Flakeboard: Improving Customer Service Through Better Packaging

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Samuel Strapping came up with a new strapping head for plastic they call the MH600.

Flakeboard Company Limited has long been known as one of the top North American manufacturers of composite panel products. With manufacturing facilities from New Brunswick, Canada to Simsboro, Louisiana, the company has enormous geographic spread and a wide array of products.
Incorporated in 1960, Flakeboard Company Limited has grown from an initial pilot plant, designed to showcase panel manufacturing equipment, to a multi-site, world-scale producer of composite wood products. Using lumber industry by-products and under-utilized wood species once landfilled or burned as waste by forestry operators and sawmills, Flakeboard manufactures a variety of particleboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF) and Fibrex thin high density MDF. Flakeboard’s ability to service a broad range of market segments comes from a diverse range of technological capabilities.
Flakeboard has set the standard in many aspects of the manufacture of composite wood panels. By investing in cutting-edge technology, engaging in new product development, providing continual training in a team-based environment, and setting shared goals of constant improvement and customer satisfaction, the company has developed a reputation for providing its customers with a wide selection of composite wood panel products.
When Flakeboard added three new Thermally Fused Melamine (TFM) lines a few years ago, though, they found they had some packaging challenges. With the help of Samuel Strapping, however, Flakeboard has found a way to overcome those challenges and provide better service to the company’s customers.
Tex Giddens is project manager for Flakeboard. He said the company has a total of eight manufacturing facilities across the US and Canada. Those plants are located in St. Stephen, New Brunswick and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, both in Canada; Bennettsville, South Carolina (two facilities); Eugene, Oregon; Albany, Oregon; Malvern, Arkansas; and Simsboro, Louisiana.
“Over the past three years we’ve installed three Siempelkamp Melamine lines at our plants in Louisiana and Oregon, and at one of our locations in South Carolina,” Tex said. “We’re putting Melamine onto some of our products and sending out a finished board rather than a raw board.”
The process of converting the raw board to the Melamine product is entirely internal at the three plants, Tex said. This not only provides a faster time to market than using materials transported from one place to another; the fact that the company is using a composite board rather than plywood also helps recycle wood byproducts. This is in keeping with the company’s overall commitment to balance manufacturing innovation with environmental impact. By utilizing fiber that was once burned or destined for landfills, Flakeboard is working to leave a diminishing environmental footprint. The company uses raw materials that are 100% recycled or recovered with harvesting operations that conform to strict government and industry standards for safety, environmental protection and optimum utilization. Manufacturing processes are strictly controlled in order to conform with stringent ANSI standards for quality and emissions, are certified to the Composite Panel Association’s Environmentally Preferred Product
(EPP) CPA 3-08, and are CARB Phase 1 Certified.
“We get the boards from our own plants,” Tex said. “For instance, in the Albany, Oregon facility where we have recently converted to plastic strapping, we take the particle board from Duraflake, which is in the same building as the Melamine line. Then we buy Melamine-saturated paper from Arclin, Coveright, Wilsonart and Formica in different colors and designs. The machine we use lays the paper on the top—or the top and bottom—of the board, depending on whether it’s one-sided or two-sided. Then we apply static to it so the paper stays on the board as it travels.”
At that point the paper-covered board is put into a press, where pressure is applied in the amount of 320 Newtons/centimeters squared.
“At that pressure, the outside surface of the paper starts to flow into the design that we have on our plates,” Tex said. “That gives the surface a little texture. The inside surface starts to flow and melt into the board. When the board comes out of the press we trim the edges and stack it.” Then it is strapped, and off to the customer it goes.
Tex said the Melamine products go to three main customer types. One is finished furniture companies and another is companies that put together kits such as the ones that consumers purchase through big box stores and do-it-yourself furniture stores.
“We also go into distributors,” he said. “A distributor may buy a truckload of different colors and sizes, and then he sells boards to the local independent stores.”
For the past five years, Flakeboard has been looking at the idea of moving from metal strapping on their products to plastic strapping.
