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Plant Optimization Helps Kamps Facility Improve Efficiency, Reduce Costs
Simpler Is Better: Niles facility streamlines processes, improves process flow to reduce costs. Learn how SonicAire® fans and Noble Hawg dismantlers assist in upgrading the plant. This Kamps Pallet location turns red to black ink with leaner, optimized operations.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 3/1/2017
Simpler Is Better
Niles facility streamlines processes, improves process flow to reduce costs. Learn how this Kamps Pallet location turns red to black ink with leaner, optimized operations.
Niles, MICHIGAN – Simpler can be better when it comes to making and repairing pallets. That is what Jeff Hill learned as the manager of the Niles plant for Kamps Pallets. A few years ago the location was facing financial difficulties due to some changes in their lumber supply and needed to adapt their operations. Hill explained, “How did we know that we had a problem? All we had to do was look at our financial statement. When you see a lot of red numbers, everyone knows you have some problems.”
The facility management along with Kamps corporate leadership looked to find and fix the issues. Hill stated, “Collectively, we got together and made some drastic changes. This all took place in 2012… We had too much labor and our cost of goods sold was too high because we had too much inventory. We have cut our inventory in half.”
Management also weeded out workers who were not pulling their weight. Hill said, “We have developed the A-Team here now. We went through some rough times to find our pace.” At one point the facility had 80 people. Today, the Nile plant employs about 49 including office staff, truck drivers and management.
Simpler Can Be Better
A major decision to simplify the operations made a big difference. Hill said, “You know the key improvement is just our efficiencies in being lean; we’ve put some things in place that streamline what we do.” This involved optimizing the plant as well as changing what it produced.
Hill explained, “I looked at the mix of items that we were building, we got away from unique builds that the plant was not setup to do well, such as extra notching, miter cutting, we just simplified things and worked on more high-volume products.”
Until they stopped to analyze things, they didn’t realize how much extra work some pallets were to build. Hill added, “We are doing way more with fewer employees, and it is easier…The entire operation really turned around back in 2014, and we continue to make improvements each day.”
Vice president of operations for Kamps, Brad Rietema, added, “Our Niles operation went through a significant change in its customer and product mix from 2010-2012. The plant had a base of business building industrial and military crates and boxes, which they had specialized in for many years. When that work dried up, we needed to take a hard look at everything that was left and adapt the plant to our new reality.”
Plant Optimization and Adding the Right Equipment
About a year ago, the plant improved its sawing capacity. Previously, the multi-head trim saw was a stand-alone unit that required a lot of labor to feed and process. “Now the saw feeds the round table and from there it feeds the rip saw. Instead of having different stations, we decided to get them close together and use the turn table to eliminate extra handling. We are getting wood trimmed and moved right into the rip saw.”
This process change allows for the saw line to combo cut – it can process boards and runners at the same time. Hill said, “The new setup gives us extra versatility in our saw operations.”
Also, the facility has a Brewer cant line that runs 2-3 times per week. However, the facility has moved more toward processing sized material 1x4, 1x6, 2x3, 3x4, 4x4 lumber instead of cants. Hill claimed, “We can get more of this material right now at a good price, and it is a better yield too.”
The Niles facility processes mostly hardwood although it does cut some aspen and pine. It cuts wood for other Kamps plants in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana.
The facility used to be 100% new pallet product. But now it is a mixture of new, recycled and combo pallets. Currently, the facility mix is about 75% new to 25% new or combo. Hill anticipates that ratio will move more toward recycled and combo pallets in the future.
Kamps deploys lean management initiatives throughout its plants. This helped to improve process flow at its build tables in the Niles facility. Hill explained, “We used to have racking in between each station because the previous manger thought we needed racks so that everything was right there. But, it seemed too tight to me. It restrained builders and made it difficult for them to process larger-sized pallets.”
The lean process removed the racks and pulled the build stations away from the wall so that a forklift could move behind the stations and efficiently feed them. The company painted lines on the floor where material should be placed. This created a system that was easy to follow.
One reason for the larger buffer zones around each builder is the wide variety of sizes each worker might have to make for custom orders. Sizes varied from 30x30 to 120x50 in dimensions.
Another thing the management did was change the stacking height to reduce strain on workers. Hill said, “I don’t have builders stack pallets any more than 10 pallets high due to injury concerns. This cuts down on shoulder injury issues.”
