Diverse Company, Making Lumber and Pallets, Adds SII Pre-Dryer to Increase Throughput
(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part article on Edwards Wood Products. This first part focuses on the company’s lumber drying operations and its use application of dry kilns and a pre-dryer from SII Dry Kilns. Part two, which we plan to publish in the August issue, will focus on sawmill operations and the company’s application of USNR optimization technology.)
MARSHVILLE, North Carolina — As productive and diverse as Edwards Wood Products is, Jeff Edwards, company president, keeps trying to strengthen and hone it.
In the last 18 months, Jeff has put a great deal of emphasis on improving throughput at Edwards Wood Products. The company has upgraded saw lines in two mills, including adopting optimization technology, and added a pre-dryer to speed up the process of kiln-drying grade lumber.
Edwards Wood Products, which began as a pallet manufacturing business, began selling lumber when the company added a grade sawmill in 1987. The company sold its lumber green until building its first dry kilns in 1994. Today Edwards Wood Products has 600,000 board feet of drying capacity — four 100,000 board foot kilns and four 50,000 board foot kilns. All the kilns have been supplied by SII Dry Kilns in Lexington, N.C., which by coincidence also was founded in 1969 as a family-owned company.
Kiln capacity still is not enough to keep pace with the 600,000 board feet of lumber the company manufactures each week. A lot of the company’s production is sold green. Jeff wants to increase production of kiln-dried lumber because dried lumber is a value-added product that sells for a higher price.
One way to dry more lumber is to add more kiln space. Another is to accelerate the drying process in order to dry more lumber per unit of time. Jeff has been getting assistance from SII to develop a strategy that works best for Edwards Wood Products.
“We put in a 1.5 million board foot pre-dryer,” said Jeff. “We got that going last year.” The SII pre-dryer is 135 feet wide by 300 feet long. “It’s really done a lot to help us with throughput and quality.” Before adding the SII pre-dryer, all pre-drying was accomplished by air-drying the lumber — a process which takes at least twice as long as a pre-dyer.
Edwards takes its lumber to 25% moisture content in the pre-drying process. Relying on air-drying to pre-dry, the phase took 60-90 days. In the SII pre-dryer, the lumber can be taken to 25% moisture content in 35-40 days. In fact, SII reports that many customers experience over 2% content loss per day, which can mean less than 30 days in the pre-dryer.
SII Dry Kilns personnel have helped Edwards Wood Products improve and fine-tune the company’s drying operations. “Those guys at SII have been good to work with over the years,” said Jeff. “They’re proactive. If I had it to do over again, we’d go do it again” the same way.
Terry Williamson, operations manager at Edwards Wood Products, has been involved in discussions for some months now with SII representatives about adding an EMC Mistifyer to the kilns. “In the past, we have sprayed raw steam into the kilns during the last 24 hours,” explained Terry. Adding steam in the final 24 hours brought a closer alignment between wet bulb and dry bulb temperatures and enhanced lumber conditioning.
The EMC Mistifyer generates a cool fog for conditioning the lumber instead of conventional steam equalization; the cool fog is produced by a high-pressure water pump at 1,000 PSI. The high pressure reduces both the size of the individual water droplets and the amount of water required. Smaller droplets vaporize quickly before striking the lumber.
The SII EMC Mistifyer “should reduce conditioning time, cut it in half, to a 12-hour from a 24-hour period,” said Terry, which will accelerate the overall drying process. He believes the SII EMC Mistifyer will be a good complement to the SII kilns.
Edwards Wood Products is equipped with SII package type dry kilns that are loaded with a forklift. A Hurst 600 hp boiler, fueled by waste wood, provides the steam.
Edwards Wood Products is also considering upgrading its kiln control systems. SII can supply a system to automatically monitor and adjust kiln operations — eliminating the need for employees to monitor or adjust the kilns at odd hours at night or on weekends. SII’s automated kiln control system, which runs on an IBM compatible computer, can be tailored to the individual requirements of a company’s lumber drying operations. Options include remote control, history, reporting and centralized control. “Their software is user-friendly,” said Terry.
