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If you’ve been patiently waiting for the labor market to improve, it’s time to quit procrastinating and take action. Experts predict that finding new workers will only get harder for U.S. manufacturers over the coming years, and so it is high time to consider how investing in equipment can help lessen your dependency on employees in your production process.
According to a new report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, manufacturing job openings have been growing at double-digit rates since mid-2017, and are nearing the historical peak recorded in 2001. As many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled through 2030, according to a study. The report warns the worker shortage will hurt revenue, production and could ultimately cost the US economy up to $1 trillion by 2030. Seventy-seven percent of surveyed manufacturers anticipate there will be ongoing difficulties in attracting and retaining workers in 2021 and beyond. US manufacturing executives surveyed believe that finding the right talent is now 36% harder than it was in 2018.
Pallet companies are also feeling the pinch of not having enough people. While there are various approaches available to attract and retain labor, one important area of consideration is to strategically expand investment in plant equipment. Equipment can replace the need for labor for some activities, and for others, it can make workers more productive. Whether you measure your output by pallets per labor hour or board feet per labor hour, having the right equipment can help increase productivity so that you can expand your business without adding a commensurate proportion of employees.
Here are some examples of how pallet companies can ease their dependency on employees through the strategic deployment of equipment.
Move from a cell-based manufacturing process to an in-line process
Many smaller pallet shops still rely on a variety of workstations. In new manufacturing operations, for example, stringers might be stacked, then forklifted to the notching machine, and then restacked again before being moved yet again - this time to the pallet nailing department. To stick with this analogy, by moving the notcher in line with the stringer production line, stacking and forklift requirements are reduced, resulting in labor savings.
Eliminate bottlenecks in your production process
Is there a piece of equipment in your process that is causing you to under-utilize your other machinery? For example, is your splitting capacity a constraint? By adding a high-speed thin kerf unit such as the HY400, companies can enjoy a significant boost to their lumber production operation, thus significantly increasing the number of board feet per employee. Keep in mind, however, that increasing capacity on the front end of the cut-up line means that you may find yourself with a new bottleneck on the back end, such as stacking. An investment in automated stackers can help fully optimize your line. Or if you have an automated stacker already, you might require a shift to higher capacity stackers, for example from 8 rows per minute to 25 per minute. Keep in mind that wood is half or greater of pallet cost, and your processing efficiency can be a source of competitive advantage.
What about banding wood and pallets?
People tend to accept the manual banding of lumber or finished stacks of pallets as a necessary evil. It is often performed by forklift drivers, but while they are banding, they aren’t driving. That means you are under-utilizing your forklift as well as your driver. By installing an inline automated banding machine that tedious task can be eliminated, allowing your forklift operator to be more productive.
What about other opportunities
Look around your plant for opportunities to eliminate employee touches, steps, and physical exertion. There are many mature machinery options that have not been fully leveraged by pallet shops such as automated stackers, tippers, flippers, and conveyors. Do you lose production waiting for material to arrive, or for the finished product to be removed? Infeed and outfeed conveyors can ensure that production is maintained and that the number of pallets per employee is maximized.
Consider the other employee benefits of machinery investment
Investing in machinery doesn’t just directly boost your production per employee. It can offer other benefits as well. A well-designed equipment layout can help improve consistent quality, eliminate defects, rework and waste. It can also provide a safer workplace, meaning fewer injuries to further strain employee availability. And ultimately, automation results in a more pleasant and rewarding work experience, ultimately helping to improve worker retention.
Even in machinery-intensive pallet operations, there continue to be further opportunities for equipment to boost productivity. For example, design for automatic feed is an opportunity to eliminate the manual labor associated with placing boards in automated assembly lines. Likewise, scanning technologies continue to be developed that will help automate grading, improving accuracy, and reducing the need for human decision making.
