Moisture Meters Improve Grade Recovery

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Hood Industries has better bottom line with Wagner Electronics moisture detection system

COUSHATTA, Louisiana — In this highly technical age, the forest industry is still close to the land. But that doesn’t mean it’s behind the times.
High-tech electronics continue to find their way into the industry in new applications and are helping mills operate more profitably and produce better products.
Take Hood Industries Inc., for example. With help from Wagner Electronics moisture meters in its drying operations, the company has improved its grade recovery, and, as a result, improved its bottom line.
Dale Brumfield is plant manager at the Hood Industries pine mill in Coushatta in northwest Louisiana. The mill manu­factures Southern yellow pine dimension lumber in 1×4, 1×6, and 2×4 through 2×12.
“We process the wood from logs all the way through to finished lumber, and of course the by-products that come from that,” Dale said. “We get a lot of loblolly and shortleaf and some slash pine.”
The plant at Coushatta has not always belonged to Hood Industries. According to Dale, it was first built by Pineville Kraft about 1971. Then International Paper bought it and owned it until 1989, when Hood purchased it. Hood Industries also has a sawmill at Waynesboro, Mississippi and two plywood plants in Mississippi, in Wiggins and Beaumont.
“We also have about 20 distribution locations across the United States,” said Dale. The retail outlets operate under the names of McEwen Lumber Company or McQuesten Lumber. Hood Industries purchased the McEwen Lumber Company stores from International Paper, and most of them are located in the Southeast. McQuesten Lumber has operations in the New England states. Warren Hood, owner of Hood Industries, also owns Hook Packaging and Atlas Roofing.
The Coushatta mill employs about 120 people, down from about 160 workers at the plant when it was owned by International Paper, and produces about 100 million board feet annually.
“The 1x4s and 1x6s we sell rough green,” Dale said. “We don’t even dry it. It goes to a remanufacturer over in McComb, Mississippi.” Much of the company’s production is sold to lumber treating businesses, distributors, retailers and contractor yards.
“We sell to some of the smaller chain stores,” Dale explained. “However, we don’t sell a lot to the ‘big box’ stores, although some of our lumber gets into that market through the treaters.”
Even with all its various wood products manufacturing operations, Hood Industries does not own forest lands. The Coushatta mill has a procurement staff that buys standing timber. “Then we have contract loggers who cut the timber,” Dale said. The company also buys ‘gate wood’ from independent logging contractors.
The mill buys logs that are a minimum of 16 feet long. About 80% of them arrive as tree-length wood and have to be bucked to length. “Then we have two cut up lines, where we put the trees through a 24-inch debarker or a 30-inch debarker,” said Dale.
The 24-inch debarker feeds the Chip-N-Saw Mark II chip-and-saw line, which usually is fed with logs that are up to 17 inches in diameter. The primary breakdown system is equipped with USNR optimization technology. “The log goes through the chip-and-saw, which either cuts side boards out of it or just makes a cant with no side boards,” Dale said. “From there it goes to a vertical double-arbor gang saw, which saws the cant into lumber, and from there it goes to a trimmer.”
On the other side of the plant, large logs first go to the 30-inch debarker. The head rig consist of a 6-foot Letson & Burpee band mill and McDonough carriage with Perceptron optimization. Cants are routed to a Schurman double-arbor gang saw to resawn into boards, and flitches coming off the head rig go to a Salem edger. The resaw and edger lines converge at a trimmer.
After trimming, all lumber goes either to the sorter or to a Hi-Tech edger. Material that goes to the Hi-Tech edger comes back around to the trimmer and then to the sorter.
The lumber is sorted and stacked in bundles, and then it goes to the green yard. When the wood is scheduled to be dried, it is moved to the stacker. The bundle is broken down, and the lumber is restacked on sticks prior to going into a kiln.
The plant has two state-of-the-art 18-zone USNR dry kilns, both computerized. When the kiln cycle is complete, the lumber is removed and allowed to cool for 24 hours. Then it is moved by a hoist into the company’s planer mill and ‘dressed’ to final dimensions.
It is in the planing mill where the company uses the Wagner Electronics high-tech moisture meter. The Wagner Apex In-Line Moisture Meter can be used before or after the planer, explained Joe Stuart, application specialist for Wagner. Hood Industries elected to use it after the planer.
Mike Zimmerman, dry end superintendent for the mill, is responsible for all aspects of manufacturing lumber at that end of the plant. “That includes drying through the kilns to a certain moisture content, planing and sizing lumber, and shipping,” he said.