Edwards Wood Products has enjoyed a strong relationship with SII, Terry added, because SII representatives are very knowledgeable.
One feature of the SII package kilns that Terry particularly appreciates is the materials from which they are built. “We went with brick-type package kilns,” he explained. “They do a good job retaining heat.”
SII offers conventional package kilns and track-loaded kilns in several construction materials. In addition to masonry and aluminum, other options are all aluminum, and aluminum frame with stainless steel interior panels.
The impact that the SII pre-dryer has made to Edwards Wood Products can be measured in a number of ways, said Terry. “In the past we’d have to supplement our production with poplar,” he said, because kilns could not be charged frequently enough.
The pre-dryer has enabled Edwards Wood Products to increase kiln-drying throughput. “We’re like a month and a half ahead with kiln charges,” said Terry. “We’ve done 27 more kiln charges through April 2005 (from Jan. 1) than during the same period through April 2004.”
The drying operations at Edwards Wood Products have increased in importance, and the company designed a manager to oversee them. Robbie Fincher was promoted to the new position. He will focus on changeover times, staging, and all the other elements of the drying operations that can shorten drying cycle times. “He’s really stepped up to the plate,” said Jeff.
Edwards Wood Products also is equipped with an SII pallet heat-treating unit. The auditor for the company’s heat-treated stamp is Timber Products Inspection.
In addition to the dry and green lumber that Edwards Wood Products manufactures for domestic and overseas markets, it manufactures 85,000 pallets per week. The company manufactures a large number of pallet sizes and footprints according to customer specifications.
“We’ve got 12 lines,” said Jeff. All the automated pallet nailing lines are Viking machines, mostly Viking Turbo 505 machines. About 55,000 pallets per week are made at the company’s plant in Marshville and another 30,000 at its plant in Laurinburg, N.C. “We actually had two weeks in the last four months when we shipped over 100,000 pallets per week,” said Jeff.
The pallet plant has a Cooper scragg mill that processes logs into cants. The cants are remanufactured into pallet stock with the aid of Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle equipment. Two Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saws are used to resaw sized cant material; one gang saw is dedicated to 4-inch cants, sawing them with 0.099-inch kerf blades, while the other runs 6-inch material, cutting with 0.115-inch kerf blades. The plant is also equipped with several Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle trim saws, notchers, and other machines. The newest addition to the pallet mill is a slab recovery system supplied by G-Tek Industries.
Marshville is home to the pallet mill, grade sawmill and trucking branches of the extensive Edwards Wood Products business. The company’s headquarters also is located in Marshville, which is in the south-central part of the state just 10 miles from the S.C. line.
Under the umbrella of Edwards Wood Products, there are actually five companies. Jeff’s father, Carroll, is the founder and CEO of the overall business. The companies are Edwards Wood Products Inc., Edwards Timber Company Inc., Edwards Wood Products Inc.-Transportation, Edwards Wood Products Inc.-Scotland, and Edwards Wood Products-Alamance.
The Scotland division operates a chip mill in Laurinburg (Scotland County), about 55 miles east of Marshville. The plants in Laurinburg and Marshville are equipped with Fulghum chippers. The chips produced at the two locations are sold to a paper mill.
Edwards Timber Co. buys timber for all the company’s wood processing plants. “We buy standing timber,” said Jeff. “We contract for logging. We don’t have any logging crews.” The company also buys some ‘gate wood’ for the scragg mill at its pallet plant.
The trucking division has shrunk in recent years. “We have downsized 40 percent of our operation,” said Jeff. “We are contracting residuals to Ezzell Trucking in Harrells, North Carolina. It’s been a good partnership.”
Because orders for pallets and lumber require greater control over delivery times, the trucking division continues to provide all hauling for those products. The trucking unit has a fleet of 30 Peterbilt tractors.