In automated shops, we can look forward to getting better productivity per employee, better quality, and better working conditions. Of course, there is more to retaining a superior workforce than just equipment alone. Employee benefits, engagement strategies, second chance hire programs for ex-convicts, high school affiliation programs, and more can all play important roles in ensuring that you have the people you need to do the work. Investment in equipment, however, can make sure the people you have are as productive as possible, by eliminating the heavy lifting. Why not contact PMG to see how you can do more with less?
This year, EXPO Richmond returned after last year’s break due to the pandemic. The event was held in it’s regular location, the Richmond Raceway Complex on May 21st - May 22nd, providing ample space for attendees, exhibitors, contests, and workshops. EXPO Richmond 2021 was sponsored by the Virginia Forest Products Association & The Cooperative Extension Service at Virginia Tech. The COVID-19 precautions were expertly organized and helped drive attendance from enthusiastic attendees. Over 200 exhibitor companies gathered with attendees; the complex offers over one-half million square feet of exhibit space, so it was easy to observe distancing guidelines.
This year’s theme was no different from previous events - a spectacular showcase of forest products, equipment, & services for sawmills, kiln drying, harvesting, biomass, trucking, pallet/manufacturing/recycling, optimization/scanning, material handling, firewood production & related equipment, commercial equipment finance, and other forest industry supplies and services.
Since EXPO Richmond is one of the first events of the year that our team attended since the shut-downs of last year, we reached out to a few of the exhibitors to get their perspective on the event.
Q: How is the event going, and what’s your overall impression of the forestry and logging equipment market?
A: “We’ve been coming to Expo Richmond since we’ve been in business, but this is the first industry trade show that we’ve attended since October 2019—and it’s a great show for the first one back,” said Noah Carr, President of Lumbermen Online. ““Last spring was extremely uncertain… and unfortunately, advertising is usually the first expense to get cut. When the manufacturing plants shut down, they pulled back on their advertising. Since then, things have improved significantly and are on a positive, upward trajectory. People are looking to buy more equipment than usual right now. Used equipment is in high demand because of long manufacturing lead times, which has resulted in more business for us.”
Q: How was the turnout this year? Are you glad you made the effort to be an exhibitor?
A: “It’s been a great show for us… people were actually waiting at our booth for us this morning! It’s a much more successful show than we thought. We weren’t sure what to expect with the gas shortages and prices in Virginia. A lot of companies didn’t show up for the event but we’re sure glad we did,” shared Kevin Weisner, Go Fast Manufacturing. “We sell very little at the tradeshows, but it’s really about the connections you make. Today’s been a bit different than previous events; however, the industry is hot, and we’re expecting a lot of orders to come in after the show.”
If you didn’t attend this year’s event, we hope you’re encouraged by those remarks to add next year’s event to your calendar!
Here’s are the highlights from the 2021 event:
MC-226 Horizontal Grinder, a highly portable yet full-featured grinding solution that brings “perfect in one pass” convenience for diverse feedstocks.
Blue Streak™ Portable Band Sawmill 3638G, heavy-duty, portable sawmill designed to give high production with little effort. Powered with a 38-HP gasoline engine and hydraulic log controls for loading, turning, clamping, fence arms, and leveling.
Black Splitter, a hydraulic wood splitter attachment series that has earned acclaim for its superior quality in all types of log splitting, firewood & wood fuel production, biomass harvesting, forestry, land clearing, and landscaping.
Pallet PRO, a two operator pallet system with collated nail and pneumatic non-stop nailing. The two operator pallet system is capable of producing between 800-1200 pallets/shift.
Smith Sawmill Service
TurboSawmill Automated Warrior swing-blade with proven swing-blade technology with electric start, power feed, allows for any diameter log.
On to EXPO Richmond 2022!
Next year’s conference dates haven’t been announced yet, but the website https://www.exporichmond.com/ is a dedicated conference website. Check back soon for 2022 dates and registration information.
