Plant Spotlight: Manke Lumber Company
Last week I had the pleasure of touring Manke Lumber Company’s pellet facility on the north side of the Port of Tacoma. Just a short drive for me from Seattle, Manke Lumber Company produces 1 million plus board feet of dimensional lumber per year at their Tacoma facility along with 38,000 short tons of premium Douglas fir pellets. When the plant was built in 1988, it was one of the largest pellet facilities in the country and was built with the primary purpose of “disposing” the tons of sawdust that the Manke Lumber saw mill produced on a daily basis. At the time, sawdust disposal was a issue for mills and came at a cost. Manke Lumber sought an innovative solution for the time and built their pellet plant adjascent to the mill to handle the would-be waste. Manke Lumber saw the potential of pellets early on and it has paid off as the enter their 27th year of production.
As the pellet industry has evolved of so has Manke Lumber’s pellet operation. What has not changed over the 26 years since the pellet plant first opened is the principal operator, Mike Ritter. Mr. Ritter (pictured below) has been on-site at the Manke Lumber pellet plant since the beginning and has kept the plant humming through numerous modifications and upgrades.
Throughout the tour, Mr. Ritter offered accounts of the changes and overhauls that the plant has seen over its 26 years of existence. The immense amount of knowledge that Mr. Ritter possesses about pellet production can only be acquired from the two plus decades of experience Mr. Ritter has clocked. From fashioning new parts for discontinued components to converting the pellet presses’ lubrication systems to oil cooled systems, the Manke Lumber pellet facility and Mr. Ritter’s tenure there are a testament to the importance of institutional knowledge in plant operators. “After 26 years you get to know what works and what doesn’t,” Mr. Ritter explained. It was not always a smooth operation, but over the years through trial-and-error, Mr. Ritter and the Manke Lumber team’s knack for problem solving allows the plant to operate 24hr a day to produce one of the highest quality pellets in the nation.
It has not just been technical bugs that required Mr. Ritter and the Manke Lumber pellet team's attention. When I asked Mr. Ritter what has been the biggest challenge, he said, “Feedstock.” When Manke Lumber first started their pellet operation in 1988 the purpose of the plant was to ‘dispose’ of the tons and tons of saw dust and other mill residue that Manke's directional lumber facility produced. Since the late 80s, the value of sawdust has dramatically changed with more on-site electricity production at saw mills and the development of other wood products that utilize sawdust as an input. Today, sawdust is a highly desired byproduct with numerous buyers. In the past, neighboring mills use to essentially give their sawdust to Manke Lumber to turn into pellets. Now, higher prices for sawdust cuts into the margin that the pellets produced from outside sawdust can earn. Luckily, Mr. Ritter can count on the tons upon tons of mill residue that arrives directly from their own saw mill just across the road. It also does not hurt that there is an insatiable demand for pellets across the continent, even here in the Northwest.
I would like to graciously thank Todd Wright and Mike Ritter for welcoming me to Manke Lumber and showing me their pellet operation.