Innovative Production Machinery

Stacker Stories

M2L Stacker Installations

"We are always looking for better ways to improve safety and efficiency at our plant. The M2L Unscrambler and Stacker are well designed, well-built, and simple to operate. We are running at the same or higher throughput as before but with only one operator per shift." Zilhad Dzihic, The Pallet Factory.
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The Pallet Factory, Shady Dale, Georgia

Atlanta Pallets Distribution Office
Atlanta Pallets Distribution Office

The Pallet Factory is an end-to-end lumber processing facility with pallet manufacturing operations 60 miles southeast of metro Atlanta. Prior to 2009, five employees worked at the end of saw mill production line stacking lumber. These five employees worked at a fast pace doing the strenuous work of manual inspection and stacking of boards. Economic pressures during the Recession caused the company to look seriously at automating the lumber stacking functions.

"We studied the relationship between labor cost and the risk of the employee injury from repetitive motions versus the cost of purchasing an automated stacker," explains Zilhad Dzihic, general manager. AIT distributor Greg Wine helped the Shady Dale plant with a customized 90-degree chain conveyer to fit their production line that had a narrow exit point from the band saw to de-dust station to the M2L Stacker.

"We are always looking for better ways to improve safety and efficiency at our plant. The M2L Stacker and Unscrambler are well designed, well built, and simple to operate. We are running at the same or higher throughput as before but with only one operator per shift."

"The M2L Stacker is never late for work and rarely breaks down, nor does the operator have to catch a board very often," Dzihic commented. "By installing M2L Stacker, our safety concern for employees who were doing repetitive work has been resolved."

There have also been financial benefits since several employees are trained to operate the M2L Stacker and cover this part of the production line in case of an operator's illness or vacation. "We strive to provide our employees with the best equipment and safe work environment. With this management philosophy, we will achieve high efficiency and safety in our plant."

More than half of the new pallets made by The Pallet Factory end up overseas. The majority of pallets built are custom sizes. "The M2L Stacker is a big part of the maintaining customer satisfaction. Its speed is easily adjustable and can be synchronized with the speed of our saw mill line. The stacker handles each kind and size of lumber that we produce. AIT technicians provided training for our operators to make the needed adjustments and have smooth transition between various stock sizes in our customer orders. Our decision to install M2L Stacker has most definitely paid off," said Dzihic.

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"Replacing the operators at turntables at the end of the board lines with a stacker was a sensible way to avoid a potential bottleneck and reduce our labor costs by one operator on each of our four lines." Ed Healy, John Rock & Company
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John Rock & Company, Coatesville, Pennsylvania

John Rock & Company, Coatesville, Pennsylvania
John Rock & Company, Coatesville, Pennsylvania

Ed Healy, operations director at John Rock, Inc., of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, imagines that robotics may be a factor in the future but, for the right now, their mill produces an average of 17,000 pallets per 12 hour shift with well-planned automation for their customers in the Northeast.

John Rock, Inc. installed their first M2L Stacker and Unscrambler in 2006. Since then, the mill has added three more. "My primary job focus is studying and improving the process of our operation," stated Healy. "Quite simply, when we are not cutting wood and nailing it together efficiently, we are not making money." The saw lines at John Rock are built specifically for the pallet industry running kiln-dried pine, poplar, maple, oak, and some aspen as cut stock.

Healy explains, "The management and production team looked critically at all the reasons that could make the saw stop. We already had a stacker at the end of the cant line that kept up with throughput. Working out the numbers, it made sense to replace the operators at turntables at the end of the board lines with a stacker. It was a sensible way to avoid a potential bottleneck and reduce our labor costs by one operator on each of our four lines."

There is still one operator pulling culls from the chain line but, over time, the M2L stacker has more than paid for itself. "The stacker has helped us accomplish two things-overall we have increased volume through the saw and we are doing it with less labor. The stackers have been running for years with little downtime and primarily normal maintenance issues."

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"One reason we chose the AIT stacker over its competitors is that it doesn’t require as much labor. And the controls are as simple as grammar school." Michael Hensley, Unaka Forest Products
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Unaka Forest Products, Jonesborough, Tennesee

Unaka Forest Products, Jonesborough, Tennesee
Unaka Forest Products, Jonesborough, Tennesee

Spend a few minutes with Michael Hensley, operations manager at Unaka Forest Products, and you know that lumber products are not just his family business, they are in his blood. His father was a logger and brought his twin sons and daughter into the family business. Michael attended forestry school in North Carolina and he knows hardwood and his saw line machines inside and out. "We do it all, from buying the trees to shipping the pallets," said Hensley.

Unaka runs 10 to 12 hour shifts in their hardwood mill. In late 2011, Unaka installed an M2L Stacker and reduced their labor count on the saw line by two. "One reason we chose the AIT stacker over its competitors is that it doesn't require as much labor," said Hensley. "And the controls are as simple as grammar school."

Hensley did the math on the return on his investment for the M2L Stacker and figured that the stacker will save over $700,000 in employee expense over the next 10 years. "We're not paying an hourly wage or insurance and retirement for that machine-and it's there every day!"

Hensley added, "We did have to make some adjustments to our line to match the saw speed with the stacker but the M2L is very low maintenance. We haven't had to purchase any parts since we installed it."

