Located in the Appalachian foothills of Virginia, Meherrin River Forest Products produces over 40 million board feet of green and kiln dried lumber each year for its global customer base. Business is growing month by month across the five sites in Virginia and North Carolina and the company aims to double its exports within the next five years. The streamlined journey of products from sawmill to container and finally to ship is therefore a key issue for President Don Bright, who has found a piece of equipment that has dramatically increased efficiency when loading a consignment into a freight container.
Don came across the Combi-CSS Slip-Sheet during an event at the Virginia Forest Product Association when Combilift product Manager Patrick Keenan introduced him to this automated and very fast method of stuffing containers. “I had been planning to get some new forklifts in for this task, but realized the concept, design and performance of this device was far superior in terms of time and use of manpower and resources,” he said.
The Combi-CSS is a low level free-standing platform with a dual-directional motor-driven pulling mechanism, on which a steel sheet rests. This enables a full load of product to be prepared behind the container before the four hydraulic cylinders pull the sheet forward into the container. Once fully loaded, a hydraulic rear barrier gate swings across the container opening and holds the load in place while the sheet is slipped out from underneath. The machine can load containers in lengths between 6.1m / 20 ‘feet and 12.2m / 40 ‘feet and has a capacity of 30,000kg/ 66,000 Lbs
This has many advantages over the traditional “push-pull” method using forklifts, as Don has discovered since his Combi-CSS has been in operation. “What used to take a good half an hour per container and involve two forklifts and 2 operators can now be done in less than half the time, with half the resources – freeing up personnel and equipment for use elsewhere on site.” A further major advantage is the much lower risk of damage to the product as well as the container during loading. “This improves quality and therefore enhances customer service and is also a major advantage when you are dealing with very valuable lumber,” said Don.
Meherrin River is unique in that it is the only North American forest products company to have an on-port facility, and having the Combi-CSS based within the Richmond Marine Terminal means that drayage charges are not applicable on each container that is loaded there. This represents substantial cost savings and also gives the company a competitive edge as half of the current weekly tally of around 20 containers is loaded with lumber transported from other Meherrin sites. All personnel here are trained to use the Combi-CSS and they find it very easy and straightforward to operate.
Don has been impressed with the build quality: “it’s a tough and heavy duty machine built for an industrial environment and what’s more it takes minimal service to keep it running smoothly. It’s cheaper to maintain than the second forklift I was originally thinking of getting too.” He is also full of praise for the people at Combilift who he believes are as good a team as he has ever come across. “They are passionate, capable and totally committed to getting things 100% right for the customer. Combilift’s drive for innovation is also incredible. I visited the global HQ and factory in Ireland a few weeks ago as part of a trip to Europe for a trade fair and from the CEO down, everyone is focussed on not just building trucks but on getting a better understanding of the challenges facing customers and the solutions they really need. At Meherrin we believe we are a great company built around good people and the same can be said of Combilift.”
By the end of the year the plan is to be loading 75% of containers within the on-port location and to offer this service to other exporters in the region. The first Combi-CSS has been an integral part of the company’s growth plan and Don is hoping that business will continue to expand to justify getting a second unit for Richmond so that 100% of Meherrin’s products can be conveniently and cost effectively loaded port-side.