After the wood comes off the planer, it immediately goes in-line through the sensors of the Wagner moisture meter. “We have the sensor set up on the outfeed of the planer matcher,” Mike said. “Every board that we run through the matcher every day — and sometimes we run 25,000 to 30,000 boards in a day — goes through the Wagner In-Line Moisture Meter. The meter checks each complete board, from one end to the other.”
The Wagner equipment takes many measurements in increments of mili­seconds. “As each board goes through the sensor, the sensor measures its moisture content, either its peak moisture or an average,” said Joe, to identify any boards that do not meet moisture content standards.
“Each pack of lumber is numbered and labeled,” Mike said. “So if we have a pack of lumber that’s wet, we can look at the tag number and identify that pack of lumber and where it was in the kiln.” With that information, Mike can pinpoint exactly where each board was while it was in the kiln. He can ‘map’ the kiln, according to the location of individual boards and their finished moisture contents. This helps him analyze the kiln operations to determine if something is not functioning properly — an inoperable fan or a bad steam trap, for example — and to make adjustments accordingly.
Lumber that conforms to the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau’s standard is stamped KD19, which means it has been kiln-dried to 19% moisture content. The mill is a TPI subscriber. Lumber that meets the standard and earns the stamp is worth more. In addition, lumber that is too dry is more likely to degrade — warp or split. “Plus, they’re spending way too much energy drying that wood,” Joe said.
But that’s not all the Wagner In-Line Moisture Meter does. It also provides Mike with information such as how many boards go through the planer each day, how many pieces of lumber were too dry and too wet, and how many pieces of lumber were within the company’s pre-set tolerances for moisture content. The Wagner system gives him the data as individual numbers and as percentages and provides a mean and standard deviation of the lumber run every day. The Wagner software program generates a printout of all the information, displayed graphically.
“It gives me a bell curve that shows me each piece, and how many pieces were at each different moisture level,” Mike said. “That shows me exactly what our kilns are doing, day to day, week to week. It builds me a history, and gives me something to work with and something to go back to. It’s a great tool that lets me know what we’re doing day to day.”
For example, perhaps on a particular day the mill is making 2×12 lumber. As the lumber coming off the planer is monitored, Mike can watch each board and see if there are wet spots or if the lumber is too dry. That information lets him know whether he needs to increase or decrease the time in the kiln.
Mike selected the Wagner equipment because it has a reputation for being the best in the industry, he said. It has performed to his expectations.
“The best thing about having this equipment is the history and the identification that I can take and the technology that I can use to keep us producing a quality product for our customers,” said Mike. “It enables me to be in control of what we’re doing. We’ve had no problems with it, and it’s sitting there waiting every day for me to come to work.”
The company puts residuals to good use. “Hopefully, we don’t have any wood that’s wasted,” said Dale. “We sell all the chips to International Paper at Mansfield. They make paper out of it. Then we sell our shavings to Weyerhaeuser at Simsboro, Louisiana, where they make particle board out of it.”
The mill’s sawdust and bark are used internally as much as possible. “We either burn it in our boiler to make steam to dry our wood,” Dale said, “or we sell it as boiler fuel to International Paper. So we don’t have anything that’s really ‘waste.’ ”
Dale does not anticipate any significant changes for the mill in the next few years. Based on U.S. Forest Service timber surveys, he said, it looks as though the timber resources in the region will remain fairly stable for the next several years. As a result, the plant should be able to continue on its present course.
However, when the trees that are available in the region begin to get smaller — as the Forest Service surveys indicate that they eventually will — the plant will have to adjust to those changes.
“At that point, we’ll have to change our mill to fit the resources we have available at that time,” said Dale. “Right now we have what’s generally considered a large log. Our average log small end diameter is around 11 to 11.5 inches.”
But when the region’s timber becomes smaller, in order to stay competitive, at some point the mill will have to change to equipment that utilizes smaller trees more efficiently. Given the history of the plant, the fact that it has thrived through three owners, and the company’s use of technology to make the most of the resources available to it, the Hood Industries Coushatta mill will undoubtedly continue to prosper when that day comes.

(Editor’s Note: For more information about Wagner Electronics technology, call applications specialist Joe Stuart at (800) 634-9961.)