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Industrial bandsaw transforms Anglo-Dutch steel mill’s pallet production

Industrial bandsaw transforms Anglo-Dutch steel mill’s pallet production Anglo-Dutch steel giant, Corus, has improved the efficiency and cost of thousands of wooden pallets on which it transports flat, rolled steel around Europe.It had responded favourably when one of its operators, David Holden, at the Blackburn mill in the North of England (a former British Steel site) offered to set up his own pallet making operation. He presented them with a calculation of costs and deliveries which was difficult to refuse.

Corus jumped at the opportunity. The manufacture of wooden pallets had been very much a sideline compared with the successful, giant steel production. So, in 1996 ex-Royal Marine David Holden, 40, established his company in a nearby lock-up garage, equipping himself with a second-hand cross cut saw and a generator. By working long arduous hours, he was soon manufacturing 400 pallets a week.

Corus were delighted and awarded him a contract supplying more of its rolling mills. Timber costs were slashed by one-third.

Dave Holden was equally delighted, but this was tempered by the exhaustive nature of the now growing pallet operation. He
and his wife Lesley, co-owner of the firm, took a hard look at the business. They decided to reorganise their operation to reduce the very long hours they worked. The result was that they would invest in specialised equipment and rent dedicated premises. Holden Pallets Ltd. now supply five Corus mills: Leeds, Caldicot (in Wales), Wednesfield, Cross Keys and Blackburn. The key to its expansion has been the new timber processing layout at its premises in Darwen. This nationwide operation now provides 75% of Corus’s strip mills’ pallets.

During 2006 Holden Pallets expects a turnover of 1.25m GB pounds, which includes income from the new Corus site at Scarborough on England’s North East coast. This will expand the business by almost one third and like each expansion, requires funding.

Philip Hopkins, operations manager of the Corus facility at Caldecot, South Wales comments:
"We are naturally focused on quality steel production so the manufacture of 50,000 pallets per year for Caldecot alone was a nuisance factor. It took a lot of time and effort combined with somewhat erratic timber supplies. Dave Holden and his company provide us with an excellent product which we cannot rival," adds Phil’ Hopkins with some relief.

Wood-Mizer provides quantum leap in the pallet manufacturing process

Darwin, the centre of Holden’s’ operation, houses the recently developed industrial scale band sawmill from Wood-Mizer, leaders in this field called the LT300.

The industrial bandsaw represents a quantum leap for Holden Pallets. Furthermore, it is complemented by a log loader, incline conveyor and transfer deck, a six-head multihead saw and an edger/multi-rip. Also, a smaller band sawmill, known as the LT20 has been added.

This total timber processing kit is manufactured and supplied by Wood-Mizer at a cost of ?106,000 GB pounds.

Dave Holden comments:
"This represents approximately one-quarter of the cost of setting up a traditional sawmill operation in Great Britain whilst doing the same job.

Indeed, Corus have commented on the sawn timber’s quality even though this is not the prime objective in pallet manufacture. Central to our operation is the thin kerf technology, which produces less sawdust and consequently more cut wood, and which is incorporated into Wood-Mizer bandsaws.

This compares most favourably with the large kerf nature of traditional sawmilling.

In effect it permits price values very different from traditional sawmilling charges", he adds. "British grown round timber, mostly Sitka Spruce, Picea sitchensis but also some Larch and pine is delivered by Robert Tweddle Ltd, Carlisle to the 1.5 acres site at Darwen, near Blackburn".

Robert Tweddle explains:
"It has become a growing contract as Corus increases the out-sourcing of its pallets.

Dave Holden has given us a specification of between 30 and 70cm diameter logs for speed and effectiveness although I understand some of these mills are sawing logs up to 91cm diameter elsewhere.

Our deliveries have increased to an average of 75 tonnes a week", adds Robert Tweddle.

