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Time for a Nailing Machine? Suppliers Suggest What Questions You Should Be Asking
Pallet Nailing: Considering buying an automated nailer? Find out what questions to ask to make sure that you buy the right piece of equipment. Experts share their thoughts on key issues to investigate.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 3/1/2017
Considering buying an automated nailer? Find out what questions to ask to make sure that you buy the right piece of equipment. Experts share their thoughts on key issues to investigate.
When a pallet company is considering investing in a nailing machine, what are some of the top questions it should consider?
To seek insight from those who know nailing machines best, we asked representatives of several suppliers that manufacture or sell pallet nailing machines. The Enterprise spoke with Jeffrey Jensen of Corali-USA, Sandy Campbell of GBN Machine & Engineering, Greg Wine of Pallet Machinery Group, Jeff Williams of PRS Group, Devin McDaniel of Rayco Industries, Mona Tracy of Universal Machinery Sales, Kurt Larsen of Viking Engineering & Development, and Todd Mazur of Viper Industrial Products.
CAPE, Corali, GBN, Storti and Viking manufacture automated pallet nailing machines that use hydraulic or mechanical power to drive fasteners. CAPE also manufactures nailing machines that use electric drivers. The machines use bulk nails for assembling pallets. Rayco, Universal Machinery Sales and Viper manufactures automated machines that use pneumatic nailing tools and collated fasteners for assembling pallets.
The comments and discussion offered by the companies are presented in alphabetical order.
Jeffrey Jensen – President of Corali-USA
“How quickly can I make an order change?” asked Jensen. He said that changeover time is becoming more and more important in today’s short order/just-in-time environment. He explained that the Corali machines are known for very fast changeover with its fully motorized, fully-computerized machine where orders can be downloaded from a customer directly into the machine. Changeover can be in as little as a few seconds to a minute in some cases, clarified Jensen.
The next major question revolves around versatility. Jensen said, “If my market changes, can your equipment be reconfigured to new pallet or packaging designs?” This may include switching from block to stringer or even production of crate and bin components. Jensen pointed to the versatility of Corali machines to produce a wide variety of products as well as add modules and upgrade a line in the future. So how flexible can a machine be to transition with changes in the market? Or if I have a limited budget, can the machine be upgraded with new components in the future?
And the last question that Jensen asked, “Does a supplier incorporate leading-edge technology to meet the demands of 21st century pallet operations? Jensen believes that high tech solutions will lead to faster productivity and versatility.
Sandy Campbell – Sales representative and consultant for GBN Engineering
“I think one thing is: What could a machine do for me?” asked Campbell. “Improve profitability?”
Pallet companies considering buying a nailing machine should look at the projected return on investment, he suggested. “A lot of people don’t bother to shop the return on investment.” He has a spreadsheet he shares with customers to help them calculate the return on investment.
For typical grocery pallets or a similar standard pallet, a pallet company would have to build at least 325 per day to justify the investment in a nailing machine, he said.
Another question to ask is about the future. “Does it have expandability? Where am I going to be five years down the road, 10 years down the road? Can I change it?”
Machines that use pneumatic nailing tools and collated fasteners are less expensive, he observed, but collated fasteners are more expensive than bulk nails used by machines. Collated fasteners cost more than twice as much, according to Campbell, who also questioned the quality of pallets assembled on such machines.
He has dealt with numerous people who are not willing to invest the time to go look at nailing machines, said Campbell. “People don’t go out and look at what’s out there. They listen to a salesman,” and then make a decision. That’s true with a lot of purchases, whether someone is buying a nailing machine or other pallet equipment or a pickup truck.
“I have to drag them kicking and screaming to look at machines. They don’t do their homework.”
Greg Wine – Owner of Pallet Machinery Group, which sells Storti nailing lines
Wine said it all starts with the end in mind. He said the key question is, “Do I need a machine to run one size of pallet at high volumes or a variety of sizes with fast changeovers?” And a closely related question is, “Do I need to run block or stringer pallets or both?” He added, How might this machine need to grow with my business?”
