Container Systems Inc. evolves to meet the needs of a diverse customer base.

Container Systems Inc.

Franklinton, NC

CSI manufactures specialty cases, plywood boxes and industrial reels for U.S. military, industrial and commercial accounts. The company employs 40 people; sales were more than $6 million in 2002.

Three Keys

1. Computerized equipment enables the company to custom manufacture more sophisticated containers and boxes for a variety of military and civilian uses.

2. Industrial reels made with Russian birch plywood are a fast-growing part of CSI’s business.

3. Use of a rotary grinder dramatically reduces waste disposal costs, while converting scrap into boiler fuel.


The technological revolution has radically transformed Container Systems Inc.’s business and operation, says Scott Parsons, vice president of the Franklinton, NC-based manufacturing concern.

When the family-owned company opened shop in Philadelphia in the early 1960s, it made mainly “basic plywood crates and containers for the moving and storage industries,” Parsons says. Today, CSI relies on computerized design and engineering skills, as well as manufacturing know-how, to supply industrial and commercial accounts, as well as the U.S. military with all sorts of specialized packing products.

“If you want to move something from here to Timbuktu, we’ll crate it for you and guarantee it will get there safely,” says Diane Locke, president and majority owner of CSI.

“I’ve packed the tail flap for a 737 for USAir,” for shipping to a repair facility, adds Parsons, Locke’s son and the minority owner of CSI.

Military Maneuvers

When the U.S. military required special containers for shipping mobile satellite communications equipment to trouble spots around the globe, it turned to CSI. “When they came up here, they brought the parts with them,” Parsons recalls. “We actually designed the case around the parts” to ensure a perfect fit.

The cases, designed to facilitate quick deployment, are made of a lightweight plastic composite. When a hasp and hinged top are opened, the contents can be quickly removed.

Under its license with Clip-Lok, CSI makes another easy-to-open box used by the glass and automobile parts industries, among others. Clips that open under pressure hold together sides and ends so that the Clip-Lok box can be assembled and disassembled quickly and its sections stacked for reuse.

For companies shipping sensitive electronic parts, CSI adds cushions to the skids and outfits the interiors of the containers with foam or donut-shaped Skid-Mates. Skid-Mates come in blue, orange, yellow, green and tan, with the color signifying the level of shock absorption. Some of the boxes feature metal brackets for holding computer equipment securely.

CSI uses two Mayer saws to dimension plywood for moving and storage containers, skids and reels.  

CSI also offers a box with an interior water- and vapor-proof barrier material that is used by companies that ship products overseas.

CSI’s annual sales of more than $6 million is split in thirds among specialty cases, industrial reels and basic yellow pine plywood boxes used for moving and storage. CSI sells the plywood boxes to military, industrial and commercial accounts.

Parsons says the military uses a “lift van” with a standard dimension, 87 inches by 45 inches by 87 inches, to transport household goods and personal belongings in ship containers made by CSI. “They use them to move their people around the world,” he says.

On a busy day, Parsons says, “We’ll go through a truckload of 38-inch plywood” for making containers.

Sized to Fit

For commercial customers, boxes are sized to fit the contents — one size for sofas, another for throw rugs, another for books, etc.

CSI is finding industrial reels to be a promising category. Customers use them to hold everything from coaxial cables to chains and rope. The company first made 18-inch reels, then added 26-inch reels. It hopes to add 30-inch reels to its product mix.

Cardboard tubes, cut to size on a Paco tube cutter, are inserted in grooves in two circular reel ends made of Russian birch plywood. The wood is well suited for reels because it is more durable than the yellow pine used in the manufacture of moving and storage boxes, Parsons says.

CSI’s 40 employees work in three assembly and warehouse buildings comprising 68,000 square feet. It is a highly computerized plant, with Parsons translating his and customers’ designs into machining instructions for setting up saws, routers and drilling machines.

Lumber for containers and skids is cut on computerized Holtec and Alpine PF-90 lumber saws. Two Mayer beam saws are used to dimension plywood for the containers, the skids and the reels. A Motionmaster CNC router is used for machining the Clip-Lok boxes and precision drilling of holes.

Scott Parsons, vice president of CSI, shows off a finished reel. Industrial reels are a fast-growing sector of the company’s business.  

For the reels, two BM Root boring machines bore holes for the bolts, which CSI inserts, and the handles that the customer will insert for winding product onto the reel. Edges of the reel ends are rounded with a Centauro bandsaw.

Reducing Waste Disposal Costs

Located right beside the bandsaw is one of several wooden bins that are used to collect scrap. With two to three truckloads of 38-inch and 34-inch plywood being processed at the plant each week, a large amount of scrap is generated, Parsons says.

To better manage its wood waste and reduce disposal costs, CSI installed a ReTech 1050 rotary grinder. Up to that point, Parsons says, “We were spending $35,000 to $40,000 a year in landfill costs. That went almost to nothing,” after the grinder began converting scraps of plywood and lumber into more manageable sizes.

As CSI’s business has grown, so has its waste generation. Three years ago, the company replaced its ReTech 1050 rotary grinder with a newer model. The ReTech 5260 rotary grinder from Vecoplan LLC has more than double the capacity of the older model. It can grind 3,500 pounds an hour, as opposed to the 1,500 pounds the former model was capable of doing.

At the same time it installed the newer ReTech, CSI bought a centralized Nordfab dust collection system to more efficiently collect dust from the machines. A system of outdoor tube ducts connects the grinder to the dust collector. Waste from the dust collector’s silo is regularly piled into the bed of a truck trailer owned by Shavender Trucking. The Pantego, NC-based company hauls the waste away for use as boiler fuel.

No Longer a Basic Box Maker

Whether it is preparing scrap for recycling, advising customers on materials and design to protect fragile equipment, or adjusting its manufacturing processes for new customers, CSI is a changed company, Parsons says.

It continues to use the basic plywood and lumber that it began making crates with 40 years ago, but CSI is using it and other materials in more highly varied, sophisticated ways. And CSI is acting as designer, engineer and manufacturer all rolled into one.

“We go from concept to product,” Parsons says.

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