Western Pneumatics, Inc is a
26-year-old, technically-focused, US firm with a
concentration on niche markets and a growing overseas presence. The current economic pinch has had a large influence on its overseas efforts, as is true of many forest products suppliers.
The company today operates with 175 employees on its 10 acre site; at one time, it employed 350.
Originally a high- and low-pressure pneumatic conveying system manufacturer, that is still one of the company’s
specialities, along with mechanical conveying systems and rebuilding used equipment, while grinding equipment is another popular product.
Bruce Livesay, vice president and one of the firm’s four owners – President Rick Nicol, Rick Sanders, and Robert Marshall are the others – said: “We started in the 1982 recession when the wood products industry was going through a terrible time.
“I had been in business with my dad and then a company called Caruthers hired me. Caruthers went out of business and two of its salesmen and I started Western Pneumatics”.
He credits his company’s success to good people. “That’s all good business is – good people,he declared. “One of our mainstays has been good products and delivering on time.”
The firm started pneumatic work, became involved with finger-jointing, and started building custom products for other companies.
“There are fewer and fewer manufacturers out there,Mr Livesay observed. “We have an advantage: nobody else builds finger-jointers in the US. Having those kinds of niche markets helps us. We do about US$30m a year.
“Also, we have been riding the coat tails of all the MACT [Maximum Achievable Control Technology for environmental emissions] regulations as most of our customers had to comply with MACT to stay in business.”
This generated a huge volume of emission control work.
Overseas, one present project is for a mill in Torzhok, northwest of Moscow, Russia, where 10 container loads went to an LVL mill. “It’s a nice plant,commented Mr Livesay. “We have a presence in Russia and we would like to pursue that. They have nearly half the world’s timber.
“We’re not sure about China yet, although we have a finger-jointer there. The toy market in China has just fallen off the face of the earth. Where there is wood [in the world], we probably have a finger-jointer.
“We’re in a wait-and-see mode. I think everybody in the wood products sector is just holding their breath. We don’t want to lose customers in the US, but people are going by the wayside. But this is the time – if you have money, you should be doing something.”
As an example he cites Flakeboard’s MDF mill, visible from his plant. “They’re putting in a beautiful resination system and Pneumatic Systems is installing that extensive system.”
He said his company builds RTOs (regenerative thermal oxidizers) and wet precipitators for others. “MACT went for the biggest companies first and now the smaller companies. Everyone wanted to wait,he declared.
Western Pneumatics has been working with overseas dealers. “But we really need to go in to sell. Our competition is primarily from Germany and Canada. We’re biased because we feel we have the best machines; our finger-jointers are stout and do what we say they can do. We have a horizontal, not a vertical joint, although we do have plans to build a vertical-type machine in the future,said Mr Livesay.
“We took the North American concept of horizontal finger-jointing and enhanced it with quality machinery, modern technology and computerised controls. Whether the need lies in moulding products, mill work, structural, or dimension lumber, the precision craftsmanship and follow-up service that Western Pneumatics provides assures the highest-quality end product.”
Initially, the market was moulding and millwork, then studs and now engineered wood products.
Mr Livesay pointed out that the company website decreases the size of the world.
Four technicians are based in the Eugene, Oregon, plant. Most of their travel is to US mills, but they do travel all over the world installing and checking installations.
Twelve to 16 engineers respond to orders and inquiries, with all drawings using AutoCad; a new customised software system started operation in January.
The engineers work directly with production. “If we have a problem we can deal with it and solve it right here.”
The company has 50,000ft2 of manufacturing space. “We build all of our products right here,Mr Livesay said. “We outsource very little. Our quality control is excellent. We’ve always had a high standard.”
The layout includes a pneumatics
fabrication shop, machinery assembly shop, painting facilities, electrical assembly shop, installation company and
maintenance shops, administrative, sales and engineering departments.
Rail tracks serve the site, but most equipment goes out by road trucks.
To minimise downtime, a mill can call Western Pneumatics for the loan of a replacement part, which is immediately shipped from the shelf. The mill then sends in the old part for repair or
The company builds bag house filters on support structures for large industrial dust collection applications as primary dust collectors, using reverse air for bag cleaning. The dust is blown back into the cyclone section at the bottom. Remote bag houses are located on the ground.
The WP high-speed abort gate protects a downstream filter from sparks or fire. The detection system directs sparks or fire either away from a filter or from going back into the building.
Many models of damper are also included in the product line.
The firm designed and manufactured a high-speed structural finger-joint system, running at up to 500ft/minute, for glulam beam and I-joist flange applications.
Another product is a structural finger-joint line for studs, I-joists, glulam beams and other applications. Models have maximum input lengths of 8ft, 10ft, 16ft and 20ft, thicknesses from 5⁄8in to 2in and widths from 1⁄2in to 8in. These feed a high-speed crowder line running at up to 500ft/minute.
Pneumatics’ heaviest finger-jointing line will handle 5⁄8in to 2in thicknesses, 11⁄2in to 8in widths, 4in to 36in lengths, or 51⁄2in to 48in using a wide chain.
Veneer dryer exhaust and cooling ducting, and press enclosures with venting and ducting, along with surge bins and truck bins, are important to wood panel plants. Most of the products involve either air quality work or
materials handling.
Among other production machines, the plant floor includes a Stealth computerised cutting centre, five CNC machining centers, Precision lathe, outside micrometers to 40in, vernier calipers to 80in, 200-ton press break and a number of Demag overhead cranes.