Another critical area is the labor force and the anticipated output per employee. Wine asked, “Do I need something more automated to reduce labor (i.e. automatic feeding of blocks, boards or stringers)?” These machinery developments are available and have been used in Europe and some other areas of the world. Also, you want to consider specialty functions, such as branding, labeling or corner cutting.
Only after answering these questions, can a customer determine a return on the investment on the machine that best meets their requirements. The volume of pallets that would be built on a machine is important in determining if a company can justify such an investment.
“I talk about pallet ‘Quality’ a lot,” said Wine. He explained, “Bulk nails used in hydraulic and mechanical nailing machines are made with a higher carbon content and have a larger diameter than collated fasteners and are therefore stronger.”
Even though many pallet companies still make millions of pallets by hand on build tables, Wine stated, “A machine-nailed pallet is going to be a better product because it will drive the nail straight.”
Pallets built by hand with pneumatic nail tools will have a tendency to split boards or drive crooked nails which can ultimately weaken the pallet or cause destruction to the end users product, noted Wine.
Jeff Williams – President of PRS Group, which sells CAPE nailing machines
A key issue for consideration when evaluating machinery is to analyze your return on investment (ROI). Williams explained, “Too often in our industry this is just looked at through the prism of direct labor, production per hour or shift, and the initial cost of the machine. This may provide an answer to the quickest way to recoup the initial cost of the machine, but basing the decision solely on these factors can cost you a lot more in the end. This shortcut may end up limiting your future production capacities and the growth of your business. If you plan to grow your pallet business with new contracts and additional pallet sales, consider a broader perspective when looking at ROI.”
Williams suggested that you should consider the expandability of the machine in terms of pallet type and volume capacity, as well as automation such as robotic machine tending because these “future growth” options are available today. A machine that can be scalable or upgrade to enhance capacity or features can ensure the longevity of your purchase. Don’t just look at what you need during the first year, consider that your requirements may change over time.
What kind of operator interface does a machine offer? It can be easy to assume that all nailing machines rely on similar technology. But there is a wide variety of controls and operator interfaces ranging from fairly manual to programmable logic controls (PLCs) and smartphones. Williams advised, “Look for multi-language control screens (Spanish at a bare minimum) and the brands of the PLC and other crucial components. Top brands are higher quality and more readily available. And for the support of the machine, inquire about the machine’s monitoring and self-diagnostic systems because a nailing line operator is not an engineer, but a modern machine can be both monitored, problems diagnosed, and reset by factory engineers working remotely. Price is an important factor, but when it comes to choosing a nailing line, or any equipment for the long term, every single detail counts.”
Devin McDaniel – Rayco Industries
Potential customers usually have a number of questions when they consider an investment in a nailing machine, according to McDaniel. Those questions include the cycle time to nail a pallet or production per shift, and how many operators the machine requires.
Potential customers also want to know how long it takes to change over to another pallet and if they can use recycled lumber on a nailing machine. Can it assemble wing pallets? Can it nail four-stringer pallets?
Most pallet nailing machines that have some level of automation are going to have hydraulic, pneumatic, and electric components, and sensors. Another factor to consider, according to McDaniel, is how much expertise employees may or may not have in maintaining or repairing these kind of components.
“Just like any car, these machines require maintenance and will have breakdowns,” said McDaniel.
Even though nailing machine manufacturers offer technical support to their customers, “nothing beats having someone there in person who has the knowledge to get the machine back up and running, thus minimizing your downtime...Therefore, the expertise of those operating and working with the machine could play a part in the decision-making process for which nailing machine you choose.”
Mona Tracy – Universal Machinery Sales
A pallet company has several factors to consider in determining it has reached the level where it is time to buy an automatic nailing machine. Tracy recommended, “Whether it is a first-time buy, a replacement machine or an addition to your capacity, good discussions with customers to help determine plant layouts, the direction of the business and on-site visits can help in the decision making process.” She added that Universal Machinery Sales works to tailor solutions to each specific nailing situation.