Moving with the markets is something we’ve always tried to do. So when local markets in Mississippi tightened up back around 2000, we got in the mulch business, then added a hardwood circle mill in Oakland and a scragg mill Winona. After eight years running three operations, in three locations we decided that the time had come to merge into one location, update and modernize our milling operations.
Once we made the decision to build a state of the art hardwood sawmill to replace the multiple smaller mills we were running, the search began. And it was a long one. I traveled for a year and a half across the eastern United States and Canada visiting sawmills. The goal from the beginning was to build a mill that would efficiently produce a wide variety of materials so Fly Timber could move with the markets. The mix included cross ties, long timbers, crane mat material as well as hardwood grade lumber. This flexibility would insure that we could always produce what the hardwood lumber market sought and operate with an eye toward maximum return per log. Getting’ the squeal out of the pig as the old-timers called it.
We found out early in the planning phase that to meet this goal, we would have to deal with multiple machinery manufacturers and find a way to smoothly connect everything from the debarker to the main production machines like the Cleereman carriages, McDonough band headrigs and optimized edger, gang and trimmer. All the way out the back of the mill, not to mention the challenge of processing and flowing cross ties to rail cars.
During my many mill visits, whenever the discussion turned toward log or lumber conveyors, Rosserhead debarkers, log turners, lumber stackers and material handling equipment, Mellott was the name that kept coming up. From a very rugged built Rosserhead debarker, stand-alone decks and complete systems – nearly everywhere I went there was Mellott. That convinced me, I needed to see for myself, so I visited their plant in Pennsylvania and that sold me. Dale and Stacy Mellott and the entire staff at Mellott Manufacturing are fine people to do business with. They did an excellent job of working on this very complex job, dealing with multiple suppliers, engineers and deadlines. Each time we asked for something to be beefed up to meet our spec’s or to make something longer to expand our product line, the staff at Mellott stepped up to the challenge. That’s why the first thing a log sees when it arrives is a customized Mellott LMR 48” Heavy Duty Debarker, Mellott Log Haul trough, Mellott log decks, slab conveyors and the last thing is the custom built tie lifting system and lumber decks and rollcases.
Fact is looking back on the project, I can’t see how we could have done it as well without Mellott. They truly became a partner in our new mill and in the future of Fly Timber.
Hobby to 700 Truckloads!
I’ve always had an interest in firewood and splitters, I’ve been a logger for over 20 years and my dad built a hydraulic splitter out of scrap and junk parts when I was a kid, I guess you could say I was hooked. When I added firewood to my logging business, we ran an old fashion splitter and sold some bundled wood and about 100-150 pickup loads each year. So, after a lot of research and close comparison of all the top brand of high-volume splitters available we bought the Timberwolf Alpha 6. That single purchase decision drove my part-time business into overdrive. After paying for itself in 4-6 weeks we knew we had the right splitter, the box wedge on the Alpha is the cat’s meow! Within six months we had a our second Alpha 6 and two Timberwolf conveyors, a 12’ and 32’, to boot.
Speed of production, quality wood and great customer service, what more can you expect from a splitter? I can literally split 6-8 times more wood with the Alpha 6 than I was with the old-fashioned splitter. It’s not even close, I’m able to produce a face-cord in about 15 minutes, and the Alpha is so easy to operate my 7-year-old can run it. The guys as Timberwolf have been great on warranty service, we had a hose leaking and called to ask the best approach to address the leak…. Four days later there’s a new hose delivered! I asked how much? No charge. That’s service after the sale.
Our business has grown from a hobby to 600-700 truckloads and thousands of bundles each year for one simple reason; our firewood customers love it! The key to customer satisfaction for us is uniform wood, and the Alpha 6 produces just that, our firewood is clean, uniform, stacks better, burns better and quality wood from our Timberwolf Alpha 6 continues to fuel our growth. So much so, we’re considering adding a processor. And I can guarantee you when that time comes, I’ll make one call to Timberwolf. No more research required – the proof is in the puddin’.
Three Retired Guys - UN-Retire!
