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Midwest Pallet Expands, Adds Automated Sort and Repair Line
System from Industrial Resources of Michigan Recycles More Pallets with Less Labor
By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 9/2/2003
"My senior year of high school, 1980, we lived on a farm," explained Ed. "The garbage collector was going through a divorce," which meant there was "no way to get garbage picked up."
Ed simultaneously saw a problem, a solution and an opportunity. He got a truck from a relative and began collecting trash. He also drove the truck back and forth to school so he could work easily around classroom hours.
Soon, borrowing money at the prevailing 20% interest rate, Ed bought a truck. By the time he graduated, he was a firmly established business owner. Eight years later he sold the trash collection business to Capital Waste. By then, he was already into a new business, recycling pallets.
In the early months of the trash collection business, Ed began to retrieve some discarded pallets in his rounds, and he stored them on his parents’ farm. He planned to burn them until someone asked him where they could buy used pallets. "I said I had some," he said. He hired a few high school students to sort them. That was the unofficial beginning of Midwest Pallet, the company Ed formally founded 18 years ago.
There have been many huge leaps forward at Midwest Pallet, but perhaps the largest took place in June when the company moved from
The business of Midwest Pallet is mainly recycling – repairing and reselling – pallets although the company also builds a small volume of new pallets. The company supplies "all types" of pallets, said Ed, whose son, Tyson Skinner, is plant manager, although Midwest Pallet deals mostly in GMA size (48x40) pallets. Like other pallet recycling companies, Midwest Pallet also gets some odd-size pallets among its incoming cores, and they usually are dismantled to recover usable lumber. The company ships 4,500 to 5,000 pallets daily, supplying customers in food service, food distribution and other industries in a geographic area that includes
The new Industrial Resources repair line has had an immediate beneficial impact. Principally, the company is recycling more pallets with less labor, Ed reported.
The Industrial Resources repair line actually consists of two two-tier segments that diverge just after the point where incoming pallets are brought to the line. The two lines merge back into one at a point immediately prior to where finished pallets go to four Industrial Resources stackers.
Forklifts unload incoming trucks and place incoming pallets on a conveyor system that feeds the two segments of the repair line. Each segment of the line begins with an Industrial Resources tipper that orients stacks of pallets so they may be processed on the repair line. As the pallets come from the tipper, a worker stationed at an Industrial Resources clipper inspects each pallet and decides how it will be processed. ‘Ready-to-go’ pallets that need no repairs are pulled off and slid onto the bottom conveyor, which carries them directly to the stackers. About 10% of the company’s incoming cores can be turned around quickly as ‘ready-to-go’ pallets. Pallets that are severely damaged are pulled off and stacked by hand; depending on the type of pallet and condition, these stacks of pallets may be moved to the lumber recovery area or carried to the company’s grinder. Pallets to be repaired are prepped – the damaged lead board removed – by the clipper before proceeding down the line.
Beyond the clippers, workers repair pallets at tables; three tables are set up along each branch of the line. The repair workers slide a pallet off the conveyor onto the table, fasten the repair stock, and slide the pallet onto the bottom conveyor. The repair workers are equipped with Max Tool power nailing tools and collated nails from New Supply in
Each repair worker uses a manual tallying system, pushing a button on a counter when a pallet is finished. The employee also uses a crayon to put an identifying mark on the pallet. Workers are paid by the pallet, and tallying system and crayon marks are used to determine their production for the day.
Another employee is at the quality control station located in front of the stackers. The lower conveyor brings all repaired pallets to the Industrial Resources stackers. The quality control operator inspects each pallet for quality and categorizes the pallet by pushing a button. The pallet will then travel to the designated stacker pop-up stop and automatically is pushed into the stacker via the overhead transfer arm. This operation only takes the push of a button, allowing for more production and less strain. The company segregates finished pallets according to four grades: #1, #2, low grade, and specialties, such as hardwood only.
In all, nine workers are directly employed in the repair operations: one at each of the two clippers, one at each of the six repair tables, and the quality control operator. The entire system, from where forklifts put pallets onto the conveyor to the stackers, is 140 feet long. There are two additional repair tables set up to handle odd-size pallets.
Most of the repair stock at Midwest Pallet is recycled lumber that comes from the company’s lumber recovery operations. For dismantling pallets and recovering lumber, the company relies on an Industrial Resources Pass One dismantler and a Pallet Repair Systems (PRS) bandsaw dismantler. A PRS Optimax trim saw is used to trim deck boards and stringers to the correct length.
