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Viking Nailing Machines Help Build a Legacy for Australian and UK Pallet Firms
Global Success: Viking Engineering has developed nailing machinery that have become mainstays in the U.S. market. And this equipment has also proven successful in key markets around the world.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 2/1/2016
Viking Engineering has developed nailing machinery that have become mainstays in the U.S. market. And this equipment has also proven successful in key markets around the world.
Minnesota-based Viking Engineering has been a key partner and supplier to the pallet industry for decades. Its automated pallet assembly systems are virtually standard equipment in high-volume pallet manufacturing businesses.
The company’s pallet nailing machines are found in plants throughout the U.S. as well as in the plants of customers abroad. Two of its foreign customers joined the Viking fold in the new millennium. The Rodpak Group is on the other side of the world — in Australia, where it is a leading pallet manufacturing company in the island nation. Somerlap Forest Products, located in the United Kingdom, about 150 miles west of London, also has turned to Viking to fuel its growth.
Viking recently debuted a six piece video series titled Build Your Legacy, focusing on their relationship with customers throughout the United States. The series takes a closer look at each company’s rich history and how multiple generations of family have helped them flourish. Over the years, Viking has created a strong bond with these families by providing a one-stop-shop for all of their wood fastening needs. In addition to this series, Viking wanted to spotlight a few of its customers abroad.
The Rodpak Group
Australia is a little over 80% of the size of the United States in land area but has only about 8% of the U.S. population. Most people in Australia live concentrated along its eastern seaboard. With facilities on both coasts, the Rodpak Group has annual sales ranging from $15-20 million.
Led by owner and managing director Dean Roderick, the company is based in Melbourne, located in the southeastern tip of mainland Australia, and also has manufacturing operations in Perth, which is on the west coast. In remarks provided to Pallet Enterprise, Roderick described the business as a “tale of two cities.”
The family business manufactures pallets in both locations, but the customer base in the two different regions is quite different, noted Roderick. “For example, our Perth operation has been buoyed by the mining and resources boom over the last few years with product design, materials and supply reflecting the emphasis on supporting the export of raw materials.” The west coast plant is “literally on the doorstep of an emerging Asia with our Perth plant being closer to Bali, Indonesia, than it is to our Melbourne operations,” he added.
By contrast, the company’s operations in Melbourne are tied to manufacturers and indirectly to consumer goods through pallet hire and pallet pool systems. “We are geographically well placed, within minutes of extensive and growing manufacturing and logistical hubs in the western region,” said Roderick.
About 90% of the company’s business is pallets, and the Rodpak Group also supplies wood boxes, bins and crates, primarily to the agricultural industry.
Dean’s parents started the Rodpak Group over 25 years ago “from very humble beginnings,” he said. Roderick joined the family business from a teaching career, intending to help it grow and develop further. “Twenty years later, I can now look back and see that our willingness and commitment to invest has paid dividends.”
Investment to Roderick means more than machinery and equipment to produce pallet components and to assemble them into finished pallets — as important as that type of investment is. “Quality people, leading edge information systems, and of course the production capacity and product quality to deliver,” he explained. “It is also reflected in the way we relate to our suppliers and customers – a collaborative, solution-seeking orientation rather than a commodity approach is central to our philosophy.”
The company’s plants are equipped with four Viking Champion pallet nailing machines. “They are efficient and effective in producing precision pallets,” said Roderick, and can be changed over quickly to assemble a different pallet. “Machine downtime is rare, and the product quality and consistency is second to none.”
Rodpak Group purchased its first Viking automated pallet assembly system in 2004. The “human element” – Viking personnel – was important in making that decision, recalled Roderick. “We were impressed by Viking’s responsiveness and communication. Nothing has changed. They still do a terrific job of servicing our needs despite being 10,000 miles away!”
The dominant pallet size in Australia is 1165x1165 (millimeters) or 46x46 (inches). Typically, pallet components are made from plantation pine.
Rodpak Group has been a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association for over 10 years and a member of the Pallet Design System (PDS) Advisory Group for five years.
Providing the best pallet design with optimum materials and operating with a first-class plant and equipment creates a “best value” advantage to customers, said Roderick. “Our value proposition includes being both solution-driven and providing supply consistency.”
In his spare time, when he is not focused on his family, Roderick enjoys bicycling, golf and stand-up paddle boarding, pursuits that require some fitness but which he nevertheless finds relaxing.