ADK Natural is a team of three old retired guys who started cutting firewood for a nearby camping area as a hobby, just something to keep us busy and fit. We started out with boxes of campwood out by the road. Our first splitter was an ABS box splitter, but after about 3-4 years we’d started selling palletized face cords for pick-up only and needed more production. By then the owners of ABS had purchased Timberwolf, we saw the new Alpha at a tradeshow and knew right away that was our next machine! The demand for our high quality, uniform firewood has been steadily growing, so we added the delivery option to make it easier for our customers AND THAT REQUIRED ANOTHER upgrade.
I mentioned to Matt we were considering a processor and he volunteered to bring up an HD-Pro X and demo it right on location! It never left! The decision was a simple one, for over 5 years and multiple machines the Timberwolf staff, led by Matt Timmins, has been easy to deal with, honest and their customer service has been awesome. We ended up adding a 24’ Timberwolf conveyor, upgrading to the 5-chain infeed deck (great for longer gnarly logs), the Auto-Cycle feature and 12-Way wedge. We kept our Alpha 6 because you can’t beat it for those really big logs and it’s great for special orders.
One example of that extraordinary service was recently Timberwolf made un upgrade to our new processor, they just showed up and installed it! We didn’t even know it needed anything! Timberwolf is an exception in today’s world, a honest, friendly company that doesn’t employ high pressure sales tactics – just a great line of machines from a company that knows firewood! If you’re thinking of getting started in the firewood business you can’t go wrong with Timberwolf. Meet Matt and his staff at a show or call the office, heck if I need something I just call his cell! After six years we’d never think of any other company than Timberwolf.
Adirondack Natural Enterprises
Paul Smiths, NY
When it comes to airborne mold spores, what we can’t see definitely can hurt us. Unfortunately, when the weather gets warm in spring and conditions are right, those spores can quickly colonize surfaces. In days, mold can spread from idle lumber or a pallet to contaminate materials and equipment. As a result, employee health and safety, as well as sensitive products, can be compromised.
What is lumber mold and why does it matter?
A mold is a fungus that grows in the form of multicellular filaments called hyphae. There are more than 100,000 mold species, which play an important role in helping to decompose wood and other plant matter. They become problematic, however, when they take root on lumber, pallets, and other unintended surfaces.
To successfully colonize a surface, mold requires a combination of oxygen, adequate temperature, a food source (your wood pallets), and free or liquid water. The most common approach to controlling mold is to limit wood moisture. Experts recommend that the moisture content of wood be kept below 19% for best results.
One common misconception is that the ISPM 15 heat treatment of lumber will prevent mold. The application of heat treatment is (a minimum of 30 minutes at a core temperature of 56 degrees Celsius) is designed to kill insects living in the treated wood. The intention is to prevent the inadvertent transport of wood pests internationally, where they could attack forests in other countries. In fact, heat treatment can make matters worse by drawing moisture and sugars to the wood surface. Once removed from the heat chamber, a convenient surface environment has been created for mold spores to colonize.
Product manufacturers, distributors, and retailers in hygiene-sensitive supply chains are becoming increasingly sensitive to the problem of mold. The presence of mold not only presents a food safety and quality risk but is also a concern from an occupational health and safety standpoint. Pharmaceutical and food supply chains are particularly vigilant in preventing exposure, and the presence of mold has resulted in health and safety complaints by employees in a variety of settings.
Basic steps to limit lumber mold
Basic steps for limiting lumber mold start with keeping them dry. Here are some best recommended best practices:
Make sure that mold is actually the issue. The discoloration you see in your wood pallets might not be mold. Bluestain creates a bluish or greyish discoloration in wood but is not associated with human health concerns or pallet performance issues. According to an NWPCA brochure, “Mold grows on the surface and can be brushed off or smeared, whereas blue stain penetrates deep into the wood and cannot be removed.”
