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French pallet maker's thin kerf technology and altruism score

French pallet maker's thin kerf technology and altruism score The French pallet maker, Scierie Pallets du Littoral SA has announced almost doubled output.

At the same time as this manufacturing surge it has set up a separate, non-profit making training establishment.

At first glance, the two developments seem unlinked. However, altruism and commercial determination filter through all levels of this company. It explains the recent growth by greater demand for pallets as industrial goods are increasingly dispatched around Europe –– but also by improved manufacturing techniques.

Scierie Pallets du Littoral, in the Pas de Calais, is split between their factory at Audruicq and training centre at Landrethun le Nord. The latter’s role is to train young people in need (some unemployed, some with social difficulties, a few from corrective institutions) to saw large quantities of timber suitable for use in the manufacture of pallets; at Audruicq vast quantities of wooden pallets are produced on an industrial scale. Youngsters leave the training centre with a skill that hopefully sets them up for life.

The company’s spirit of altruism as well as a keen eye for profit seems easily to combine with the realities of day-to-day business. It is somewhat like a cooperative, one third of all employees having shares in the company.

Training facility
It is the training facility, managed by research and development manager Michel Deom, that is the most obvious manifestation of the company’s broad aims.

Originally, it was run by a small team at the old company at Calais called Soriogina but this suffered difficulties and in 1995 its structure and philosophy changed. More private investment was found.

The hub of the training operation takes the form of a fairly new industrial scale band sawmill, the first of its kind in France.

Known as a Wood-Mizer LT300 it came with a week’s training for the team. It has the same thin-kerf technology as Wood-Mizer’s small band sawmills yet can produce 8000m3 of dimensional lumber per year, on a single shift (between 3-5m3/hour).

It was set up in 23 hours, comparing favourably with the company’s old, very large band sawmill, which took days. M. Deom was surprised, as he also was by the relatively low cost of investment and of production. He remembers that the old one cost four times as much to buy.

He trains people from the manufacturing plant, plus young people who might have certain problem backgrounds and also individuals from other companies.

The R&D section also plan to make ecological wood buildings and install them on site. They will involve economy of heating and later will evolve to industrial scale production. M. Deom foresees dealing with big firms or municipal authorities who want ‘social buildings’.

He already deals with the city of St-Denis, near Paris for social housing projects which incorporate comfort, low energy needs and minimal maintenance costs and he senses that the market could be open to bigger volumes and thus economies of scale –– and price.

The system, conceived by several individuals and companies, is concentrated at Scierie Pallets du Littoral. The R&D operation mostly uses spruce but seeks to utilise more local wood and already buys in scots pine. M. Deom explains his ambition is to transfer the knowledge gleaned in the R&D department –– including knowledge about Wood-Mizer –– to the manufacturing plant.

Manufacturing plant
The company is 20 years old but its present structure follows recent, fundamental reorganisation. The workface at Audruicq, south of Calais, is managed by production manager Vincent Courtois and is devoted to pallets.

Here, an industrial edger, again the first in Europe has recently increased the volume of final produce from 30 to 45 m3 per hour. after replacing an ancient, traditional edger.

Audruicq employs 120 personnel, rather a lot for a pallet producing operation and especially since much of the manufacture is automated. Perhaps this goes towards explaining the quality which is pursued at all levels.

At the moment, the company is considering a Wood-Mizer multihead resaw to speed up, simplify and enhance quality of resawing cants and slabs.

Within France’s pallet industry it is seen as a leader in terms of quality, deliveries and flexibility. A ‘just-in-time’ philosophy extends to the tailoring of pallets to different, differing customers’ needs. Although clients are concentrated in and around the north of France, they also come from the south, from Paris and from the west — as well as from across the channel in England.

Logs come in from the firm’s own system or from outside in quantities of up to 80m3 a day. Some go to factory, some to the training set-up and its Wood-Mizer LT300 band sawmill. In the factory, the first stage is to make pallet decks, the principal components, before using circular saws to make boards. These go into the Wood-Mizer edger which has proved the major factor in the increase of finished pallets of from 30 to 45m3/hr. The edger replaced a laborious process of edging with two bandsaws. Thus, the edger does what two machines did and its performance is regarded as a breakthrough.

Another horizontal, circular saw performs the next stage which brings the wooden components to a point where boards are heat treated for export or cut by a cross cutting machine for more standard pallets.

Receiving the sawn boards, the system takes them to cross cutters and plywood cutters. Then come checks with a Swedish decking machine, use of which varies to suit the two systems: manual or automatic, depending on how complicated or otherwise are the pallets desired. The pallets are then actually assembled and legs made with blocks and boards. Now, the decks are mounted on the legs to create the pallets. Finally, various options follow: such as heat treatment, plastic film, stamping or colour addition. Often the pallets are sold with a cover of mdf or plywood.

The company’s fleet of lorries then disperses to deliver the pallets to several customers in the same trip and up to two or three times daily. The operation is just about as advanced as a pallet specialist can be. Its innovative approach to new manufacturing kit typifies this.

Indeed, the presence of an industrial scale, thin blade band sawmill for training both competitors’ employees and needy youngsters takes it into realm of its own.

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