Mississippi Laminators: Little Mill, Big Impact
Shubuta, Mississippi may not seem like a very large town, but it’s home to the largest employer for miles around: Mississippi Laminators. This family-run business has the distinction of being the only lamination mill in the state, one of only a handful in the Southeast.
“There’s two in Alabama, one in Georgia, and two in Arkansas,” Owner Charles Clark explained.
The company had a modest start many years ago. “My father and his partner started Mississippi Laminators in 1966,” Clark explained. “He had worked for the Anthonys. They hired him after they had just started their laminated beam factory. He worked there for a couple of years and got it to where it was profitable and said, ‘You know, if I can do this for them, I can do it myself.’”
Clark continued, “So he and his partner, Mr. Poovey, started up Mississippi Laminators: Mr. Poovey ran the place and Daddy was the controlling accountant. It was a 2-3 man operation for a couple of years. It gradually grew by word of mouth and Daddy driving around and calling on people. Now we’ve got about 35 employees.”
“We make laminated beams primarily for the residential market,” Clark explained.
And business is booming. “We’ve done more business in the last two years than we’ve done in the history of the company,” said Clark. “We’ve done over $5 million in sales the last two years.”
“Most of our business goes west and north. Texas and Pennsylvania are big customers. We’ve shipped products into Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland and some of the Eastern Pennsylvania business includes New York, too.”
Typical of any wood products operation, however, there are challenges. Mississippi Laminators had a bad week right before we spoke. “Yeah, we broke down,” Clark admitted. “We burned up a shaper-loader and that pretty well knocked us in the head for what we were trying to do all week. Had to put new bearings in it and this is a small place, no bearings around, so we had to get them flown in.”
When they ventured into wood lamination, it was a learning experience. “We got an RF [radio frequency] machine and we found out that we needed a moisture meter, so that’s where Wagner comes in,” Clark said. “We had to pull wet lumber out, so we had to get the electronic stuff.”
“We’ve been using some kind of Wagner Meters’ products with various upgrades for about 35 years,” mentions Clark.
“We’ve been using the Apex system for a long time,” Clark explained. “We generally try to keep the moisture content to 17%. The only trouble we’ve had has been with humidity. We have a kiln that will hold 40-50,000 board feet and we’ll leave it in there for 36 hours to get it down to about 15% when we take it out. We don’t want to over-dry it. We run it back through the moisture meter a second time and hopefully we won’t have to put it back in the kiln a second time.”
Although the Apex system has been working reliably for a long time, Mississippi Laminators will soon upgrade to a state-of-the-art Omega In-Line Moisture Measurement System which uses up to 8 sensors to check wood moisture levels 300 times per second. Data collected by its sensors can be communicated to advanced grading systems which provide additional moisture information to automated lumber grading solutions to improve the quality of wood products. Optional Omega data collection and analysis software can provide the tools to ferret out any problems in the production process, further improving the performance of a mill.
“We’ve got a handheld meter we also use to spot check things throughout the plant. If you come in Monday and it rained Saturday and you’ve got no idea what got wet, the handheld can check moisture content before it goes through the planer,” he added.
Mississippi Laminators continues to expand their horizons. “We’ve got plans to move machinery around so that we can do 60′ beams,” Clark revealed. “Right now we can do 52′. That will open up some markets that we don’t have. We need to get a more diversified source of buyers.”
Wagner Meters has provided systems that have allowed even a small mill like Mississippi Laminators to compete successfully with much larger operations. Contact us today at (541) 291-5125 to find out how we can give you an edge as well!
Tony Morgan is a senior technician for Wagner Meters, where he serves on a team for product testing, development, and also customer service and training for moisture measurement products. Along with 19 years field experience for a number of electronics companies, Tony holds a B.A. in Management and his AAS in Electronics Technology.