“The biggest thing for us has been customer demand,” Tex said. “They want plastic because it is a safety issue for them; employees get cut using steel strapping. We had been looking, but we had not found a strapping head that would really do the job using plastic for our customers. The plastic would loosen up during transport, so the bundle wouldn’t look very good when it got to the final destination.”
As a result, Flakeboard was very reluctant to move into plastic strapping until the company got a boost from Samuel Strapping Systems.
“Strapping equipment really is packaging equipment,” said Brad Stein, project manager at Samuel Strapping Systems. “Whatever it is, we will put a strap around it. In the context of Flakeboard, that’s a stack of Melamine boards, which looks like countertop material and is a real slick product. There are 52 sheets of it the size of ¾ inch plywood with a slick surface on both sides.”
Because Flakeboard takes pride in both quality and appearance, Tex said, the company wanted to wait until they found a strapping head that could really handle plastic strapping before they tried it for any of their products.
Then Samuel Strapping—a company that has done many projects with Flakeboard in the past involving steel strapping—came up with a new strapping head for plastic they call the MH600.
“The boards go into our machine, where they are straightened from the sides and put what’s called ‘dunnage’—which is usually a 2×4—underneath the product,” Stein said. “Then the machine compresses it from the top. It pushes strapping around a track and then grabs the strap and pulls it up tight. That holds the product together.”
Stein said Melamine is one of the most difficult products to handle in this way.
“It’s one of the hardest packages to keep control of because it is like stacking 50 ice cubes on top of each other and expecting them not to move,” he said. “When you stack 52 sheets of Melamine on top of each other, with the push of a finger you can move four or five of them around. One reason we’re so excited about this new machine is that we can now pull an extreme amount of tension on the strap and retain it. In the normal lumber industry we don’t have to pull that much tension because 2x4s don’t slide on each other as much.” This provides a distinct advantage over steel strapping in terms of both price and safety.
“Because the steel has sharp edges on it, and the end is sharp when it gets cut off, that can pose a safety hazard with regard to cuts on the hands and the arms,” Stein said. “We’ve done a lot of conversions over the past three years for two main reasons: first, the cost of steel goes up and down so dramatically, and second, workers don’t have to wear Kevlar gloves for handling plastic strapping because it will not cut them.”
Yet another factor is the potential of steel to rust, which leaves marks on the product around which it is applied.
Flakeboard was sufficiently impressed with the new head to give it a try.
“We installed one in our Albany, Oregon plant,” Tex said. “I have to admit that we were hesitant to install it because of our previous experiences with plastic. But the installation went very well. Samuel Strapping sent the whole machine to their plant in Ontario, Canada before it came to us, because it was supposed to have a steel head on it and it had to be retrofitted with the plastic head. Once it was here, it only took three or four days of work before the installation was complete.”
Two representatives also came from Samuel Strapping to get the equipment up and running properly.
“The startup went very well,” Tex said. “We have not had any issues with the machine. It started up and has worked fine. We have never even had the service guy back after they watched it run for a couple of days and then did some training for us.”
Adding the plastic strapping to the line has been a complete success for Flakeboard.
“We are very happy with the head,” Tex said. “The strap is very tight and our bundles arrive at our customers looking very neat. All our customers seem to be happy as well.”
Besides the safety factor, Tex said, using plastic also has saved Flakeboard money on strapping.
“Plastic is cheaper today than steel is, just because of the price of metal,” he said. “So there is a little bit of a cost savings. But the plastic is just safer to work with because steel can cut. When our people work with steel they wear gloves, arm bands and face shields. With plastic, they don’t have to do that.”
Another advantage to using plastic that Flakeboard did not anticipate was the ability to eliminate edge protectors.
“These are cardboard pieces that go on the corners that were there to keep the steel strap from tearing up the board,” Stein said. “Flakeboard doesn’t need to use those any more on this particular Melamine line, because the edges of the plastic are not sharp so they do not cut the boards.”
Flakeboard is so happy with the new Samuel Strapping plastic head, in fact, that they are thinking about adding additional heads on their other Melamine lines.
“I have gone to them for a quote to change our other two Melamine lines in Louisiana and South Carolina,” Tex said. “I am that impressed, and I think our sales people are too.”