KOMTRAX serves as teaching tool
Driving across the country, tall poles that support electrical lines are just as common a sight as asphalt and clouds. Roger Adkins knows that those poles didn’t get there by accident. As Plant Manager at Cox Industries’ Eutawville, S.C., facility, which specializes in producing the poles, he has helped customers populate the eastern part of the nation with these roadside fixtures.
“We’re the industrial pole plant for Cox Industries,” detailed Adkins. “The main things we make are poles for power companies. From here they go all over the East Coast, from Maine to Florida.”
The Eutawville location manufactures other items as well, mainly piling for marine use. Adkins estimates that nearly 40 percent of the lumber coming into the plant is slated for marine pilings.
“The only difference between a power pole and a piling depends on what end the customer puts into the ground,” explained Adkins. “We just change how we treat the wood. Other than that, it’s really the same thing.”
In 1954, Cox Industries opened as a family-owned wood-preserving company in Orangeburg, S.C. Today, the firm has expanded to include dozens of locations across the United States with each specializing in creating an array of goods.
Lumber has been focus of the Eutawville site since it opened in 1982. Thirteen years later, Cox Industries bought it, making this its main industrial pole production site in 1995. Today, the plant has 23 employees and treats roughly 48,000 poles annually.
In order to produce that quantity of poles, the operation is committed to maximizing efficiency to ensure that the facility operates at top productivity.
“Nothing is wasted here,” declared Adkins. “From the forest to the delivery truck, we get as much out of the lumber as we can. It keeps our costs down and makes us profitable.”
That no-waste philosophy begins before a tree is harvested. Foresters visit tracts and select trees, typically Southern Yellow Pine, for their straightness and lack of limbs. Trees are de-limbed and cut to length in the forest and sent to Cox Industries’ Bowman, S.C., operation for de-barking. Both the bark and tree are then delivered to Eutawville.
“When the poles arrive here, we put them in dry kilns for two to four days,” explained Adkins. “We use the bark to burn in our boiler and create steam to power the kilns.”
Once the poles are dry, they are inspected and framed to customer specifications. Finally, they are treated with CCA (chromated copper arsenate), branded for the customer, tagged with a radio frequency identification device and shipped to the jobsite.
“When our goods arrive on a site, they are ready to go,” said Adkins. “We pre-drill holes to fit our customers’ hardware and the wood is pressure-treated. We have the capacity to treat poles from 30 to 80 feet in length, but our most common sizes are 40 and 45 feet. We can treat as many as 60 poles in less than two hours.”
Eutawville’s commitment is nonstop.
“We’re running all the time here,” stated Adkins. “Someone is stationed on the boiler 24/7 because we don’t stop the kilns. We operate 24 hours a day during the week and then have an eight-hour shift on Saturday as well as a 12-hour shift on Sunday.”
For the Eutawville plant to meet its demanding schedule, it needs reliable equipment. That’s why it made the switch to Komatsu WA380 wheel loaders from Linder Industrial Machinery Company and Salesman Michael Malloy.
Cox Industries decided to bring in Komatsu machines after years of running loaders from several manufacturers.
“Two-and-a-half years ago we were looking for a new loader, and we asked for quotes,” recalled Adkins. “The numbers came in, and it was pretty clear that the Komatsu package from Mike and Linder was the best for us.”
The WA380s have lived up to their billing.
“Our operators love running the WA380s,” declared Assistant Plant Manager Brad Singleton. “The suspension is very smooth, and they can handle anything we throw at them. We have limited space in the yard, and the rearview cameras help the operators navigate safely.”
Singleton joked that of all the excellent features on the WA380, one stands out above the others for the employees – the air conditioned cabs. “They are our first wheel loaders with air conditioning, now the operators won’t get in one without it.”
Linder outfitted the loaders with customized grapple attachments designed for Cox Industries to help it handle the poles and pilings.
“The grapples are fitted with larger cylinders on the sides and a longer nose for separating the poles and picking them up off the ground,” explained Singleton. “They’re great for us. We can carry as many as 15 poles in a load. They keep everything moving.”
One thing is a given for any piece of equipment at the Eutawville plant, it will be worked hard every day. The Komatsu wheel loaders have been up to the task.
“The WA380s get a workout,” said Adkins. “We don’t have concrete or asphalt in our yard either, so they are running through dirt, rocks, mud – you name it. We’ve put some serious hours on them, and they keep producing.”
Linder has been an asset in making sure that the WA380s are in peak operating condition via the Komatsu CARE program, which provides complimentary service on Tier 4 equipment for the first three years or 2,000 hours of machine operation.
“We blow out the filters, check fluids and grease daily, but having Komatsu CARE for everything else has been great,” shared Adkins. “Linder comes at a time that works for us, which is important because we only have a couple of small windows when the wheel loaders aren’t running. They are able to do the scheduled maintenance, without creating any downtime.”
Komatsu’s telematics program, KOMTRAX, also plays a key role in keeping the operation functioning smoothly.
“With KOMTRAX, we can teach our operators how to use the wheel loaders in the best way possible,” detailed Adkins. “We noticed one machine was idling 50 percent of the time, so we talked to the operator and explained what he needed to do. We also saw that some employees were burning up the brake pads by keeping a foot on the pedal. KOMTRAX has allowed us to save on fuel, parts and warranty hours.”
Other than lumber, Adkins himself is one thing that has been a constant at the Eutawville plant, as he’s worked there since it opened. While the product may not change, he acknowledges that his presence there will eventually come to a close. “I plan on hanging around as long as they let me,” kidded Adkins. “I really enjoy what I do, but I won’t be here forever. We have a succession plan in place with Brad (Singleton), and he is learning fast. He will do a great job when I finally head out. Brad has to wait a few years, though. I’m not ready to leave yet.”