Indiana Pallet Maker Turns to AWMV for New Head Rig
FRANKFORT, Indiana — When the time came for Coomer & Sons Sawmill to buy a second sawmill for its pallet operation, the Coomers looked around and found a sawmill manufacturer 40 miles away: Wood-Mizer Products and its affiliated industrial division, AWMV Industrial Products. In fact, one of the reasons they chose Wood-Mizer and AWMV was their proximity.
“We figured if we had any problems, we didn’t have to hassle with getting them on the phone,” said Jeff Coomer, one of the family members in the sawmill business. “We could just drive over there and find them.”
Good thinking, but no one at Coomer & Sons has had to go looking for anyone at Wood-Mizer or AWMV. In fact, the two companies have developed a close working relationship that has helped both of them.
Coomer & Sons is located in central Indiana in Frankfort, which has about 15,000 residents. The company manufactures pallets and mulch and supplies them to customers within about a 100-mile radius.
Coomer & Sons serves companies that ship automotive filters, plastics, recyclables, tires, and many other products. Having a diverse customer base that represents many varied industries helps smooth out any highs and lows in the pallet business and keeps the sawmill going pretty steadily. That’s one reason the company has never had a slow point, according to Jeff. When one business is slow, another one is busy because they complement each other. For instance, shipments of automotive parts are pretty steady because of rapid technological changes. When plastics are down, recyclables go up.
The cycles of markets for residuals — mulch and sawdust — also are complementary. Sales of sawdust increase in the winter, and sales of mulch increase in the summer.
Coomer & Sons Sawmill was started by Jeff’s father, Charles, in 1978. His father bought the business when it was financially ailing. Charles learned the business was for sale from a friend, a banker who had repossessed it. The business had a forklift, a radial arm saw and some customers. Charles began buying pallet material and assembling pallets by hand with pneumatic nailing tools. He had four or five employees when he started.
Charles had five children: Dennis, Kevin, Jeff, Chris and Michelle. All have played a role in the family business at one time or another. When Charles started the business, Dennis was close to graduating from high school. Dennis was in the family business for a while but later became a carpenter; he returned to the company about a year ago and now oversees truck and trailer maintenance and helps with deliveries. Kevin and Jeff ran the sawmill after Dennis left. Today, Jeff supervises the sawmill operations, pallet sales and deliveries. Ten years later, Chris got involved, and Kevin started his own sawmill business. Chris now oversees mulch operations, which produce about 60,000 cubic yards of mulch annually. Michelle worked in the business for a while as an accountant and office manager but left two years ago in order to go to work for an accounting firm.
Kevin’s sawmill is located in the same area, 15 miles away, but the two companies do not compete with each other. In fact, they work together. Whenever Kevin has a need, they help him, and when they have a need, he helps them. It is still a family business despite two locations; they support and help each other whenever necessary.
In the late 1970s, Charles operated the business out of a garage and barn with a few saws. Later he bought a gang-rip and cut-off saw. Then he bought tables to increase pallet assembly. The company continued to grow and moved to its current location in 1978. In 1981 Coomer & Sons bought its first sawmill, a Meadows Mill portable sawmill; they ran it for a few years but outgrew it. Over the years the company added trucking capability, too; today Coomer & Sons owns five semi-tractors and a number of trailers.
Coomer & Sons buys hardwood logs from logging contractors. Sometimes it sends company trucks to a logging job or wood yard to pick up logs.
The company buys cottonwood, hickory, poplar, maple, oak and other species. “Anything you can think of, we cut,” Jeff said. “We’re not particular since it’s going to pallets.” The company buys 5 million board feet of logs a year.
When logs arrive at the sawmill, they are unloaded and stacked in inventory or put directly onto infeed decks to go into the sawmill. Bark is removed with an HMC debarker. After debarking, the logs go to either an AWMV LT300 thin-kerf head rig or to a ForestAll circular mill.
The AWMV LT300 sawmill runs thin-kerf band blades and is capable of producing high quality lumber and also increasing yield compared to circular sawmills. According to AWMV, it can cut 800-1,200 board feet of grade lumber per hour and produce 40% more lumber than a circular saw.
