to construct combo pallets.
Date Posted: 7/1/2011
Tonawanda, New York—
Entrepreneurial Spirit at Pallet Services
The Matre family and its pallet team are well into their third decade of “nailing its customers” with its uncompromising service. The Matres are a good example of the family run, entrepreneurial nature, of the pallet industry. While many industries are experiencing a change in the nature of the ownership and management structure of typical industrial companies, this family ownership characteristic, like the Matres, fortunately continues through most of the pallet industry. Ron Matre Sr., a hard working truck driver for a corrugated box company, started his sons out repairing pallets at night. Ron picked up pallets late at night to provide his young sons a chance to start their own business. Later on, Ron joined the business that his sons owned and helped make Pallet Services, Inc. (PSI) into one of the largest and most respected pallet companies in New York.
Ron Sr., who passed away in 1999, set the tone for his family. His involvement in the Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts was one way he used to teach his three sons and daughter the things in life that were important to him. His favorite line was “there is no ‘I’ in team.” The Matre family has expanded this into its business, always making PSI solve problems and take care of customers and their needs.
PSI has since grown into a leader in the industry with about 150 employees. His son Don graduated from college in 1987 and now serves as CEO and president. Don’s brother Ron started out of college like Don and handles sales responsibilities for PSI. Their younger brother Tom runs the warehouse and handles much of the transportation, and their sister Tracy runs the office.
PSI’s “can do” attitude carries throughout its products and services provided to its customers. It has two plant locations - the main plant in Tonawanda and a satellite plant in Rochester. The Tonawanda plant employs about 85 people and houses the largest manufacturing location, its corporate offices, and the company’s transportation department. Rochester has about 40 employees with an additional 25 people employed off-site handling pallet management at customers’ docks. These crews work full-time helping customers manage their pallet programs.
The key management team includes Dan O’Leary – Sales Manager, Mike Schmidt – General Manager – Rochester, Mike Hanel – Warehouse Manager – Tonawanda, Lou Ellis Transportation Manager, and Jim Fennell Maintenance Manager. Office employees include Jackie McDonald Controller, Pam Zaffran – Customer Service, Mike Incorvaia – Salesman, and Tracy Neal- Human Rresources.
Tracy Neal also handles the safety area as part of her human resources responsibilities at PSI. As seen in the pictures displayed, production people wear both hearing and eye protective equipment. Don indicated that they have no trouble with employees being willing to use personal protective equipment, or PPE; after all it is for their own safety and benefit.
PSI Services PECO’s Growth
PSI has been working with PECO since its beginning in about 1999. It collects, sorts, repairs when needed, repaints, stencils, and reissues an average of about 3000 to 3500 PECO pallets a day at Tonawanda. Rochester sorts and reissues about a truck load of PECO pallets to Tonawanda each day to be further processed. PSI’s PECO business has grown about 300% in the past few years, but it has really exploded since Costco made its block pallet announcement last fall.
PSI has served as a PECO depot since its beginning. It has been a wonderful customer. Costco’s block pallet decision has made its PECO business grow tremendously.
Including PECO pallets, the Tonawanda plant ships out an average of 6000-7000 pallets a day. Pallet Services primarily recycles pallets (about 70% of its business), but builds about 30% new, including combo pallets which are a PSI specialty.
PSI’s PECO repair line was bought used with a Smetco tipper and stacker that prevents operators from having to pickup PECO pallets. PECO pallets go through the tipper; those ready for reissue go straight to the SMETCO stacker. Those needing repairs go to the Smart Products Pallet Prep machine that is set-up to prep “block style” pallets. This unique machine was featured as the lead article in our February 2010 Pallet Enterprise. See it on our internet site for more details about how Smart Products Pallet Prep machines work. PSI also has “GMA/stringer” style Pallet Prep machines that automate removal of both broken stringers and deck boards while PSI’s “block” style Pallet Prep machines automate removal of broken blocks as well as connector and other deck boards. The Smart Products “block style” Pallet Prep machine has greatly increased the speed of block pallet repairs. Smart Products “Pallet Prep” machines can also be easily switched over between GMA stringer repairs and perimeter based block pallet repairing.