Midwest Pallet also has its own cut-up operations to manufacture components for new pallets and repair stock. It buys hardwood cants -- about 90% oak, according to Ed. The cut-up operations are completely equipped by Baker Products; the equipment was installed about two years ago. “They are second to none,” said Ed. The cut-up equipment consists of a Baker automated chop saw for cutting the cants to length, and two Baker PAC band resaws for cutting the sized cant material into deck boards and stringers. A Baker two-head notching machine makes notched stringers.
Midwest Pallet offers its customers a ‘hook and drop’ service -- leaving empty trailers at customer sites to be filled with excess pallets, retrieving them when they are full and leaving another empty in its place. "We have five Volvo tractors, five full-time drivers and 85 trailers," said Ed.
In addition to recycling pallets, the company produces mulch, including colored mulch, and compost, topsoil and firewood. These products are bagged and marketed under the Evergreen Farms brand.
Grinding operations rely on a Rotochopper MC166, although Ed was expecting delivery of a new, replacement Rotochopper machine. The Rotochopper grinder is an excellent match for his operation, said Ed. "It's just a real convenient machine for the pallet industry," he explained, because it can be moved around the yard. The thing he likes most about the Rotochopper is that it will produce a saleable product with just one pass through the machine; there is no need for re-grinding or multiple grinding. Midwest Pallet also does some on-site contract grinding for sawmills in the region, taking the 460 horsepower diesel Rotochopper to the mills. The company uses small Bobcat loaders fitted with grapple buckets for loading material into the Rotochopper.
Ninety percent of the mulch sold by Midwest Pallet is colored. The Rotochopper and Becker Underwood colorants are used to produce colored mulch. In addition, in the spring Midwest Pallet added a Becker Underwood colorizing system to color mulch bought from other companies. Besides supplying the standard mulch colors of red, gold and brown, which are popular in that order, Midwest Pallet also does custom coloring, including colors such as blue and purple.
About one-third of the company’s mulch is sold bagged, and Ed plans to increase bagging operations in the future. When Midwest Pallet moved to the Beardstown facility, it acquired bagging equipment as part of the deal. The main bagging machine, a Hamer Volumetric Bagger from Creative Concepts of Georgia Inc., performs several functions; it makes the bag, fills it with mulch, and stacks it. Two workers keep the machine stocked with rolls of plastic and mulch and monitor the system.
Midwest Pallet has a Multitek firewood processor for converting low-grade logs into firewood. The company buys 16-inch logs, and the wood is split eight ways. It is seasoned for several months on an asphalt pad.
Firewood is also bagged, and the packaged firewood comes complete with a handle. The process produces very neat, clean packages of firewood. "A woman can pick up our bag of wood with a dress on and can brush up against it and not get dirty," said Ed. "She can put it on a car seat." Firewood is sold year-around.
There were many twists and turns in the development of the automated sorting and repair line at Midwest Pallet. Industrial Resources was in the process of designing a line for Ed’s former 36,000-square-foot in
Essentially, Ed decided to move his company to Beardstown to a 150,000-square-foot building and install the two-tiered pallet sort and repair line. Industrial Resources worked closely with him to modify the design it already had in progress.
Dan Collins, director of sales and marketing at Industrial Resources, said, “Ed has truly been a pleasure to work with and gave us a few extra challenges. With Ed moving his facility in mid-design, we were required to re-analyze his needs and goals. He was under pressure to have his system in place and operational with a very short lead time. We designed the system to include two phases for a seamless business growth plan. The intent was to allow his business to grow and add phase two in 12 to 18 months. While phase one was on our manufacturing floor, Ed informed me that he landed another contract and would require phase two along with phase one. We had a meeting with our entire company, and everyone really contributed to getting the job done quickly and correctly. We were able to step up production and get both phases installed and operational with a very short time window.”
Ed researched several suppliers before choosing Industrial Resources. He visited their plants and pallet recyclers that were using their equipment. Ed chose Industrial Resources because of several reasons. "The main thing was the quality of the equipment we got," he said.
But there were many other important considerations, too. Midwest Pallet can call the support staff of Industrial Resources “and get help immediately," said Ed. He also liked what he saw of the Industrial Resources design and manufacturing facility in
Ed lives in the town were he was born, Pleasant Plains. He has served as the chief of the volunteer fire company for eight years and has been a volunteer 18 years in all. Beardstown is a community of about 5,000 residents; its motto is, ‘The Friendliest Little City on the
Of course, the business commands much of Ed’s time, and there is little time for leisure pursuits. “We are growing so fast,” he said. However, a vacation home in
Despite the commitment the business requires, Ed enjoys what he does. "I have honestly not worked for anybody in my life," he said. "I like the freedom to run my own business."