Pallet Enterprise – 2019
Ohio Company Automates Pallet Sorting and Repair Operations:
Automated Machine Systems Enables Hope Timber to Boost Production, Efficiency
By Tim Cox
NEWARK, Ohio — Hope Timber Pallet Co. is a successful family business that over 25 years has led to the creation of three other successful business endeavors. What began as a pallet recycling business also started offering new pallets after the turn of the century. In recent years, Hope Timber Pallet Co. has automated its pallet repair operations with a system from Automated Machine Services (AMS). Along with the AMS PalMate® software suite, the new system has enabled the company to increase production and efficiency.
Company Background and Growth
Hope Timber Pallet Co. was started by Tom Harvey and now involves five other family members. His wife, Deb, is general manager of an affiliated garden center. She works with her daughter, Therese. Their three sons also are involved, and all five family members share ownership. T.J. is director of operations and runs the pallet business.
Kevin’s title is general manager and he oversees sales, customer service, and company finances. Finally, Tim is general manager over the affiliated mulch business.
Tom, 65, watches over strategic management of the company and all its divisions. Hope Timber Mulch, Hope Timber Garden Center, and the trucking unit, Wood Recovery Systems — grew from the pallet recycling company, but are now stand-alone LLCs.
Tom worked in sales and later management for the 7UP soft drink company in the Columbus area, but he left to start a pallet recycling business with 7UP as his first customer.
Today, Hope Timber Pallet is located in Newark, Ohio, only about 40 miles east of Columbus.
In addition to the main pallet plant in Newark, the company operates two satellite facilities in southern Ohio for repairing pallets and manufacturing pallets. The mulch business and the trucking company, which only haul for Hope Timber — are located on the same site as Hope Timber Pallet, and the garden center is also located in Newark but at a different site.
In his role, T.J. Harvey, 39, oversees the pallet company’s manufacturing processes, production, dispatching, and employee training and safety. “My primary job is to make sure our production needs are met and loads go out on time,” he said.
The pallet operation employs about 75 people and presently sells approximately 1.3 million pallets annually. The main plant in Newark is located on 13 acres with seven buildings and 70,000 square foot under roof. The company purchased the site six years ago with three buildings and has added buildings since.
AMS Assists in Revamping Recycling Process, Boosting Tracking and Production
About two years ago the family leadership began exploring solutions for automating its pallet recycling operations.
“We had been evaluating our business and looking at this chaotic and labor intensive work area where we had eight replicated work stations, and the workers were all walking great distances, and the forklift traffic was heavy and hectic,” said T.J. Harvey. The operations were spread out, required a lot of space, and were extremely inefficient,” he added.
Under the prior system, the company operated eight pallet repair stations, and stacks of pallets were staged at each work station. “We were bursting at the seams,” recalled Harvey.
“We wanted a streamlined and professional setup…We wanted to organize our process better. We were looking for greater efficiency. We were looking for greater safety, and better reporting and tracking, as well as increased production.”
“We had been evaluating our business and looking at this
chaotic and labor-intensive work area where we had eight
replicated work stations, and the workers were all walking
great distances, and the forklift traffic was heavy and hectic.”
T.J. Harvey, pallet operations manager at Hope Timber Pallet
The company considered several suppliers of automated systems for pallet recycling before selecting Automated Machine Systems. The AMS automated repair system has been operating at Hope Timber Pallet since the fall of 2017.
In the AMS approach deployed at Hope Timber Pallets, incoming pallets are moved to a de-stacker. As pallets are dispensed from the de-stacker, a worker stationed there determines if it is a ‘ready-to-go’ pallet that does not require repairs, or if it needs to be refurbished.
He grades ‘ready-to-go’ pallets according to five sizes and can route them to the appropriate stacker. Pallets requiring repairs are routed to one tier of a three-tier conveyor system.
There are five work stations along the repair line. Each repair station is equipped with a pry bar to remove damaged boards and a pneumatic nailing tool to fasten repair stock. As the pallets proceed down the line, a worker slides it onto a table, makes the necessary repairs, and puts a barcode label on the pallet indicating the grade. He slides the finished pallet onto the bottom tier of the conveyor. Workers deposit scrap material onto the top tier conveyor.
As the pallets proceed down the conveyor, they eventually pass by a barcode reader that reads the label and captures information. The finished pallets are accumulated and stacked — automatically — by five stackers at the end of the repair line. The bar code system guides each pallet to the correct stacker; no worker is needed at the end of the line.
All equipment for the repair line — de-stacker, stackers, conveyors, and barcode system — were supplied by AMS. Hope Timber Pallet also purchased the AMS PalMate ® ERP software and its affiliated production floor, data collection component, Plant Floor.
