Kaple Lumber Processes Slabs, Edgings to Mulch

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SHILOH, Ohio — Colored mulch has been a good product line for Kaple Lumber Co. So good that the more mulch the company’s N-ViroMulch division can make, the better. Shortly after Kaple revamped its entire sawmill operation, consolidating in one building and buying all new equipment, the business decided to convert more residuals into mulch.

The company concluded that the way to make more mulch was to add a grinder from Advanced Recycling Equipment in St. Mary’s, Penn. to process slabs and edgings. Until the company added the Challenger® CHSP400-40110, slabs and edgings were fed to a chipper, and the resulting chips were sold to pulp and paper mills. Paul Kaple, vice president for sales and marketing, said the “chip market was okay,” but the mulch market has proven to be more profitable. So the company exited the chip market.

The Challenger® grinder was added to the company’s operations last spring. Thanks to expert technical help from Advanced Recycling Equipment, manufacturer of the Challenger® grinders, Paul was able to get the high volume Challenger® CHSP400 fitted with screens capable of producing finished mulch in one pass.

Before making the machinery investment decision, Paul’s interest in Advanced Recycling Equipment was sparked by the experience of other companies. He knew owners of other businesses that had Challenger® grinders, and they shared with him favorable reports about the supplier and its equipment. They “really liked” doing business with Advanced Recycling Equipment, he recalled, particularly because “Advanced was right there to help them” whenever they had a question or a problem that needed to be solved.”

The other companies that recommended Advanced Recycling Equipment to Paul had vertical-feed grinders. Paul decided a horizontal-feed was right for Kaple Lumber, and he ordered one with a 52-inch wide opening.

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Advanced Recycling Equipment offers more than 70 models of grinding equipment for processing bark, slabs, edgings, cut-offs, scrap pallets, whole pallets, and other wood residuals or scrap material. Advanced Recycling Equipment developed the patented FIXCUT™ cutting system, which gives an overlapping cut for a more uniform product and better throughput. Depending on the screen size, the Challenger grinder is able to vary the texture of grindings in order to produce ground wood fiber for different markets, such as animal bedding, hog fuel and mulch.

Kaple Lumber, of course, wanted to produce mulch. The company was trying to improve its operations, said Paul — to achieve a “real fine grind in one pass.” Representatives of Advanced Recycling Equipment assured Paul the Challenger® would achieve his desired product size and meet his production requirements.

Paul found that what other companies had told him about Advanced Recycling Equipment — its products and service — was “all true.” Kaple Lumber has been operating the Challenger® 40-45 hours per week with a minium amount of maintenance. “We keep all bearings greased,” said Paul. “Our maintenance guy looks it over and checks the teeth every 200 to 240 hours.”

Last year, N-ViroMulch, a division of Kaple Lumber, sold 40,000 cubic yards of mulch, all of it colored. Nearly all of it was sold wholesale; retail sales accounted for less than 5%.

N-ViroMulch exists as one of three branches of Kaple Lumber. There is the lumber segment proper, which got the entire company started in 1896 when Ben Kaple, Paul’s grandfather, was at the helm. There is also a pallet manufacturing division, known as Crestline Wood Products, which was launched in 1997 following the purchase of an existing pallet maker.

Today, five cousins, grandsons of Ben, co-own the three-part company, and Paul is one of the cousins. The sawmill business manufactures grade lumber from Appalachian hardwoods; it is sold mainly to furniture makers.

This is the company’s ninth season for colored mulch. “We got into colored mulch pretty early,” said Paul. “There was always a shortage of hardwood bark. That’s why I started investing in colored mulch.”

Mulch customers want long-lasting color, explained Paul. Hardwood bark produces rich, deep colors. Red and black mulch have always been the biggest sellers for N-ViroMulch, and both are made regularly, although other colors are made on a request basis.

There is increasing demand for colored mulch. In response to the good market, production at N-ViroMulch has increased 38% since the end of 1999.

While the Challenger® is used to process “raw wood” slabs and edgings, the company uses a Morbark model 1300 tub grinder for processing scrap wood from the pallet division, such as trim ends. N-ViroMulch also obtains residuals and scrap pallets from other pallet companies; Crestline offers pallet recycling services, too, and retrieves used pallets from some customers.

Crestline manufactures about 4,500 new pallets each week. It is down somewhat with the recession from a high of 6,000 each week.

The grindings from the Challenger® and the Morbark machines are mixed and colored with a Becker-Underwood Second Harvester. The Becker-Underwood system uses about 26-27 gallons of water per minute and produces about 120 cubic yards of mulch per hour. Three wells provide the water for the coloring system.

Paul likes the service he gets from Becker-Underwood. He also is very happy with the way in which the machine produces more colored mulch with less water — about 33% less than the system it replaced.

“The nice thing is when the mulch comes out of the machine, it is fairly dry,” said Paul. The Second-Harvester mulch is so dry that “you can load it in a semi right away.” Indeed, on average, the Second Harvester uses 50% less water because a pneumatic delivery mechanism enhances the blending of colorant and mulch.

Kaple Lumber buys standing hardwood timber within a 60-70 mile radius of its headquarters in Shiloh, Ohio. The company manufactures hardwood grade lumber from Appalachian red oak, white oak, ash, cherry, hard maple, soft maple, poplar, hickory and walnut.

The company makes different arrangements for harvesting the timber it buys. Sometimes it sends its own crews to do the logging. Kaple loggers use Stihl chain saws. The company does not use mechanized logging operations because less than 0.5% of the timber it purchases is clear-cut.

