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Service Helped Distinguish, Prosper Penn. Pallet Maker
Precision Pallet Adds Brewer-Golden Eagle Line with Second Gang Saw
By Tim Cox, Editor
Date Posted: 1/6/2003
ADDISON, Penn. – Precision Pallet has a customer that some times continues its manufacturing operations into the weekend. Some times. The customer may not know until Friday that it will need pallets for the weekend.
"They may call Friday and order three or four truck-loads for the weekend," said Tim Whetsell, one of the co-owners of Precision Pallet. To accommodate the customer, Precision Pallet keeps pallets in inventory and makes weekend deliveries.
Another customer once called in a jam. It had not ordered pallets earlier, and a representative called in the morning, saying they needed pallets within 24 hours. Precision Pallet loaded what pallets they had available for the customer onto pick-up trucks to deliver them immediately, and changed over cut-up and nailing operations right away in order to get them a full truck-load by the next day.
It is that kind of commitment to serving customers that has contributed to the success of Precision Pallet, according to Tim. "I think the biggest thing is our service. Anybody can build a pallet, but our quality and service is what has put us where we are. We have some tough customers, and we keep them happy." Many of the company’s customers have been with Precision Pallet since the early 1990s, he added.
When customers call with any kind of problem, they have access to the top -- to Tim and co-owner Gary Rugg. Customers speak directly with either man. "And we solve it," Tim declared.
Precision Pallet, a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, is a hardwood pallet manufacturing company in southeast Pennsylvania. The company is located in the community of Addison, which is about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, near the intersection of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. With a work force of 27 employees, Precision Pallet runs one shift and manufactures about 400,000 pallets annually. It has begun to supply heat-treated pallets for export applications, contracting with another company for kiln drying.
The company manufactures about 60 different size pallets -- all stringer pallets; some of the most common sizes are 36x42 and 48x48. It prefers to deal in truckload quantities and has customers in the soft drink, electronics, pharmaceutical, chemical, and other industries.
Precision Pallet buys hardwood cants and cut stock from sawmills in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia and buys low-grade hardwood logs in the same region. A scragg mill cuts about 18,000 board feet per day and requires about eight truck-loads of low-grade logs. The company also buys at least 10 truck-loads of cants per week along with about five truck-loads of cut stock.
Precision Pallet has relied heavily in recent years on Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle to equip its cut-up operations. The company has run a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw for a number of years, and recently it began operating a complete new Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle line that includes a second gang saw. The new line also was a milestone for Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle because it features the machinery maker’s first in-line notcher.
Tim and Gary built their first truck-load of pallets in 1987 in Gary’s back yard -- using a borrowed air compressor and power nailing tools. At the time they started the business, Gary was a foreman for a contracting business and Tim worked as a sawyer in his uncle’s lumber business -- Whetsell Lumber Co., which was started by his grandfather. Gary and Tim lived across the street from each other. "We were looking for something to make an extra buck," said Tim.
Tim had a cousin who operated a forklift for a petroleum company, and his cousin told him the business was having difficulty obtaining a steady supply of pallets. With his background in the lumber business, Tim decided to call on the purchasing agent at the petroleum company. The purchasing agent called him two weeks later and ordered a truck-load of pallets.
"I kind of fed him a story," Tim recalled, "and I guess I did a good job." The purchasing agent "had no idea" the men had never built a pallet before.
"We scrambled" to fill the order, added Tim. They called on some sawmills to have cut stock made, and they borrowed the air compressor and nailing tools. They built a jig to assemble the components. "It worked out well," said Tim. "We had that order a long time."
The two men continued to rely on sawmills in the region to supply them with cut stock as they began the business. They assembled pallets at night and on weekends.
One of the first big steps for Tim and Gary came when they rented a bay from a trucking company that had some vacant space in its garage. As the business grew, they rented a second bay from the trucking company. When the trucking company later went out of business, Tim and Gary bought the building.