"Logs are moved into the steel portal framed building and placed next to either the LT300 industrial sawmill or the LT20 which is used for small, extra runs of pallets".

Dave Holden explains:
"Two men working with the LT20 turn out sawn boards at half the speed of the LT300 which is operated from a remote operator by one man – or woman!" Lesley Holden herself is a trained LT300 operator and often runs it when Dave Berry, the regular operator is unavailable. Either of them saws for eight or nine hours if tea breaks are included.

Once taught, it is simple to perform most cutting and handling operations with the ‘joy sticks’ and ‘Setworks’ which quickly and accurately position the cutting head to the right depth for pre-set pattern cutting, they now get 13 to 16m3 daily. Lesley also sharpens the blades with a Wood-Mizer BMP-PLCBN blade maintenance package with a setter and she notes that the LT300 blades need resharpening every three-to-four hours and those of the LT20 every eight hours.

Revolution in timber processing
The LT20 ‘breaks down’ the logs into slabs and cants which are transferred by hand to the incline c

The LT300 loads the slabs and cants directly on to the inclined conveyor and transfer deck and then to the six-head multihead where they are sawn into 92x52mm struts or to the edger/multi-rip which does likewise.

The sawn component parts are subsequently placed on a jig, assembled into pallets and loaded onto lorries for delivery to various Corus sites. From log to a loaded wagon of pallets is achieved in one continual process.

All the Wood-Mizer equipment is powered by a generator. This avoids acquiring industrial scale cable from the local electricity company and having them install it, at "a very high tariff". Shifts have been reduced from two to one but it achieves the same turnover. Over all, it represents a revolution in terms of speed and smooth operation and has ended the problems in fulfilling delivery promises in winter.

The five Holden satellite operations receive some sawn timber from Darwen, cut some themselves on cross cut saws and assemble them on the various Corus sites, each of which tailors its pallets to local requirements. Nationwide, Holden Pallets employs 23 people, eleven of them at the Darwen headquarters.

Holden Pallets can convert 15m3 of Sitka per day, having deliberately reduced it from 23m3 daily which had become too onerous, yet maintaining output by the use of its satellite sawmills.

During 2005, Holden Pallets averaged 20-25m3 of pallet wood a day for Corus, who are a major customer.

Wood-Mizer sees this as a novel development from the widely used (35,000 worldwide) band sawmills used in small format by farmers, medium format by mobile sawing contractors and in semi-industrial format by small timber processors. It is the first application of the LT300 band sawmill in Great Britain (indeed, in Western Europe), although there are similar set-ups in North America, Eastern/Central Europe and in Australasia.

Dave Holden says that installing the equipment in the new facility was relatively simple. He explains:
"The industrial band sawmill and its ancillary equipment can be quickly set in motion on virtually any level surface, whereas traditional sawmills of the same scale had to be fixed in concrete within dedicated buildings.

Not only does this reduce set-up costs but also the industrial band saws can be moved to another site in a different part of the country where commercial opportunities arise or when local planning issues (motorways, ‘affordable’ housing projects,
noise disturbance etc.) demand relocation.

Such a move is a major event for traditional sawmills and can be achieved in three days (not including travel) with the industrial bandsaws.

When we changed our site from one part of Darwen to another, we finished production on a Thursday evening and were at full production at the new one by 10.00 am the following Monday with the generator powering the LT300 and the rest of the equipment", he adds.

Anyhow, notwithstanding the LT300’s portability, Dave Holden wants to stay in or around Darwen where he was born and raised and from where his father went to work at the Walker Steel Mill.

The upgraded operation is clearly a success and is set to expand further during 2006. However, once that expansion has been undertaken and now that the stress factors have diminished through new plant and revised shifts, David and Lesley Holden would like to consolidate the firm.

The couple would like to spend more time with their daughter Emma and Dave would like time to put into practise the flying lessons he is having. "That would reduce my stress levels," he smiles.

Brian Hind, UK

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