WADLEY, Georgia – Cooper Machine marked a couple milestones in 2022. This year marked the 56th anniversary of Cooper Machine’s sale of its first Sharp Chain Scragg in 1966 and the 46th anniversary of its first Overhead Scragg sale. Cooper Machine scraggs demonstrated their value immediately and set Cooper Machine on the road to becoming a leader in the design and manufacture of scraggs.
The family-owned business is not content to rest on its laurels, however. The company has consistently introduced new innovations to its signature machines over the years as well as developed new products.
Cooper Machine was founded in Wadley, Georgia, a small town about 55 miles southwest of Augusta, by H.M. “Billy” Cooper and his wife, Mary.
The company began as a general machine and fabrication shop, involved in mostly sawmill repair and renovations. It evolved into other areas, including custom fabrication work for sawmills, manufacturing lift trucks and log and lowboy trailers, and also became a dealer for skidders and loaders.
While he was in the middle of a mill renovation and repair project, Billy conceived of the idea for what has come to be known throughout the industry as the overhead end-dogging scragg mill for processing low-grade logs. However, now they are not just used for processing low-grade hardwood logs. Cooper Machine has customers that use scraggs for cutting grade material and softwood, too.
Frances Cooper returned to the family business when her uncle, Bill, retired in 2008 and after she had worked several years as a sales tax consultant in Atlanta. She became CEO of Cooper Machine in 2014 while her father, Robert continued as president and chief machine designer. The company had about 20 employees at the time. Armed with a finance degree from the University of Georgia, Frances and the team at Cooper Machine have continued to grow the business significantly. Today Cooper Machine has 26 employees.
“I’m proud to say since becoming CEO sales have more than tripled,” said Frances, “and Cooper Machine is poised to continue the growth without compromising quality and service, which are very important to us.”
Cooper Machine’s customer base has predominantly been in the Southeast and Eastern U.S., but the company is adding more customers throughout the U.S. and internationally as well. It has customers in Canada, Chile, Australia and New Zealand.
Although the company may be known for serving customers in the hardwood industry, in recent years it has developed products targeting the softwood industry. For example, it recently sold a system to a company in South Dakota that manufactures poles from pine logs, and it has developed a new sorting system for softwood lumber producers.
“Our main concentration is smaller to mid-size customers,” said Frances.
“We have continued to innovate, although in 2023 we will be changing our focus to concentrate on our core products,” said Frances. Those core machine products are scragg mills, merchandising systems, edgers, gangsaws, slab recovery systems, and the company’s new lumber sorting system.
“The Overhead End-Dogging Scragg is a workhorse,” said Frances. “It’s been so successful because it is versatile.” The mill can process smaller and larger diameter logs – using twin circle saws for logs up to around 28 inches in diameter and twin band saws for logs up to about 32 inches.
“If vertical edgers are added it’s a great solution for the pallet industry to make boards and cants,” said Frances. “If a customer uses it to remove two sides of the log, he can send it to a gangsaw to make crossties, mat timber, and cants very efficiently.” Cooper has customers in both the hardwood and softwood industries that rely on the Overhead End-Dogging Scragg mill.
Cooper Machine also manufactures several models of Sharp Chain Scragg mills, machines that utilize a sharp chain and rail to advance the log. “We’ve got multiple variations of the sharp chain,” explained Frances, “including the Yield Champ, which takes smaller logs up to around 13 inches and turns them into finished cants with one person. The Tandem Scragg is similar but it takes larger logs up to 22 inches and does the same thing with two husk frames.”
The Sharp Chain Scragg mills are even more productive – four to five times more than the Overhead End-Dogging Scragg. “We can also add vertical edgers to both of these as well to edge the slabs on the machine,” said Frances. Cooper Machine also is developing a new variation of a Chipping Scragg, she added.
All types of scragg mills are built to customer specifications.
Cooper Machine also manufactures edgers and gangsaws, with or without optimization, merchandising and sorting systems for logs and poles, and a cant sorting system. It also offers slab recovery systems that incorporate a trimmer and a vertical saw arbor and can recover up to seven boards from a slab. A hogging head removes the top strip of the slab.
Frances discussed some of the recent projects completed by Cooper Machine:
- Dickerson Lumber in Summer Shade, Kentucky, is a long-time customer that just upgraded to a new Overhead End-Dogging Scragg mill, replacing one it purchased in 2005.
- Pulliam Lumber in Mitchell, Georgia, put in a new pole sorting system. “They recently told us they are able to get more production using less pole peelers,” said Frances, “so it has really helped their business.”
- Pleasant Pallet in Cookville, Texas, invested in an Overhead End-Dogging Scragg mill with vertical edgers to produce boards and cants and also a splitter, a slat table, and a slab recovery system that includes a four-saw trimmer and an optimized vertical saw arbor.
- R3 Lumber in Clarksville, Texas, turned to Cooper to refurbish its Yield Champ and add vertical edgers to make pallet stock.
“We’re getting a lot of new customers,” said Frances, some of whom have multiple sawmills with small mills that require a lot of labor. “We can sell them a Cooper system that cuts down on labor and increases production.”
Cooper Machine also has completed a number of projects to upgrade or refurbish equipment for customers, said Frances, including adding vertical edgers, upgrading hydraulics and the lifting dog.
Cooper Machine has been doing business with a number of businesses that buy a used Cooper scragg mill at auction or companies with a change of ownership that have an existing Cooper scragg mill. Cooper Machine has been helping a lot of these customers upgrade these old machines to make them operate more efficiently and increase production.
“This equipment will last for decades,” said Frances. “If someone buys one, it can be rebuilt and refurbished and brought back to new life. It’s been a big thing lately.”
With an environmental focus on conserving natural resources and the supply of raw materials in high demand, efficiency has become standard for all Cooper Machine equipment. Its machines are designed to get the most from every log, slab and board that goes through a mill.
Cooper Machine’s technical department ensures that machines are properly installed and that a customer’s employees are properly trained in their operation and maintenance.
Technicians and sales representatives work together to provide advice and technical support on machinery upgrades and improvements.
“It is getting harder to find some of the parts needed for older systems,” noted Frances.
“We plan to continue offering Allen Bradley PLCs from Automation & Electronics. We are in the process of updating our proprietary computer system and are planning to roll it out in 2023. We’ve got the ultrasonic eyes and boards revamped with updated parts,but are still working on the main board. It’s going to be a hybrid system with an HMI.”
“Every company makes some mistakes here and there,” noted Frances. “We are all human. But what sets us apart is when something does happen, we stand by our products and make sure they get fixed. Our continued relationship with the customer is very important to us.”
“We emphasize quality and service, and we are working to beef up our service department,” she added.
Frances announced the promotion of Daniel Sherrod to the position of vice president of operations. “Daniel has been with Cooper Machine since 1996, running the shop, and he takes on an important role, making sure the equipment leaving our facility is the quality equipment we are known for.”
The company also recently hired Marshell Norris to help with Cooper’s advertising and sales. “She’s a real go-getter,” said Frances, “so you will be seeing a different look in our advertising going forward.”
The company also will be revamping its website in coming months.
Visit the Cooper Machine website, www.coopermachine.com for more information.