Somerlap Forest Products
Somerlap Forest Products sells over one million pallets annually. Its 44 employees work at a 50,000-square foot plant on five acres in Mark, Somerset which is located in southwest England. The company makes 8,000-10,000 new pallets per week and 6,000-8,000 recycled pallets. Customers generally are in southwest England, within a 100-mile radius of its facilities in Mark. They represent a variety of industries, from manufacturers of construction materials to food and beverage products.
Like Rodpak, Somerlap too is a family business. Managing director Kevin Bond joined the family company after completing an engineering apprenticeship with another business in 1981. At the time he managed a newly acquired sawmill, Hambrook Pallets, less than 20 miles away in Ubley. The sawmill’s four employees cut softwood logs into pallet lumber and fencing material and the pallet lumber was supplied to Hambrook’s pallet plant in Bristol for manufacturing new pallets and refurbishing used pallets. The sawmill’s operations were expanded to include pallet manufacturing and recycling. Investments at the site included a building, concrete yard extension, sawmill machinery and automated pallet assembly equipment.
Another plant was opened under the Hambrook Pallet banner in Devon in 1987, enabling the company to serve southwest England more efficiently. Employment at the three locations grew to over 60 workers.
Hambrook Pallets demerged from the sawmill business in 1991. Martin Bond, Kevin’s brother, continued to lead Hambrook Pallets; whilst Kevin Bond acquired Mark Sawmill and operated it along with the sawmill in Ubley. Hambrook Pallets continued to focus on pallet recycling while Bond’s business continued to be centered on new pallet manufacturing.
Bond’s two plants later were consolidated to one site at Mark. He left lumber manufacturing, relying on other sawmills for his pallet lumber and components, to invest more in pallet manufacturing equipment. The company purchased its first Viking Champion nailing machine in 2006 and added a second in 2008.
“We like our Viking Champion machines,” said Bond in remarks he provided to Pallet Enterprise. “The Viking nailing machines have proven reliable and efficient, each operated by one worker. Each machine produces about 500 to 600 pallets during a nine hour shift,” he added.
“The Vikings are excellent at producing two-way entry pallets efficiently, need very little maintenance and are simple to use,” explained Bond. “We would highly recommend them.”
In the following six years the company continued to make capital investments in pallet recycling and other areas of operations. The company’s largest investment to date was last year with a replacement 750 kw boiler that uses wood chips for fuel and provides heat for the plant and pallet kiln. The wood chips are produced by a Haas slow-speed shredder; installed in 2009 and is enclosed in a new building built in 2013. It can process six tons of scrap pallets and wood material per day.
In addition to its two Viking Champion pallet nailing machines, the company is equipped with a variety of other machinery supplied by European manufacturers as well as a Holtec cross-cut package saw. The facility also is equipped for various wood machining tasks, such as chamfering, drilling, planing and sanding.
During its 35 years, the company has evolved from pallet recycling to sawmill and lumber manufacturing and now is a major new pallet manufacturer that also provides pallet recycling. The company still manufactures fencing material and also expanded into producing sheds and garden buildings.
The company buys pre-cut softwood lumber for their block pallets, which are commonly used in Europe. It is currently purchasing blocks of composite material from suppliers in Germany and Ireland because of a price advantage, although it has the capability to make blocks from softwood material.
Somerlap supplies pallets in many sizes and specifications, but the most common are 1200x1000, 1200x800, 1500x1200, 1500x1000, 1320x1100, and 1100x1100. It has supplied predominantly two-way pallets although more recently its production has been about 60% four-way pallets and 40% two-way pallets.
“We offer an efficient and quality service to all our customers, large and small,” commented Bond. “We have strict quality control procedures in place.” Services include next-day delivery and stock holding of customers’ pallets if required.
Bond has stated that “Somerlap celebrates its 35th anniversary in May this year and owes its continued success and growth to the dedication, experience, work ethic and commitment of all its members of staff,”.
Bond has two family members involved in the business – his wife, Wendy, manager of human resources, and son, George, who works in production.
Bond enjoys spending time with his family and in his spare time he also likes to golf, ski and travel. Another pursuit is raising funds for various charities.
While both of the companies featured in this story have been successful due to hard work and smart business decisions, Viking machinery has been a major part of their growth and efficiency. Find out more about the full line of Viking nailing machines at www.vikingeng.com.