Wood Business

New Gear Equipment Sawmilling
Turning Up Productivity and Safety

In the past, many wood panel mills used manual labour to turn loads, and while most mills today have automated equipment for this task, the latest generation of load and pallet turners is capable of boosting productivity and safety while reducing cost. A growing number of proactive manufacturers that are turning to these new load and pallet turners are realizing significant benefits.

December 2, 2011  By Del Williams

A Sweed open-faced bundle turner at Timber Products in Medford In the past

“There’s no way we’d turn the quantity of panel loads we do today by hand,” says Lee Larson, maintenance manager at the Medford, Ore. plant of Boise Cascade, a Boise,
Idaho-based manufacturer of engineered wood products, plywood, lumber and particleboard. “To safely and efficiently turn the volume we do, we use C-turners.”

Companies such as Sweed Machinery, Inc., a Gold Hill, Ore.-based producer of panel, veneer and linear reduction equipment, are now offering manufacturers a greater variety of turners that are customized to their needs: from panel turners, pass-through turners, butterfly turners, and L-turners to C-turners, giant C-turners, and rotating C-turners.

“As manufacturers battle eroding margins in a tough economy, they’re realizing that they have to improve their processes,” says Charlie Smith, a material handling specialist at Sweed. “Many are looking to turners to improve productivity, safety, and costs. A new generation of turners that are up to 40% less costly than traditional equipment is making them a popular choice, even for those who have never considered them before.”

Boise Cascade’s Larson says, “A forklift driver can simply place a load in a C-turner, push a button, and safely pick up a turned load on the other side in under a minute.”  
A roll-case outfeed allows more than one load to cue for the forklift, enhancing process efficiency. A double load turner further helps process efficiency, by turning two loads at once, which can keep multiple machine centres busy. “The C-turners are an essential, virtually maintenance-free part of our process, and have helped us to maximize our capacity,” adds Larson.


Simplifying the Process

At one point the Swanson Group, a proactive family-owned forest products company, aimed to streamline its process and enhance safety at its Glendale, Ore.  plant with traditional turners. While safer and more efficient than manual labour, these turners were still not as efficient as the new breed of turners available today.

“The old turners’ clamping process was overly complicated, requiring a timer and multiple steps,” says Ken Tocher, maintenance director of the plywood/veneer division at the Glendale plant. “If the forklift operator didn’t properly centre the load in the turners, or if the air leaked, the load would sometimes spill out like a deck of cards.”

When the Glendale plant turned to new C-turners, they found the design streamlined their process and enhanced safety. Broad, air-driven clamping forks hold the load firmly in position while moving and with a fail-safe design, the load remains secure even if air and electricity fail.

“Loads are clamped securely and everything is captured in the bottom pocket of the C-turners when they roll up,” says Tocher. “I’ve never seen a spill, and they’ve eliminated a few steps in the turning process.”

To maximize productivity within existing warehouse space, a C-turner with a rotating base allows lift operators to load, turn, and retrieve material from the same side. “This allows us to place the C-turner in the corner against a wall, since it eliminates the need for forklift operators to drive to the other side for unloading,” says Tocher.

A pass-through load turner positioned in the middle of a conveyor line further speeds up production by turning loads from the hot presses in less than 30 seconds, according to Tocher.
“We’ve improved employee safety, throughput, and material handling with the Sweed turners, compared to the old ones,” says Tocher. “We’ve eliminated some bottlenecks and turn about 10 more loads per shift.”

Big Loads, New Designs

Recently, manufacturing specialists have customized turners to accommodate bigger, heavier loads in response to OSB manufacturers producing larger units. Some of these new turners can accommodate a 5-ft. x 12-ft. load at 7,000 lbs., compared to a standard turner that holds a 4-ft. x 8-ft. plywood unit at about 3,500 lbs. The new turners also offer hydraulic clamping and rotating.  

For instance, Sweed built a turner for Ashley Furniture in Arcadia, Wis. that would turn the load over but keep the wood grain running in the same direction.  They accomplished this by using a roll-case outfeed. For efficiency, they used one 5-HP hydraulic unit to power everything: the motor to turn the load, hydraulic cylinders to clamp the load, and another hydraulic motor to run the rolls. The turner has a 7,000 lb. capacity, and in its current configuration, can accommodate loads from 19-in. to 41-in. tall, up to 5-ft. wide, and from 6-ft. to 12-ft. in length.

While turner size, capacity, material handling and outfeed are customizable, new designs have the greatest potential to boost productivity and safety for manufacturers, especially for those who felt priced out of the market.

Take, for example, the new Bundle Turner from Sweed, which was designed and engineered from scratch to be an effective, cost efficient, and easy to maintain load turner. This compact unit takes up less floor space than a standard C-Turner yet loads and unloads on the same side like a much larger rotating C-Turner. With an open design, all its operating components are within easy reach for inspection, maintenance and repair, unlike larger, traditional, closed design turners.

“Manufacturers looking to turn up productivity and safety to compete in the marketplace owe it to themselves to see how much they can improve their processes with the new generation of load and pallet turners,” concludes Smith.

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