Recycled and Repaired Pallets – Smart Products Machinery Adds Automation to Pallet Services, Inc.
All white wood pallet repairs are accomplished using recycled lumber. Incoming pallet cores are sorted into scrap and odd sizes and 48x40s. The scrap and odd sized pallets move in five high stacks to the dismantlers; at Tonawanda about 1500 pallets a day are dismantled into used lumber for repairs and combo construction.
Three dismantlers, two new Smart machines and one PRS, replaced old Sidewinders in this department. A new Smart tear down machine is on order for the Rochester plant. Don said, “I have been attracted to Smart Products. They have done a good job with machine guarding and safety measures.” Six men run the three Tonawanda dismantlers. The Rochester plant just dismantles and repairs pallets.
One of the biggest problems facing PSI and the recycling industry in general is the lack of pallet cores. Always an industry issue, pallet core supplies improved temporarily when the recession started, but what everybody expected to happen has happened. Cores are about as hard to find as they have ever been. PSI has a goal of making everything it can into an A-grade pallet. The goal is to replace bad, broken, or double stringers when possible.
PSI removes scrap pallets, identifies them, and credits the supplier with any 48x40 repairable pallets on the trailer. It gives breakdown sheets on every trailer received within 48 hours. This information tells a core supplier just what type of pallets it is generating. A fleet of nine tractors and over 100 trailers delivers pallets within a 200 mile radius of Pallet Services. The company drops trailers for collecting cores from Buffalo past Albany into Pennsylvania. It also pulls pallets out of Maine and New Hampshire. PSI has established traffic lanes that assist with backhauls and allow the company to work with common carriers. PSI uses as many recycled stringers as possible but supplements its supply with new stringers when necessary.
Now that block pallets have become more visible on the pallet horizon, PSI has taken the steps to improve its ability to repair block pallets and improve their grade. Because PSI serves as a repair depot for PECO, its interest in block pallet repairing is greater than that of many recyclers. Don said, “It is particularly difficult to repair nine-block pallets like the pallets in PECO’s system. It is difficult to repair connector boards (CBs) without automation. So, we turned to Smart Products and its new prepping dismantlers. Our new Smart Pallet Prep machines really helped increase our PECO repair volume. It is impossible to get CBs out in volume without using our Smart prepping dismantler.”
Pallet Services, Inc. started working with Smart Products a few years ago. Don said, “Ken Hess, President & Owner of Smart Products, has tremendously improved the Smart machinery line. First, I bought a Smart “single end” trim-saw, its top of the line model. This trim-saw, like all its other products, uses “laser cut” plate steel, the blade is completely covered, and it comes with a chain conveyor that feeds uncut lumber to the 18" circular saw blade as well as discharges “cut to length” boards and stringers from the saw. I particularly like the conveyor angle where trimmed boards and stringers go to a higher level to be conveniently dropped into a bin. You can easily slide bins in and out because there is sufficient room to do so; it is much more difficult to move lumber bins in and out if the conveyor exits the saw parallel to the ground where there is less room to maneuver bins.” The incline, that roughly doubles the height from the ground, allows an operator to use bigger bins. Many trim-saws have 12" blades, but PSI’s Smart trim-saw has an 18" blade. Anyone familiar with trim-saws knows that stringers are larger and should be trimmed at a slower speed. The speed control on this Smart trim-saw allows an operator to trim both boards and stringers over the same trim saw.
The new trim-saw eliminated a chop saw because he could trim both boards and stringers through his trim-saw. Six months ago, Don bought a double end-trim saw from Smart. He likes to trim off both ends for combo pallets if a board is long enough to allow it. Double-end trimming puts a fresh cut on both ends and eliminates the potential for double nail strikes over existing nail heads. It makes it a better board to run through nailing machines.
Don said, “I called Ken and asked if he could build a double-end trim saw. He said that he already has one, but it was not exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be able to have more table room at the front of this saw that would more easily allow an operator to trim both boards and stringers on my double-end trim saw.”