After moving into the trucking company’s facilities in 1989, they bought their first machine, a single-head horizontal band resaw, and hired their first employee. (That first employee, Doug Meyers, still works for Precision Pallet.) Tim and Gary drove through several states to the machinery supplier, picked up the band saw, drove back to Pennsylvania, and had the machine set up and running – all in one weekend. They bought short cants from sawmills and ran them through the band saw to make deck boards and continued to buy notched stringers from cut stock producers.
The next step in the company’s progression was the addition later the same year of a used cut-up system to cut cants to size. It consisted of a Hazledine pop-up cut-off saw with three-strand deck and v-scrambler.
They added production capacity in 1990 by trading in the single-head resaw on the purchase of a two-head band resaw from the same supplier. Tim resigned from his uncle’s lumber company the same year and began working full-time at Precision Pallet.
Gary joined the business full-time in 1992. There was a lumber shortage that year, and Gary and Tim decided to integrate the cut-up operations in order to have more control over pallet lumber production. They company bought a used Tony Evans scragg mill, and Tim and Gary rebuilt it. The scragg mill, which is still running, produces four-sided cants with its two twin sets of circular blades. The first pair of blades removes two slabs, and the two-sided cant makes a turn and advances to the next set, which removes the other two slabs.
After a couple of years of experience with the scragg mill, Tim and Gary decided to automate pallet assembly operations and bought a used Viking Unimatic nailing machine in 1994. The same year they bought their first nailing machine, Tim and Gary purchased property across the street and constructed a 50-foot by 50-foot building for the Unimatic.
It was the beginning of an association with Viking that has continued. They traded the machine in on a new Viking Champion in 1997. They traded the Champion in on a new Viking Turbo in 1999, and in the summer of 2002 they added a new Viking Champion. Their pallet assembly operations continue to rely on their Viking Turbo and Champion machines.
Precision Pallet mainly assembles just a couple of size pallets on the Viking Champion while nailing a wider range of pallets on the Turbo.
Gary and Tim contracted with truckers for delivering raw material and finished pallets until buying their first tractor-trailer in 1996. Precision Pallet now has four Peterbilt 18-wheelers.
They made a significant change in the company’s cut-up operations in 1997. They decided to change from band saws to a gang saw to resaw cants and invested in a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw. Precision Pallet invested in a single-bay, double-arbor gang saw. "That was one of the best moves we’ve ever made since we’ve been in the business," said Tim. "They build good equipment," he said of Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle. Precision Pallet also added a used Hazledine double-head notcher the same year.
Tim explained their reasons for the change to resawing on a gang saw. "Everybody talks about getting that extra board out of the band saw" because of the thin kerf, he said. "But the hassle of those band blades...I wish we had bought a Brewer gang to start with." Band blades require more maintenance; they may require adjustments in tension and also may break.
Having experience in both band saws and gang saws for resawing, Tim said he was "definitely" sold on the benefits of gang saws.
Last winter they decided to move when they ran out of space. They began moving dirt in June 2002 on a new 100-foot by 200-foot building and a 150-foot by 200-foot concrete pad outside. By November they were running new equipment in the new plant. The new plant now contains all the company’s equipment and operations with the exception of the scragg mill
The new plant has a new Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle cut-up line complete from incoming deck to stacker. It also features Brewer’s first in-line notcher. The new line features all of the following Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle equipment: deck and unscrambler, cut-up saw, gang saw, in-line double-head notcher with Econotool heads, and stacker. Precision Pallet staff installed the new Brewer line, and a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle technician reviewed it and helped to bring the system on line and up to speed.
Tim and Gary were very pleased with the performance of their Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw when they decided to add a second cut-up line. Although they did a little shopping around with other suppliers, the durability and reliability of the Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle machine was an important factor in their deliberations. Precision Pallet’s first Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw has been run extensively and required very little attention, according to Tim.
Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle equipment was priced more, Tim noted. "But they’re definitely worth the extra money if you want something that will last."
"Brewer stands behind their equipment," he added. "They take care of you."
Tim and Gary believe a company is only as good as its employees. "Guys that make an effort, we take care of them," said Tim. Precision Pallet has several long-time employees. One of the most recent additions was maintenance mechanic Chuck Miller, who was hired several years ago. Tim singled out secretary Sherri Glover, who runs the office. "She does a wonderful job and keeps Gary and me in line," he said.
Tim generally works in the office and plans the day’s cut-up operations, nailing machine schedules, and deliveries. Gary is in the plant, helping maintain the machinery and ensuring that operations go smoothly. "That’s what brought us to where we’re at," added Tim. Gary is good at mechanics and prefers to work in the shop while Tim is less mechanically inclined and handles the organizational and administrative aspects of the business, including sales. Gary orders all spare parts and supplies while Tim buys raw material. All major decisions are made together.
One of the biggest challenges for the business has been obtaining a sufficient, dependable supply of raw material, Tim noted. "It’s been more of a problem lately," he observed. Cant prices have been increasing recently and reached $300 per thousand board feet. The company has not raised pallet prices while raw material prices have increased in recently months, Tim added.
Tim, 47, and Gary, 42, have no other family members involved in the business, but their families have been an important part in their developing the business.
"Our wives have made us a lot of late-night dinners," Tim said. "They’ve been very supportive of both of us since the beginning. Whatever we wanted to do, they went along with it."
"It’s been very hard work to get where we’re at," Tim added. "We’ve both been hands-on since day one....We’re still that way. It’s not an easy business...It’s tough, but you meet a lot of nice people in it."
"It’s competitive," Tim said of the pallet industry, "but we always seem to be busy."
Movable Top Arbor Gang Saw Is Versatile
Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle is a manufacturer of industrial-duty sawmill machinery and equipment for the sawmill and pallet industries.
Particularly known for its gang resaws, Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle also manufactures horizontal band resaws, cut-off saws and multi-trim saws. The Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle machinery line also extends to notching equipment and chamfers and material handling equipment, such a infeed decks, unscramblers, and stackers. The company manufactures complete in-line systems and also provides custom machinery manufacturing services.
One of the company’s innovations in recent years has been the Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle Movable Top Arbor (MTA) Gang Saw. This versatile double-arbor gang saw features a special top arbor that can be moved to three cutting positions. The three arbor positions allow the use of different diameter blades, enabling a company to reduce saw kerf and cut a wider range size of material.
The Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle MTA Gang Saw originally was developed for Freeman Wood Products, a hardwood sawmill and pallet manufacturing business in Centerville, Tenn.
The idea for the gang saw originated with Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle president Paul Gilles and Jim and George Yocum, owners of Cahaba Valley Timber Company in Selma, Ala. In 1998 the Yocums needed a gang saw to resaw only 4-inch material, but they still wanted the kerf savings of a double-arbor. They came up with the idea of lowering the top arbor and running smaller diameter blades, with both sets of blades doing equal work. The result was an amazing machine that is still running 0.123 kerf and giving Cahaba Valley an extra deck board every time a cant passes through. Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle further developed the concept for its MTA Gang Saw, which allows pallet companies to run cants of different heights and still center the load.
Gang saw arbors are fixed, which only permits them to run blades of a certain diameter, typically 12 inches. Reliance on the 12-inch blade has been an obstacle to reducing saw kerf.
Lowering the top arbor of the Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle MTA Gang Saw permits the use of smaller blades with less kerf.
The three arbor positions permit the use of different diameter blades for sawing 4-inch, 6-inch and even 8-inch cants. When running 3 ½-inch cants, the yield generally is the same as a band saw. The arbor adjustment is quick and simple.
For more information on the Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle MTA Gang Saw or any other machines or equipment, contact Brewer at (800) 345-6516 or visit the company’s Web site at www.brewerinc.com.