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Quality Mat Co. Leads Board Road and Mat Industry, Prioritizes Customer Service and Philanthropy
One of the largest board road and mat producers in the world has helped develop the global market while leading in quality and customer service thanks to its employees and visionary leadership.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 7/1/2013
BEAUMONT, Texas — While horizontal drilling and fracking technologies have made the current oil and gas boom possible in the United States, an unsung hero in the process is wooden board roads and mats. One of the pioneers in this field is Quality Mat Co., headquartered in Beaumont, Texas. Since its inception in 1974, Quality Mat has become one of the largest companies in the industry and supplies board roads and mats to customers all over the entire world.
The driving force behind the company is Joe Penland Sr. who started in the 1970s assembling mats in his mother’s backyard. As an iron worker, Joe Sr. saw the need to develop a solution to work stoppage on worksites after heavy rains. It didn’t take long before the idea caught on and began to be widely deployed in nearly every sector of construction, pipeline, oilfield and transportation sectors. Joe Sr. borrowed $2,250 about 40 years ago to start the company, and it has continued to grow ever since its early days.
The industry used loose lumber to build up the road beds and work surfaces starting in the early 1900s. And in the early 1970s, Joe Sr., the owner and president of Quality Mat, realized that using pre-assembled mats would be easier, cleaner, less costly and work much better.
The success story behind Quality Mat stands as an example for any wood products company looking to develop a niche and work it to establish a significant player in the sector. From its product innovation to its commitment to quality, Quality Mat has become synonymous with mats and board roads.
Giving Back to the Community – A Core Value for Quality Mat
Joe Sr. typifies the tough, entrepreneur spirit that has made this country great. When you meet him, you can tell right away that he works hard and demands the best from his people. But don’t think he’s all business either. One of the first things Joe Sr. wanted to talk about was the charity work his company does to support hospitals, clinics, regional ministries and aid organizations in southeast Texas and beyond.
“If we are in an area doing a job, we like to see what we can do to help the community,” said Joe Sr. Quality Mat doesn’t use community service as a sales tool although it does look to see what can be done after the job is finished.
For example, Quality Mat supplied Texas Children’s Hospital with mats for an addition onto its Houston campus. The project had to be done on the weekends because the nearby road was shut down to allow large crawlers into the area to hang steel beams. After the job was finished, Quality Mat looked for ways to work with the hospital to improve public health in the area. The company setup a program to educate teachers on how to recognize a child that has been impacted by allergies (food, bites, plants, etc.). This program has helped children all over the area get treatment and improve their quality of life because teachers can now recognize warning signs.
Some of the programs helped with funds from Quality Mat include the 100 Club of Southeast Texas, Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Program, Desire Street Ministries, Young Life, Girls Haven and Boys Haven. A portion of the company’s net revenue goes to charity. “Mats give us an opportunity to do something in the local communities,” said Joe Sr.
Offering a Wide Variety of Products and Options
Just like a pallet is not just a pallet, there are a lot of different variables to mats and board roads. Mats are made out of hardwood, such as oak or beech. Joe Sr. said, “Mats need to be made out of some kind of hardwood because softwood is not strong enough to hold up under the weight. Softwood tends to soak up the moisture and become weak over time.”
Additionally, softwood material is not as structurally strong as hardwood and would get crushed under the weight of the heavy equipment placed on road mats.
Quality Mat is one of the largest timber buyers in the United States maintaining strong relationships with dozens of mills across the country to secure top quality hardwood material. It goes through a million board feet of lumber per week.
Joe Penland Jr., secretary of Quality Mat, said, “We don’t put low-grade lumber into a mat. We need the best quality, dense hardwood to support the weight of equipment and to make sure it lasts for a long time.”
Quality Mat offers interlocking mats, crane mats, drag line mats, three-ply laminated mats, pipeline mats, rig mats and wood composite mats.
Interlocking mats are the world’s most popular design and is ideal for remote locations and environmentally sensitive areas. The patented interlocking design allows the mats to distribute the weight across the large networks of mats. This reduces the potential damage to sub soils and offers greater stability for heavy machinery. Joe Sr. holds two patents for construction flooring systems, including a double locking design.
Crane mats are built from mixed hardwoods and come in lengths up to 40’ long. Each mat is constructed with steel rods on 4’ centers, impact-wrench tightened, countersunk, cut off and bradded to ensure that nuts are retained through the life of the mat. These mats are dense and compression resistant to withstand the hardest conditions and heaviest equipment. Mats can be manufactured with various lifting options, such as exposed bolt, cables or chains.
Three-ply laminated mats are used a lot by concrete and general construction industries. The very popular three-ply laminated mat is available in 12', 14' and 16' foot lengths for a variety of uses, including swamp mats, temporary roads and ground protection.
