Change the beat of the manufacturing process

In this installment of What Works, a drumstick maker switches tempo on its production process.

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Figure 1. The sawmill in Prospect, Tennessee, employs 15 people.

ProMark, a subsidiary of D'Addario, has changed the beat of the drumstick manufacturing process. D’Addario, a family-owned and –operated company headquartered in Farmingdale, New York, with more than 1,100 employees, manufactures 95% of its products — including D’addario strings, Evans drumheads, ProMark drumsticks, PureSound percussion accessories, Rico reeds, and Planet Waves cables and accessories — in the United States. The company owns its own sawmill in Prospect, Tennessee, about 7 miles north of the Alabama border, which supplies materials to its drumstick plant in Houston, where D’Addario produces 15,000-16,000 sticks per day. The sawmill, with its 15 employees, has adopted the quarter-sawn manufacturing method to improve quality and consistency in all ProMark drumsticks (Figure 1).

“We’ve taken the approach that we have to listen to the voice of the players, and this journey has led us to completely re-do our manufacturing process from top to bottom,” says Mike Gault, director of operations at D’Addario. “And it starts with the raw material supply.”

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Figure 2. ProMark is the only drumstick company that owns its own sawmill and is purchasing its own logs.

ProMark is the only drumstick company that owns its own sawmill and is purchasing its own logs (Figure 2). “While the sawmill is important, the knowledge of the people we employ at the sawmill is even more important,” says Rick Drumm, president of D’Addario (Figure 3). “We actually select our own logs. We’re looking for logs that are going to give us the greatest yield of the white sapwood. We use four different species of American hickory to produce the sticks, and we’re looking for logs of a certain type and size. With the mill, we’ve invested quite a bit over the past year-and-a-half to rebuild the infrastructure, making sure the mill is safe and also looking at improving our output.”

The company is now also using a method to saw logs that is revolutionary in the drumstick industry.  In the quarter-sawing method, the log is literally cut into four quarters. The log is cut vertically and then turned and cut again, so the grain line is straight up and down.

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Figure 3. While the sawmill is important, the knowledge of the people employed there is even more important.

ProMark has the most stable piece of wood going into its stick manufacturing facility in Houston, which employs 35 people, continues Gault. “ProMark used to turn the drumstick on a lathe, and it wasn’t as accurate as it could be,” he says. “We have the highest precision centerless grinders in America.”

Centerless grinding is a method of high-precision turning with a profile of what is wanted in the stick imprinted in the stone. It improves the quality of the final product, explains Drumm. “We’re able to hold tighter specs — plus or minus 0.003,” he explains. “We had a difficult time holding that type of tolerance with the lathes. Another important piece of information is, with using the centerless grinding technology, we’re able to dry our wood down to between 6% and 8% moisture content. With lathing, we would use somewhere between 9% and 12% moisture content.” The market place tends to be in that 6-8% moisture area, so, if the sticks are at 9-12% and they get into that dryer environment, it creates more opportunity for warping.

“If the grain is perfectly parallel to the stick, it’s going to be stronger, it’s going to have less of a chance of warping, and it’s going to be a more reliable stick,” says Jim D’Addario, CEO. In addition, ProMark has invested in new weight-sorting and tone sorting equipment to create drumsticks that have the tightest specifications in the industry. At the end of the line, the process yields a pair of drumsticks that weigh the same within 1.5 g and are matched within a quarter tone (6.0 Hz).

With the centerless grinders, ProMark also is using some dust collectors. “We still use some lathing for getting our dowels down to an appropriate diameter before we feed them into the centerless grinders,” says Drumm. “We’re using a water filtration system. The centerless grinders have a water-flush system with a centrifuge to separate the chips from the water. The water’s needed to keep the grinding stones cool and avoid burning the wood. The resulting sludge is sent to a landfill at this point.” The plant also is working on trying to get local power companies to take this and burn it.

“Making drumsticks out of trees without replanting was something that didn’t sit well with me,” says D’Addario. “We’ve had conversations with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and their Division of Forestry to see what we could do in terms of being able to plant trees. What we developed was that, for every tree that we consume, we are planting five trees.”

Esteemed drummers are already buzzing about the improved quality of ProMark since D’Addario’s 2011 acquisition. “Knowing that the entire process of manufacturing these sticks is completely new and retooled and every little detail is being considered, it’s just a game-changer,” says Glenn Kotche, drummer of Wilco.

“I do everything from scaling the logs and buying the logs to making sure it’s graded properly,” says Bob Hughes, master logger. “The best wood for a drumstick is white hickory. It’s very dense. It’s very hard. And that’s why it’s used for drumsticks.”

Watch the video of ProMark’s new manufacturing process.

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