The forklift drivers take stacks of ten and put them on top of each other to make the typical 20 pallet stacks the facility processes in storage. Today, the facility has six build tables, which is two fewer than in the past. But the new setup allows the operation to produce more combo pallets than in the past. The facility has added two single-man Hawg pallet dismantlers from Noble Machinery. Those machines are helping the operation as it attempts to produce more combo pallets. It took a while for the employees to get accustomed to one-man instead of two-man machines. But now that they have done it a while, production is up per employee.
Rietema explained, “We have different dismantler brands in our plants. For a newer operation, the Hawg is a great fit due to its durability and simplicity to operate. With the Hawg, there aren’t’ some of the complexities that you see in other dismantlers.”
Combo pallets have become a much bigger sale in recent years. Many customers like designs that use new runners and used deckboards. He described, “From a distance, it looks like a new pallet, but combos can be had much cheaper than the price of new. Customers love that because they are getting a really good quality pallet for an in-between price.”
The process of continual improvement never ends. In the future, the facility is going to remove the roundtable and add a chute to feed its PRS Trim Trac saw. This improvement has been used in the Charlotte plant, and the setup has worked well. One of the advantages of having so many different plants is that Kamps can benchmark and learn from other facilities in its network.
Technology Solves an Age-Old Problem
When you operate a saw line and cut cants and lumber, you always produce sawdust. These fine wood particles can get everywhere and can cause a fire hazard. The facility has been using fans from SonicAire® (www.sonicaire.com) for about a year.
Hill boasted, “These fans have done really well for us. They keep all the dust down from the rafters onto the ground, which makes housekeeping much easier.”
Hill added, “The SonicAire fans improve fire prevention at the plant because the fine wood dust that used to collect in the rafters is combustible.” The Niles facility has installed fans down the center of each building. These fans oscillate and turn very slowly but do the trick better than many other solutions.
When the company first ran the fans, Hill recalled that it looked like it had snowed inside the building the morning after, which shows how much dust and particles can build up over time. Combustible dust is a major concern for pallet plants, and this is one solution that can help you improve your fire prevention strategy at an affordable cost.
Second Shift Adds Buffer Zone
One way that Niles manages customer orders is utilizing a second shift. A trusted employee manages the shift that focuses solely on new pallet production. They four-person shift either runs the plant’s Viking 505 Turbo or produces custom orders by hand. Hill said that running a second shift isn’t difficult because he has found the right person to manage it. Plus, he lives close by and can come fix any problems that arise.
Hill explained, “It’s nice to have that buffer for those hot, last-minute orders that pop up.” This second shift gives the plant flexibility and the capacity to respond to order changes. The small shift is manageable and focused. When it came to staffing the shift, the strategy that worked well is offering those employees four ten-hour days instead of the typical five-day schedule. Hill said, “The night shift employees get a nice full three day weekend every week.”
Local Control, National Network
Kamps Pallets has grown from a small, family-owned business to a national supplier now serving every major market across the United States. The Kamps website states, “Though we’ve grown in size, you’ll find our friendly service and customer focus remains true to our Midwestern roots.”
Hill commented that each plant is given autonomy to run its daily operations with helpful oversight from corporate. Hill said that Kamps senior management gives insight and resources to help each plant reach its goals. He boasted, “The communications within Kamps is awesome. We have good relationships and coordination with other facilities.”
Once or twice per year all local and senior managers get together to discuss operations, strategies and improvements. Kamps has a full-time lean manufacturing expert to assist facilities. Currently, the company is rolling out improved software and data management using Great Plains software. The goal is to track more production, output and sales electronically across all of its network.
Kamps started years ago in 1973 when its founder and president, Bernie Kamps, turned his trash business into a pallet recycling focus when very few companies were repairing pallets at the time. Bernie recalled, “Recycling was starting to come on strong at the same time the price of wood was skyrocketing.”
From its infancy to today, Kamps has grown by focusing on customer service and cost reduction. Today, it serves nationwide customers and major brands, such as Amazon, Gordon Food Service, Alro Steel, Amway and Herman Miller.
Bernie explained, “Because we’re rooted in operations, we know how to run a plant – which means we’re living and breathing the same challenges as our customers, day in and day out.” This story of improvements at the Nile facility is just one example of how Kamps is growing and seeking to improve operations on a daily basis. Find out more about Kamps and its national network at www.kampspallets.com or call 800-759-8100.