BEYOND THE PROFITS AND PAYBACK: HOW HANCOCK PITTSFIELD’S CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECT ENHANCES EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
Over the course of each year Hancock Lumber organizes a wish list of capital improvement projects across their entire business – from the retail lumberyard division to sawmill manufacturing, and now their truss manufacturing facility. The company believes strongly in reinvesting in their business and puts a significant amount of money directly back in the operations. When evaluating capital projects and deciding what to do one of the most important aspects is how the project will impact the team. Estimated pay back and profitability are part of the conversation, but not the only priorities. How will the potential upgrades improve the lives of the people that work at Hancock Lumber? How will this create a safer workplace its people? How will a bottleneck that affects the entire process be alleviated, help employees and provide a better product to our customers?
Take an inside look at a recent capital investment at Hancock’s Pittsfield eastern white pine manufacturing facility, one of their three sawmills that produces 24 million board feet annually. The company recently upgraded the back half of the mill installing an optimized trimmer, overhauling the entire back end of the facility. The purpose of the sawmill trimmer is to remove wane and other defects from the ends of each board; it is the last value-added process in the sawmill.
Prior to this investment the trimmer was a manual one, so a sawmill employee would look at each board manually and decide what the trimming solution was at a very high rate of speed—45 to 50 lugs a minute. Both ends would have to be inspected and the boards would have to be evaluated for wane and other defects. During this quick process, the operator had to position each board by hand then choose a trimming solution by hitting a button or series of buttons to drop the saws and trim the wood, all while the wood moved by at a rapid rate. It’s hard to even imagine now that every board passing through the sawmill was trimmed manually—a job nearly impossible for a human!
General manager, Dennis Verrill, considers the upgraded sawmill a ‘dream come true’, “Safety, quality, and engagement is what this technology is all about. Our employees are safer and in a more ergonomically friendly environment not having to handle lumber manually. The system reads every ¼” with an infinite fence resulting in improved quality. Top of the line technology helps output consistent results, along with multiple screens that tell you if you have any quality issues that send emails/text to alert you. Down time from human error and mechanical issues have been greatly reduced. We love everything about this upgrade at our facility; I could go on and on!”
The new, optimized system scans the board, top and bottom, to determine the best solution, and will automatically feed the board through the sawmill trimmer. State-of-the-art lasers measure every quarter of an inch. Additionally, Hancock Lumber also rebuilt all the mechanical parts of the drop sorter. While the project will improve Pittsfield’s productivity, most importantly it creates a better work environment for the employees.
Rodney Williams who supervises the Pittsfield sawmill discussed the improvements, “This investment in the new trimmer brings us consistency. Instead of trying to balance an operator that can keep pace and try to make the correct decision, it doesn’t matter who feeds the trimmer. The same decision is made at the same pace, providing a level of consistency that our Pittsfield sawmill team has never had. The biggest win with this project, however, is removing physically demanding jobs—this has changed the atmosphere in the sawmill in a very positive way.”
Eliminating down time at the trimmer helps predict daily production more accurately, helping smooth out the work flow. When a piece of equipment doesn’t function properly it affects the entire process. Baxley Equipment handled all the upgrades delivering state-of-the-art equipment and customer support.
“Efficiency has gone up tremendously, sawmill yield has improved, planer mill shrinkage has been reduced, and grade recovery has improved,” Kevin Hynes Sawmill COO commented. “But, the real meaningful impact has been on our employees. Hearing from our team how much better their work is makes this all worthwhile—every employee in the mill has been a beneficiary of this project.”
Hancock Lumber’s outside board of directors and leadership team recently toured the facility, seeing first hand the new optimized trimmer project and the subsequent benefits from the investment.
“An organization’s true value is not defined by revenue growth or profitability. Those are important metrics for our business, but they are outcomes of a higher purpose. The real mission is to enhance the lives of the people who work here.”
–Kevin Hancock, President + CEO