- Keep lumber out of the rain. Even a short exposure to water can be problematic. Such a brief occurrence can be enough for a fungus to start germinating, grow into the wood and produce spores on the surface. By then the wood might be dry, but mold will already be present.
- Elevate stacked pallets and lumber off the ground. By using an elevated surface, you can prevent water from wicking up from any puddles on the floor surface or ground.
- Don’t store lumber in a trailer. Dark, warm, and humid trailers can quickly turn into an incubator for mold growth. Coordinate deliveries with trading partners so that lumber can be quickly unloaded and placed into dry storage.
- Keep lumber in a well-lit, dry, and ventilated environment. Covered storage is critical for keeping lumber dry. For outdoor storage sheds, pallet ends of stringer pallets should be aligned in the direction of the prevailing winds to help improve airflow. For indoor storage, choose a well-lit, ventilated part of the warehouse.
- Ensure row spacing to further promote ventilation. Stacked stringer pallets can act as a barrier to air movement on the stringer side. Circulation can be improved by leaving a gap between pallet rows. Orient the ends of stringer pallets in the direction of air movement.
- Consider KD softwood lumber and pallets. More industries are switching to kiln-dried softwood pallets. While some applications still require the use of hardwood, KD softwood pallets can be designed to deliver comparable service, without the mold challenges associated with pallet heat treatment.
What about traditional chemical treatment options?
In spite of heroic efforts to keep pallets dry in warm weather, pallets far too frequently have exposure to the necessary combination of heat and moisture, and mold results. Even if you keep your pallets under 19% moisture content, small localized wet spots can provide the needed ingredients for mold to colonize.
To improve protection against mold, lumber and pallet providers have relied on hazardous and caustic chemical solutions. These treatment products pose additional challenges for pallet manufacturers and users alike. Boards are either dipped into vats of toxic solution or it can be sprayed onto the boards. Both of these approaches pose a health and safety risk to employees as well as the threat of corrosion damage to plant equipment - even after the mold inhibitor has been applied. Such products are categorized as being toxic to the environment, particularly to marine life. As such, careful attention to handling and disposal is needed to avoid environmental damage.
A new approach to chemical mold prevention
WoodLock Bio-Shield was originally developed as a treatment for construction lumber to inhibit mold growth in homes. Its inventor, Jim Stanley, saw the need for a non-toxic mold inhibitor for lumber and pallets and reformulated the product for that use.
Similar to other mold prevention products, WoodLock is applied by spraying or dipping onto green cut boards, hardwoods, softwoods, pallets, crates, and boxes. It is uniquely effective in preventing mold by utilizing a unique polymer emulsion that forms an ionic bond with the formula’s anti-microbial agent and a mechanical bond with the wood, effectively “locking” out mold spores by stopping gestation. The active ingredients of WoodLock Bio-Shield are bio-available at just 10% humidity with higher availability at higher humidity levels, so the better the conditions are for mold growth, the harder WoodLock works. These ingredients are held on the surface of the wood by the polymer, which softens, allowing the anti-microbial agent to become more bio-available.
This unique formula has a zone of inhibition up to 2-3 mm away, ensuring that nearby areas are protected even if a board is not 100% covered. The polymer seals as it dries so it can work repeatedly, and because WoodLock is not water-soluble, it continues to protect wood from mold growth even after thousands of wet-dry cycles. WoodLock’s performance was validated by Virginia Tech using ASTM D4445 Laboratory Method for Evaluating the Mold Resistance of Wood-based Materials.
In addition to its unique effectiveness, WoodLock is formulated with active ingredients which are on the EPA Safer Alternative List and are listed as FDA GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe). The formula contains no hazardous materials or carcinogens and is non-flammable and non-corrosive. As a result, WoodLock requires no additional safety precautions and can be used indoors and/or around sparking machinery. The product’s pH of 7.3 (once diluted) is the same as the human body, so it will not damage containers, forklifts, or other equipment. Empty WoodLock containers can be recycled in standard municipal recycling streams, no special disposal protocols required.