The AWMV LT300 is powered by a 30 hp electric motor. It is equipped with an operator station, 25-inch wheels for the band blade, a chain log turner, air strain tension system and computerized setworks. It has a ‘cruise control’ feature that automatically regulates feed speed to the highest possible rate for maximum production. Other features include roller toe boards, joystick controls and laser sight.
AWMV manufactures optional material handling equipment for the LT300, including log decks, inclined conveyor and transfer table, to make it easy to integrate into a new installation or existing mill.
At Coomer & Sons Sawmill, the AWMV is used primarily for squaring up logs into 4×4 or 6×6 cants. The circular ForestAll mill, also equipped with a vertical edger, serves pretty much the same function, producing three-sided or four-sided cants.
Four-sided cants produced on the ForestAll usually are resawn on a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle cut-up system — a cut-off saw and gang saw — into 2×4 material for stringers.
Cants produced by the LT300 generally are routed to two AWMV multi-head band resaws, a four-head system or a six-head system. The two resaws produce ½-inch and 5/8-inch deck boards. The deck boards go to a GoFast de-duster to be brushed clean of sawdust. During winter, a lot of the boards are put into a heated building because the sawdust will freeze on them; when they are warm, they go back to the de-duster.
The mill also has a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle double-head notcher for notching stringers. It is equipped with Econotool indexable notching heads, which the company has found are durable and also easy to replace, which reduces downtime.
Pallet assembly operations are automated with a Viking Duo-Max nailing machine. It produces between 1,800 and 2,000 pallets a day. Custom pallets, small orders and other specialty products, such as boxes or crates, are assembled by hand with Stanley-Bostitch pneumatic nailing tools. The company uses Mid Continent bulk nails and Stanley-Bostitch bulk and collated nails.
The decision to choose AWMV Industrial Products to supply the new head rig was based on quality as well as location. The Coomers knew the company and its products, and both enjoy a good reputation.
That decision has served the company well. Not only has the AWMV equipment been virtually trouble free, the Coomers have developed a cooperative relationship with Wood-Mizer, field testing new blades and equipment as an extension of Wood-Mizer’s research and development efforts.
“The Coomers do a lot of blade testing for us when we’re trying new profiles, widths and thicknesses,” said Randy Panko, national blade sales manager for Wood-Mizer. “We take the bands up to them. They’re so close that we can just run up there in the truck and put the blade on and see how it cuts.” The unbiased feedback the company has received from the Coomers has been accurate and helpful.
In the spring of 2006, AWMV called the Coomers and asked them to test the prototype of a new debarker for the LT300. They tried it and worked well to help Wood-Mizer get the production model ready to manufacture.
AWMV asked them to try it, and if they liked it, they could keep it. The debarker now runs on the Coomer LT300, and it is available to AWMV customers.
Coomer & Sons Sawmill has a Kiln-Direct heat-treating system that enables them to supply heat-treated pallets needed by companies that ship overseas. In fact, most of their customers require export pallets, so heat-treating is a necessity.
A conveyor belt runs the entire length of the sawmill building, and waste wood material is routed onto it. The material ends up at a Rotochopper EC256 grinder. The grindings are mixed with bark, and the mixture is allowed to age. The mulch has to be turned at various points in the aging process; when it ages, it turns darker.
Later the mixture is put into a bigger grinder, a Rotochopper MC266, which breaks it down more and processes it into the final product. The company sells more than 50,000 cubic yards of mulch annually. The operations pretty much keep one person busy.
Chris delivers the mulch to landscape contractors, garden centers and other wholesale customers – 45-50 customers in all. The mulch is sold bulk, delivered in walking-floor trailers.
Charles does not foresee any significant changes at Coomer & Sons Sawmill in the near future, but he would like to see more growth in the next few years. The biggest challenge in the next five years will be to find a way to incorporate grandchildren into the business. If history is any predictor of the future, the Coomers will meet that challenge the way they have every other one that’s come along: with integrity, initiative and a sense of family.