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"Managing four lines at three sawmills several hundred miles apart in Washington and Oregon is a challenging job. We run several products each shift—from kiln stick to stakes to pallet boards—and we run all our equipment hard, especially our stackers." Bob Armstrong, Moman Lumber
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Legacy Lumber, Loon Lake, Washington, Moman Lumber, Sutherlin, Oregon, and SKN Lumber, Elgin, Oregon

Legacy Lumber, Loon Lake, Washington, Moman Lumber, Sutherlin, Oregon, and SKN Lumber, Elgin, Oregon
Legacy Lumber, Loon Lake, Washington, Moman Lumber, Sutherlin, Oregon, and SKN Lumber, Elgin, Oregon

Managing four lines at three sawmills several hundred miles apart in Washington and Oregon is a challenging job admits Bob Armstrong, plant manager. "We run several products each shift-from kiln stick to stakes to pallet boards-and we run all our equipment hard, especially our stackers."

One location, Moman Lumber, installed an AIT M2L Unscrambler and Stacker on their pallet board line in 2009. "The M2L never causes us a problem. We run it every day, 10 hours a day, with only one operator and one man as a grader before the unscrambler." The operator has learned to tweak the machine with the help of an electrician so that it has performed well continuously. "It's the best auto stacker out there and certainly has paid for itself in time savings and reliability."

Armstrong purchased an AIT TS300 Stacker for the Washington plant, Legacy Lumber, because of the speed and the ease with which it handles different stock. The line changes product every six to eight hours. "My crew dials in the changes and the stacker has run up to 11,000 board feet per hour," said Armstrong. "We're pleased with the TS300 Unscrambler and Stacker. It was more expensive than others on the market but it's worth it already. It has features that let us run product consistently on the TS300 that it wasn't programmed to run-that speaks to the adaptability of the machine design."

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TS300 Stacker Installations

“We regained our investment in the stacker in less than one year and limited a safety concern. Even with stock changes, we have very little WIP cluttering the plant.” Bo Reese, PalletOne
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PalletOne, Hazlehurst, Georgia

PalletOne, Hazlehurst, Georgia
PalletOne, Hazlehurst, Georgia

"Over the last three to four years, we've been developing a Lean Manufacturing culture focusing on finance, operations, and safety," explains Bo Reese, plant manager. "We used to run one of our saw lines with seven (7) people. Two workers were at a roundtable at the exit of the band saws, one grading and one stacking the cut lumber, which are both repetitive motions that can lead to fatigue and back injuries."

Reese saw the AIT M2L Stacker in use at another pallet company: "I couldn't believe how consistently it ran so I called Greg Wine with Pallet Machinery, Inc." Reese learned that the faster 25-layer per minute TS300 Stacker by AIT also consistently ran dry pine and green pine-the type of wood used in the pallets most of their customers were currently buying. The speed of the stacker and its other specs matched well with the Lean Manufacturing plans at the Hazlehurst plant.

In July 2011, PalletOne installed a TS300 Unscrambler and Stacker. They were able to replace two workers per line per shift yet have maintained the same level of productivity while reducing the likelihood of injury to the workers. According to Reese, "Because we run two shifts, we cut our labor by 20 hours per shift. We regained our investment in the stacker in less than one year and limited a safety concern. Even with stock changes, we have very little WIP cluttering the plant."

The TS300 Stacker at PalletOne runs around the clock with 99% uptime. It is only offline when the line is being cleaned. "We evaluated all the stackers on the market and no other machine runs as many types of lumber as well," Reese said. Further, PalletOne of Hazlehurst has over 300 pallet and packaging products for customers in the produce, beverage, pharmaceutical, industrial and chemical industries. "A good operator can easily understand the programming of the TS300 Stacker and can adjust the settings based on the length of the wood, dimensions, and type of wood to keep pace with the rest of the line," Reese explains. "This has reduced our waste and maximized the productivity of our entire workspace."

Reese describes the TS300 Stacker as "dependable." The cost of maintenance and operation is low and predictable. Reese adds, "There is a shortage of labor in our region of the country so anything we can do to keep our lines running consistently and our teammates free from potential back injuries is a benefit that is easy to quantify."

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"AIT made it easy to configure the TS300 for maximum throughput. We minimized the forklift traffic in the plant which increased our efficiency and reduced our costs further, even in the cold weather." Jason Otto, Biewer Sawmill
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Biewer Sawmill, Lake City, Michigan

Biewer Sawmill, Lake City, Michigan
Biewer Sawmill, Lake City, Michigan

In the heart of red pine country in Michigan, Biewer Sawmill manufactures its line of dog-ear fence boards. "Our owner, Tim Biewer, designed this saw line specifically for fence boards. Nearly everything moves by conveyers between saws and machines," noted Jason Otto, plant manager.

When laying out the plant, Biewer Sawmill rated the speed and reliability of the TS300 against the other stackers on the market to keep up with output of their saws. "The TS300 Stacker is the smallest stacker we've ever used and it has been a very versatile machine for us. It handles our long boards with no problem provided we have on-target spec wood," Otto continued. "Our Quality Control department oversees the wood specs and grading so ninety-five percent of our stacking operation is fully automated. That's quite an upgrade from the process at other mills." With three operators per shift, two graders pulling outs from the saw and one operating the TS300 Stacker, Biewer Sawmill is running 30,000 to 40,000 pieces or about 100 packs per shift.

Packs exit the TS300 Stacker on a custom-built powered roller transfer conveyor and travel directly outside the plant. "AIT made it easy to configure the TS300 for maximum throughput. We minimized the forklift traffic in the plant which increased our efficiency and reduced our costs further, even in the cold weather." A forklift picks the packs off the rollers, side batons are added, and the pack is strapped for shipped to retailers like Home Depot and Menards.

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