The company has only one bandsaw pallet dismantler, a two-man Pallet Cat machine. Two trim saws supplied by Saw Service & Supply are used to trim reclaimed lumber to length.
The AMS automated repair system has met the company’s expectations, said Harvey. The AMS system resulted in increasing per-man production and overall production, he reported.
“What we’ve got is a much more organized building where pallets are systematically going in one area and coming out of the stackers…in a fast, organized way…Repair personnel never have to move from their stations and never have to walk and stack pallets. It’s much more ergonomically friendly and much more efficient.”
AMS Equipment and Software Reduces Labor Inefficiencies
The AMS automated pallet repair solution enabled the company to reduce labor from eight pallet repair workers to six while increasing production. The work is easier, and the employees like it better. “There is a process of getting used to a new system,” noted Harvey, “but employees have found it to be a positive and beneficial decision.” Employees are earning more, too, because although per-man production increased, Hope Timber Pallet maintained the same piece rate compensation.
“We’re definitely paying them more,” said Harvey.
“With the software programs we have, the reliability of the pallet production is being automatically tracked by the scanner, which goes straight into our PalMate program. I’m getting updated counts on our computer system all day long,” said Harvey. “I can track up-to-the-minute production.” The PalMate system also is used for capturing data for processing the company’s payroll as the repair workers earn piece rate pay.
The company uses PalMate in a number of ways to help manage the company’s operations. “We use PalMate to generate bills of lading for our trucking company,” said Harvey. “And most importantly, all raw materials are tracked from the time they hit our lot through each cutting process to the final step of pallet building and distribution.” Inventories are being tracked, and PalMate generates a “vast array of reports” to assist management.
“PalMate has aspects and functions that can help every area of the business,” added Harvey.
Sawing and Pallet Production
For new pallets, the company buys hardwood and pine cants and re-saws them into pallet components. It purchases 4×6 hardwood and pine cants and 6×6 pine cants in lengths ranging from 6-16 feet. A Brewer unscrambler and chop saw cuts the cants to length, and then they are re-sawn on a Baker Products four-head bandsaw system as well as a Morgan single-head bandsaw. Other equipment includes a new Go Fast double-head notching machine with auto infeed and a PRS end-trim saw.
The company also buys pre-cut stock. Hardwood cants and cut stock are purchased from mills in Ohio, and Southern Yellow Pine cants are purchased through brokers. The decision to add new pallet manufacturing operations in 2002 was driven by the desire to expand the company’s customer base. “We determined there was a need for custom sizes that we couldn’t get from our pallet dismantler,” explained Harvey. “We started offering new and ‘combo’ pallets to fit the market needs.”
The company has an assortment of nailing machines: a Woodpecker Jr., three Pallet Chief III units and two Third Man systems. All of the machines use Everwin pneumatic nailing tools and SureFit collated fasteners, as do workers who build or repair pallets by hand. The Third Man nailing systems are used to build pallets made of recycled lumber.
All scrap wood material is collected and transported to the mulch production operations, including scrap from the satellite facilities. The mulch plant is equipped with two Rotochopper grinders — one a stationary electric machine, the other a portable diesel unit — for processing the scrap wood into mulch.
Most saw blades are supplied by Saw Service & Supply. Cutting tools for the notching machine are supplied by Profile Technology. Like other recyclers that provide empty trailers at customer locations to collect surplus or damaged pallets, Hope Timber Pallet’s trucking affiliate has a fleet of eight semi tractors and 150 semi-trailers.
Production is roughly split 50-50 between new pallets and recycled pallets. The company repairs about 15-20,000 pallets per week, and it builds about 10-15,000 pallets per week. Manufactured pallets include pallets made of new material, combination pallets made of a mix of new and recycled material, and pallets made of 100% reclaimed lumber.
The company produces nearly 100 different pallets, Harvey estimated, both standard and custom sizes.
Process Details Focus on Efficiency in a Tight Core Market
The core market in the region is “always very competitive” reported Harvey. The pool of available cores is “a little tight,” he added. “It is pushing prices a little bit and pushing people to new pallets.” The quality of the core pool is good, he indicated.
Human resources is “an area of great focus for our business right now,” said Harvey. “We’re constantly striving to improve that…because we are experiencing — like most businesses — a tightness in the labor market. So, we are increasing our holidays and paid days off, widening our insurance and benefits packages in order to attract and retain prospective employees.” “We’re constantly looking at better ways to improve company culture and make it a better place to work,” he added. “We’re a full-service pallet company,” said Harvey. “In addition to supplying whatever size or style a customer might need, we will haul away and recycle 100% of their cores or their undesirable scrap wood…We pride ourselves on superior customer service, communication and a quick response time.” PE