Wood composite mats using a hybrid of solid and engineered wood makes a much stronger and lighter weight wooden mat. Quality Mat has partnered with Anthony Hardwoods Composites to design and make these products. This technology enables heavy equipment operators to work on unstable or soft soil conditions. Using engineered wood technology through laminating and bolting hardwoods into solid mats, hybrid mats have higher load values than conventional heavy equipment mats that are twice the thickness of a hybrid mat. This design provides significant savings in handling and shipping costs while performing better in the field. This type of mat can also be over 40’ long.
Rig mats are designed for drilling rigs and other large construction applications. Each rig mat consists of eight independent wood sections made up of rough cut 2" x 6" treated pine nailed on edge together for superior rigidity that’s needed in the toughest of construction jobs. All Quality Mat rig mats are made with 6 x 15 beam cross members, setting its quality rig matting apart from other mats that are made with flat bar cross members only. The average life of these rig mats is approximately 10 years, though some have remained active for 15–20 years.
Quality Mat can also custom design mats for special sizes and strength ratings. It can produce mats with tapered ends or four ply lamination. Quality Mat will paint the end of mats to make it easier for customers to identify them. All of the company’s rental mats are painted pink to support mammograms and breast exams to help fight cancer.
When it comes to service options, customers can either buy or lease mats. Quality Mat can contract to lay the roads or allow customers to do it. Joe Jr. said, “We let our customers tell us what works best for them. We lay miles of portable roads that can support the largest equipment in the world. We are even laying mats in water.”
Joe Sr. explained, “If a bird can walk on it, we can mat it.”
Top-Notch Employees Drive Quality Performance
Both of the Penlands attributed their success largely to the hard work and commitment of their employees. The average employee tenure with the company is around 17-18 years, which is rare these days. Quality Mat has 140 employees in three locations – Beaumont, Texas; Houston; and Killdeer, N.D. All the company’s foremen have been with the company for over 35 years.
Joe Sr. said, “My employees make this business successful. I don’t build many mats in a day.”
The Beaumont plant can produce 400 mats per day. All of the construction is done by hand. There is very little mechanization in its process. Joe Jr. said, “The difference between us and other companies is that we can build a larger variety of mats.”
The Beaumont facility has 10-12 stations making mats at any one time. The company can also receive lumber and ship out mats on a rail spur that goes through its property. Quality Mat does no log processing or resawing. It receives all lumber pre-cut to size.
Joe Jr. said that his company generally keeps thousands of new mats in stock. Quality Mat has a 500,000 square foot warehouse and multiple storage sheds. When I was there in February, the inventory was fairly low given the strong demand from customers.
Crews of men nail and pound the lumber together using a fairly simple procedure. The company has developed large tables for holding the mats as they are constructed. Once completed, each mat is moved by a forklift to storage. The ends are painted and the mats are allowed to dry under covered storage.
Quality Mat also repairs and refurbishes used mats. It will buy used mats and repair them. The process is fairly simple, it involves pressure washing, removing debris, nailing down loose nails and ensuring the proper construction tolerances. The ends are re-painted and prepared to be shipped out. Beyond mere production, Quality Mats also manages the flow of mats around the world and works to move mats from site to site as needed.
In addition to its own facilities, Quality Mat works with third parties to produce mats for customers according to the company’s specifications. For example, Quality Mat partners with a Georgia company to build mats for customers in the eastern part of the United States.
Customers have ranged from typical oil and construction projects to the construction of a football stadium and debris cleaning operations after disasters, such as the 9-11 attack in New York City.
Board Roads Make Energy Exploration Possible in Remote, Environmentally Sensitive Areas
In the 1990s, Canadian operators used to only drill during the winter. These companies had a half year drilling season because it was too wet and unstable to drill during the spring and summer. Quality mat introduced the patented interlocking mat to the Canadian market allowing oil and gas companies to drill throughout the entire year.
Joe Sr. said, “Before the patented interlocking mats, the drilling industry in Canada was in the stone age. Rigs used to lay down their derricks in the spring because the ground was too soft and wet to work on. Many operators in Canada didn’t think that the mats would hold the weight. But they did and continue to work well today. We sell a lot of interlocking mats in Canada. And now they can drill year round.”
Quality Mat estimates that the global market is over a million mats per year. And the market is likely to stay strong in North America. Joe Sr. said, “North Dakota has more oil than Saudi Arabia.”
When the oil boom first began years ago, the technology was very basic. Now with enhanced technology and the ability to use mats to work in difficult environments, a lot of areas that used to be ineffective to operate are open now for exploration. Joe Sr. commented, “A lot of leases got lost because we couldn’t build a stable platform, and now we can build a location in 3-5 days.”
These board roads and mats help reduce environmental impacts, which is a plus for these sensitive ecosystems.