Tracy suggested that companies ask, “What are your labor force constraints and costs?” She pointed out that Universal In-Line Nailers can produce quantities of GMAs equal to about 5-6 workers, which can reduce labor costs. Automation with the right machine can make it easier to replace workers and get new hires up to speed quickly since the machine sets the pace and determines the quality of the finished pallet. Tracy asked, “Is a machine simple to use and easy to maintain? Do you need experienced technicians to regularly tweak the machine?”
Tracy said, “The simplification of a once complicated piece of machinery does not require the hiring of technical staff to keep it running. The use of PLC controls which are engaged by manual switches, make trouble-shooting easier. With the use of PLC controls, we are also able to have safeties in place that will keep ordinary issues from becoming more involved leading to excessive down-time.”
Pallet companies will want to inspect the accuracy and consistency of the nailing apparatus. Tracy commented, “The Universal In-Line Nailer runs parallel to the stringer so nails are driven straight into the wood. This eliminates the issue of nails going into the pallets at an angle so they protrude from the side.”
Finally, she said you want to find out about after sales service. Tracy asked, “How does the machinery supplier work to fix any problems and offer reliable, dependable service?”
Kurt Larsen – Viking Engineering & Development
Pallet companies should carefully weigh the projected return on investment when considering the purchase of a nailing machine, said Larsen. “In the end, it’s mostly a return on investment decision,” he said. That decision should be based on such factors as total cost of ownership, output per man per hour, and machine uptime.
Larsen, sales manager Scott Ellefson and customer service manager Mark Mitchell discussed other factors in a buying decision. How many different types of pallets can a machine build? How fast does it take to change over to a different pallet? What is the potential for future growth? What is the machine’s reputation for durability and longevity? How about availability of replacement parts?
Pallet companies should consider other factors besides the machine itself, they suggested. What is the track record of the supplier? How many nailing machines do they have in operation? What resources do they have to service and support their customers? Do they provide on-site operator training?
Todd Mazur – President of Viper Industrial Products
The first thing you should ask yourself is “What’s my budget?” This will save time and narrow your decision process from hydraulic, full automatic, semi-automatic or manual. Mazur added, “Once you’ve narrowed your decision process down to a brand and model, we always encourage a buyer to visit or call companies that own one. They can verify the features, benefits and production figures presented by the manufacturer. You want to ask what the average production numbers are because in some cases manufactures will provide the best case.”
Sometimes less can be more. Mazur explained that he suggests looking for the simplest solution that will meet your needs. He stated, “Hydraulic-engineered machines have been around for decades, and there are many in the market. They involve a significant investment that don’t always meet the financial needs for the masses. They require a huge amount of capital to purchase, parts can be proprietary, typically expensive to maintain and can require a maintenance staff. The production goals of a hydraulic-engineered machine is so dependent on quality labor it has a higher risk of meeting the ROI.”
Viper sells the Woodpecker nailing system that is based on pneumatic technology, which are much simpler to run according to Mazur. He said that you always want to ask, “What is my ROI for this machine?” This can help you determine the payback on the machine, and the financial feasibility for the purchase or lease. Mazur commented about pneumatic technology, “In many cases you can get a payback or ROI in months, not years. And as a result, they are the largest growth category in the pallet machinery sector.”
Another key area to consider or ask about are typical maintenance schedules and repair part costs. What type of downtime is typical for a repair? Can parts be sourced locally or do you need to buy specialized proprietary parts asked Mazur. He added, “Most nail providers will offer a tool & repair program. So when the pneumatic nailing system fails a simple tool swap is applied by the operator at no cost and only seconds of downtime.”
A final point of consideration related to simplicity is the training curve required for new operators. How computerized or complex is the system? How complex are the controls to learn? Mazur said, “With the high turnover rates, a new employee can be operating a Pneumatic nailing machine to full capacity within days.”
Regardless of your production needs and budgetary constraints, there are a wide variety of quality suppliers serving the North American market. These questions can help guide your process as you investigate options and talk with various venders. What is clear is that automation is here to stay and more important than ever given the labor difficulties that the industry faces.