Company logging operations may have as many as 12-15 men felling trees and removing limbs. Two Cat 518 skidders move the logs to three Prentice loaders. Kaple also owns its own trucks — International and Freight tractors and Pitts trailers.

The mulch division grinds all year and stockpiles the production. Eighty-five percent of the sales are in the spring. Kaple is ideally situated to reach some large urban markets. Located 20 miles northwest of Mansfield, a town of about 50,000, Shiloh is less than 80 miles from the cities of Toledo and Cleveland.

The sawmill is the company’s core business. It produces 25,000 board feet per day. It also supplies 25 to 30 percent of the material for Crestline, which gets cants from the sawmill, as well as buying additional cants from other sawmills in the
region. Crestline also buys some pre-cut pallet lumber.

In February 2001, Kaple’s sawmill operations, which had been spread out among three buildings, moved into one building. The new building was erected around one-quarter of the core of an existing structure, after the other parts of the original structure were demolished.

The consolidation has made the sawmill more efficient because, among other things, it has reduced material handling — moving bundles of material around. Production at the redesigned Kaple mill is already up 30% over the previous year.

When the new mill went into service, it did so with all new equipment from HMC Corp. in Contoocook, N.H. Paul is particularly pleased with the new HMC band resaw, which has a 0.11-inch kerf.

The HMC representatives are “great people,” said Paul. He added he was very lucky in his choice of sawmill equipment because he had excellent alternatives. “We had talked to two different companies,” he said, “both very good outfits.” The hardest thing he had to do in choosing HMC was to inform the other supplier of his decision.

The sawmill equipment from HMC Corp. includes a debarker, a circular sawmill for making squares, the line bar resaw, a board resaw, and handling equipment, such as roller cases and chains. There
are two paths away from the line bar
resaw, one to the board resaw and one to return the cants.

Being able to recover fiber from slabs and edges and convert it into mulch has been important to the growth of the mulch division. By adding the material, N-ViroMulch is now able to make 100-120 cubic yards of mulch each day, using the Challenger® and the Morbark machines.

The Challenger® was added three months after the new mill began to operate, but there was minimal disruption during the grinder installation. “Advanced Recycling Equipment bent over backwards” to help Paul match the right model of the Challenger® grinder to his operation, he said. Then, Advanced Recycling Equipment got the machine up and running and “did not hold up production” at Kaple in any way.

The Challenger® and the Morbark grinders are distinctive machines and used for different purposes, Paul noted. The Challenger® is a 150 hp machine. The Morbark “is a lot bigger machine, with an 800 horsepower engine,” explained Paul. “It will handle anything. There’s not a log here that couldn’t run through it.”

With a keen interest in environmentally friendly practices, Paul shares a philosophy about maximizing use of natural resources with Advanced Recycling Equipment, the manufacturer of the Challenger® grinder. In keeping with this philosophy, Advanced Recycling Equipment now manufactures a complete line of Challenger Combustion Systems, ranging from 1 million to 60 million BTU and capable of burning both dry and green biomass. Advanced Recycling Equipment partnered with Biomass Energy Concepts to provide turnkey systems, such as ‘warm air,’ ‘hot water,’ ‘steam,’ and ‘co-generation.’

The Challenger® slab-pallet grinder can handle material as wide as 78 inches, depending on the opening width of the model. The infeed belt is 12 feet long. At Kaple, mulch from the Challenger® is blown into a silage wagon, and a Case loader pulls the wagon to the mulch building to be dumped.

Paul designed the heated block building dedicated to mulch coloring. It contains four bins, each with a volume of 500 cubic yards, where colored mulch is stored.

Forty-nine employees keep the three divisions of Kaple Lumber running. There is a great deal of job cross-over among them. The majority of employees are evenly divided between the sawmill and pallet facility. Two or three workers keep the mulch moving.

An active group of consulting foresters in Ohio helps provide a bridge between loggers and landowners in the state. Paul explained, “They mark the timber that needs to be cut, and the trees are sold on sealed bids.”

Flexibility is a key to success at Kaple Lumber, and anything is possible. Sometimes Southern pine, which is usually considered too costly for pallet components, will be used for pallets — particularly for big deck boards for large pallets.

“A few customers call for pine,” Paul added. Customers have other special needs too. “For one customer, the pallet has to be made of kiln-dried hardwood.”

The pallet division has several customers in the automotive parts and grocery industries. All pallets are custom made and range in size from 30×32 to 60×92.

A native of Ohio, Paul started working at Kaple Lumber when he was in high school. He relishes taking the enterprise in new directions.

Away from the business, Paul likes to play golf and fish and spend time with his family. He also has an interest in web site development. Paul established the Kaple Lumber web site, www.kaplelumberco.com, which promotes the three divisions and offers a primer on colored mulch. The web site accounts for inquiries about colored mulch coming from distant places, including recently, New Brunswick, Canada.

Now in its 106th year of business, Kaple has grown by being ready to move in new directions with strategic product placement. The innovative philosophy can be traced to Paul’s grandfather, Ben. In 1896, Ben bartered a sack of potatoes for a log, had the log sawn, and made more money from the resulting lumber than the price of the vegetables promised. Thus, Ben quickly completed the transition from potato farmer to lumberman.

Ben’s legacy includes mulch and pallets, but it is still very much lumber that maintains the momentum and sets the course at Kaple. The three component businesses of Kaple Lumber complement one another. Paul’s goal is to have every bit of wood that passes through the company exit as a product line with a receptive consumer market. And the addition of the Challenger® makes the goal that much easier to meet.