Ken put an accumulation table in front of the saw to help an operator more easily cut multiple boards or stringers at the same time. He extended the table, put a scrap conveyor under it, and built a guard in front of it. An operator no longer has to clean up droppings every hour. Don said, “I like working with Ken; he will do what I ask him to do. We build quality pallets and need machinery that will perform with excellence. Our double end-trim is the diamond of our recycling operation. It is super fast. An operator can’t feed it as fast as it can take the lumber.”
Don continued, “Smart Products dismantling machines and saws make a difference in our repairing operation. We couldn’t do the volume we do without the automation provided by Ken and his team at Smart Products.” PSI uses two Smart Products dismantlers in its teardown department, as well as two Smart GMA prep machines in its GMA repair line and one Smart block prep machine in its PECO sorting and repair line. The prep machines each require only one operator, while the dismantlers need two operators.
Don said, “The Smart Products GMA Pallet Prep machine is a really cool machine. Three different levers allow the saws roller table to change height for blade placement and cut out any stringer, even the center one. This capability also allows the Pallet Prep machine to remove damaged blocks as well as damaged connector and other deck boards. Before making my decision to buy these new machines, I talked with James Ruder of L&R Pallet in Denver, CO. L&R utilizes three Pallet Prep machines in its repair of GMA and other stringer pallets. James was very enthusiastic about how the first prep machines had helped him.
Since Pallet Services already had a disc style machine for removing stringers, it decided to incorporate one of its Smart Products GMA Pallet Prep machines with this disc style machine. Don said, “Less than 15% of the stringers we need to remove are “center only” stringers, which are done on the disc machine. I like the Smart Pallet Prep saws better for pallet prepping because they do a much cleaner job, leaving no “nail stubble” to repair afterwards, and no damage to the remaining “good portions” of the pallet.
Don is very happy with the Smart Products machinery he has bought. In the last couple of years, he has bought two Pallet Prep machines, two dismantlers, and two trim saws, a single end-trim and a double end-trim. These machines have become the center of the repair lines at PSI.
A year ago, PSI’s repair line consisted of old conveyor belts, wooden benches, and an array of stackers, including a mixture of Clary, Bronco and PRS. Don acquired a used Industrial Resources repair line in New Jersey with six work stations and Infinity stackers. To this repair line, PSI added two Smart GMA Pallet Prep machines. This line repairs about 3500 pallets a day on eight benches. Most of these pallets come out of trailers loaded with 48x40 pallets. A couple of hundred pallets a day are sorted out at the dismantlers and brought to the repair tables by forklift. The pallets come down the line on skate rollers. Each bench has a lift table and steel bench.
Board repairs are made and each pallet is categorized as either an A1, A2, or A3. An A1 GMA pallet can have four-inch bottom boards; an A2 has six-inch bottom boards; and an A3 is a Club pallet. An A3 brings a premium; it is cleaner and newer looking. PSI reprogrammed the existing bar code system; each pallet receives a bar code that tells the computer the pallet’s grade and who repaired it. This information is used for planning, quality control, and accounting (payroll). Don said, “It used to be easy to get poor information, but now we know where we stand. It has the advantage of simplicity. Our infinity stacking system helps control quality and what we are making. Our stackers are incredible; they eliminated three people from our system. We use three stackers at each of our two plants.”
Don continued, “Our goal is to make as many #1s in a day as we can. We are not the cheapest guy in the area but have used our automation to improve our mix of pallet grades and quality.
PSI Pallet Manufacturing Lines
PSI has a Brewer gang saw line for sawing cants into pallet stock. Other machines include a Brewer notcher and Brewer chamfering machine. PSI has always had a good relationship with Brewer which has provided good service and advice through the years. PSI bought its Brewer system used.
New pallets and combo pallets are nailed on either PSI’s Viking Champion nailing system or one of eight company nailing tables. Viking supplies bulk nails, and PSI uses Bostitch hand nailers and collated nails for its bench construction. Bostitch has been going through significant shifts in its nail supplier network and distribution channels. Link Systems, one of Bostitch’s five United States distributors that are handling this area of the country, has made this change seamless to PSI.
Don said they mostly buy hardwood cants and precut hardwood cut stock. Most hardwood comes from mills around them in Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania; much material comes from Amish sawmills in this region. PSI also buys some softwood to repair PECO pallets.