Keeping a sufficient inventory of logs in order to keep all the company’s operations running at peak production is a high priority. “Our philosophy is whenever we can get the wood, we get it,” said Jeff. Natural disasters like hurricanes and ice storms can impede loggers, so the company buys ahead and uses an extensive system of wet decks, supported by ponds and irrigation systems, to prevent the logs from drying out before they are sawn.
In total, Edwards Wood Products operates on some 250 acres of land. It has 400 employees. The biggest site in Marshville spans 115 acres. For a time, the company had a pine sawmill in Blacksburg, N.C. but eventually sold it to focus on hardwoods.
During the past 18 months, the sawmills that supply the grade lumber and pallet lumber have both undergone complete updates. “It was a massive undertaking,” said Jeff. The projects required careful planning and coordination so the mills would not be down for a significant period of time. Essentially, the changes were made by putting the new equipment along the old machinery and testing and changing it out on weekends.
The Marshville grade mill has been operating since 1987. The mill in Liberty, N.C., which is known as the Alamance mill, was purchased four years ago. Marshville produces 650,000 board feet per week and Alamance produces 500,000-plus. Of the nearly 1.2 million board feet total, approximately 25 percent goes to the pallet operation.
“A lot of green lumber goes to flooring, 2 common and 3A,” said Jeff. As
much as 40 percent of the kiln-dried lumber goes to export markets. Species include red oak, white oak, sap gum, ash, tupelo, soft maple, hickory, sycamore, beech, hackberry and birch.
The most common thicknesses produced at Edwards Wood Products are 4/4 and 5/4, but the company also manufactures 6/4, 8/4, 10/4, 12/4 and 16/4 lumber. Besides 2 common and 3A common grades, the company offers 1 common, frame stock, pallet stock and cants. The company also has a planer mill in Marshville to surface boards on a Newman S382 planer.
The Marshville sawmill runs pre-cut logs while the pallet mill runs tree-length wood. Equipment at the grade mill includes a Nicholson 42-inch ring debarker, a Salem 48-inch carriage with Perceptron-USNR optimization, a Maxi-Mill end-dogger with McDonough twin bands with Maxi-Mill optimization, Mac thin-kerf gang saw, and a Valley three-saw linear edger with USNR optimization. The end of the lumber production line includes a Morris trim saw with Soft-Tac optimization, a Morris 57-bay bin-sorter, a Morris stacker and in-line anti-stain dip tank.
The Liberty mill runs logs that have been bucked to length in the woods. Operations begin with a Nicholson 36-inch ring debarker. Grade logs are sawn on an HMC carriage equipped with Inovec optimization with 3-D scanning capabilities and a Klammoth head saw. Small logs are processed on a Cooper twin-band, end-dogging scragg mill. Grade lumber is removed from the cants on a Jocar vertical band resaw, and edging is performed by a TMT transverse edger with AutoLog optimization. A Ligna trimmer performs the final trimming operation. The company plans to add optimized controls for the Ligna trim saw and also to install a sorter.
The optimized TMT edger at Liberty provided the first experience with optimization for Edwards Wood Products. It was a good one, according to Jeff. “We’re just trying to be as efficient as we can,” he explained. “Stumpage prices keep going up. We’re just trying to be forward looking.”
Edwards Wood Products has served as a research site for North Carolina State University faculty. Jeff cited the help he has received from Joe Denig of N.C. State, who provided technical advice on optimization.
Research is important in all directions, said Jeff. When he was trying to decide how to get started with drying, he did some of his own before settling on SII Dry Kilns. “We just researched the market,” he explained. “We just felt they were the best out there.”
A native of Marshville, Jeff graduated from high school in 1978 and joined
his father in business immediately. “I never seriously considered doing anything else,” he said.
If there is one thing he likes most about being in business, “It is the challenges that come along with it,” said Jeff.
When he takes time for recreation, Jeff has a definite interest — golf.
Edwards Wood Products belongs to the National Hardwood Lumber Association, the Hardwoods Manufacturers Association, and the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association.