USNR Dry Kilns, Kiln Boss Control System Critical to Pennsylvania Company’s Operations
HANOVER, Pennsylvania — Shops that produce custom millwork and moulding get the best return on their investment if they begin with high-quality, ready-to-use lumber. It is the business of TBM Hardwoods Inc. to provide that sort of lumber.
TBM Hardwoods buys green hardwood lumber in random length and width from selected sawmills. Grading, sorting and drying are essential operations in the company’s business. In addition, TBM Hardwoods re-manufactures lumber and makes millwork. The company puts an ever-greater focus on importing lumber.
A key component to TBM Hardwoods’ success is its lumber drying operations. The company has relied on USNR kilns from the beginning. TBM Hardwoods has 14 USNR dry kilns; two more USNR dry kilns are currently under construction and will provide TBM Hardwoods with even greater capacity and inventory control.
TBM Hardwoods has been a family owned business since its inception in 1955, when Thomas Baird McIlvain I founded the company. It is now owned by his son, Thomas Baird McIlvain II, and employs his grandson, Thomas Baird McIlvain III.
Craig Schriver has been plant manager at TBM Hardwoods for less than a year, although his tenure with the company encompasses 10 years. He has held several positions, including production manager. With a degree in forestry from Pennsylvania State University and a background working in another business setting, Craig brings a special mix of expertise to his role.
New to wood products when he joined TBM Hardwoods, Craig developed a solid affinity for the industry and his employer. “It’s great company to grow with,” he said.
TBM’s challenge continues to be development of value-added products and services. In that connection, Craig has helped with the addition of some of the equipment designed to add value.
“I was very instrumental in putting the moulder in,” said Craig. The Weinig moulder is one of several pieces of equipment dedicated to lumber remanufacturing and millwork production. The company also is equipped with an Oliver strato-planer, a Mereen-Johnson ripsaw and a Baker Products band resaw.
With the addition of the two new USNR Irvington-Moore dry kilns, the company will have a combined dry kiln capacity of 900,000 board feet, dramatically increasing the production of high quality dried hardwoods.
TBM utilizes covered ‘T’ sheds to air dry lumber; the sheds provide protection from direct sunlight and weather, maintaining excellent lumber quality prior to kiln-drying.
The USNR Irvington-Moore kilns at TBM Hardwoods are conventional, steam-heated kilns powered by two natural gas fired boilers that run around the clock, seven days a week. Inside the kilns, conditions and operations are monitored carefully to ensure even lumber drying and production of quality lumber. The drying operations are supervised by a separate manager; Keith Redding.
TBM Hardwoods buys random width and length lumber. It dries the lumber to between 6% and 8% moisture content and then grades it by National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) standards and sorts it for market conditions.
Keith recently completed a kiln-drying class sponsored by the NHLA. He also has completed kiln-drying classes at Pennsylvania State University. On the day Keith returned to TBM Hardwoods, concrete was being poured for the two new USNR kilns; they are expected to be running by August.
The USNR dry kilns now in use at TBM Hardwoods are evenly divided between 70,000 board feet and 40,000 board feet capacity; the two new USNR dry kilns will fit in the larger category.
One feature of the USNR dry kilns that Keith appreciates is the Kiln Boss computer-controlled operating system. “When you enter your samples, it’s easier to read” the visual array of information on the screen, he said.
Because the graphics and navigation on the Kiln Boss system are so well integrated, re-sizing on the screen goes rapidly. That makes it easy to zoom in on points of interest in the data and then switch back rapidly to the original screen. All the information can also be relayed to a home PC via modem.
The USNR Kiln Boss system reduces the amount of time that must be spent actually entering the kilns to check conditions. “We go in once a day,” said Keith, which is sufficient to make certain the lumber is drying optimally. The company also uses the Load Boss moisture measurement system to monitor real-time moisture content of the lumber in the kiln.
Keith joined TBM Hardwoods as a grader almost eight years ago. He “just happened to come in for an interview” and had no background in the industry, but from that point forward he was hooked on wood products.
The lumber drying process is very interesting, Keith noted. Each species of wood has different requirements for drying, and some are quite demanding.
“The most difficult (to dry) is Brazilian cherry,” he said. It takes special care to produce high quality Brazilian cherry 4/4 and 5/4 lumber. The species has a tendency to twist and bend with the smallest provocation of uneven moisture removal. It takes 30-50 days before Brazilian cherry is ready to emerge from drying in perfect form.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is poplar, which dries in six to seven days. It is much less temperamental than exotic and other domestic hardwoods.
When the two new USNR kilns are up and running this summer, they will give TBM Hardwoods even greater control over its inventory. The additional capacity also will further enable the company to keep up with orders for 4/4 and 5/4 domestic hardwoods. In addition, the new kilns will enable TBM Hardwoods to ensure that all lumber is under roof — either in an air-drying shed or in a kiln.
Managing the complex kiln operations is a key role at TBM Hardwoods. Proper scheduling can maximize production of dried lumber and also is a factor in determining how much green lumber the company requires.
“We plan out what we’re going to do,” said Craig. The planning process that Keith, the kiln manager, goes through enables TBM Hardwoods to make forecasts about meeting customer needs and also drives purchasing requirements.
“Delivery is a big part of our business,” added Craig. “More and more of our industry is going to just-in-time delivery.”
Keith’s role in coordinating the drying operations enables the company to make customer deliveries in a predictable way. “We have a pretty set delivery schedule,” said Craig. “It really helps customers. We can tell them we’ll be there Tuesday and Thursday” each week, and the customers can plan their operations accordingly. TBM Hardwoods has a fleet of five tractor-trailers and one three-axle truck. It delivers to customers as far north to Maine, west to Ohio and south to North Carolina.
TBM Hardwoods is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a family picnic for employees, promotions, and other events. The history of the company actually extends to the late 1700s. Ancestors of the company’s founder were in the lumber industry then. In 2001, TBM Hardwoods took its current name.
A significant part of the company’s business now is imports. Gene Reitz and his son, Hugh, head up this aspect of the company’s operations. They tend to everything involved in importing lumber, including all the paperwork and keeping pace with applicable regulations.
Mahogany, Spanish cedar and Brazilian cherry are just a few of the species imported by TBM Hardwoods. The imported green lumber is treated to the same careful sorting, grading and drying regimen as domestic lumber once it arrives in Hanover.
Hanover is a borough of 15,000 people in York County. It is just 18 miles southwest of York and so far south in the Keystone State that it is only a few miles from the Maryland line.
TBM Hardwoods puts a great emphasis on integrity, said Craig. “We have high expectations for everyone,” he explained.
“Win-win is actually a popular phrase of the owner,” Craig added. The owner stresses that what is good for the company is also good for the supplier and good for the customer and good for the employee, so everyone wins by giving and getting just what is expected of them. So committed is TBM Hardwoods to delivering customers what they expect to receive that all kiln-dried lumber is sold on a net tally unless a customer asks for something else.
TBM Hardwoods employs about 70 dedicated workers, including about 45 production personnel. The remainder works in sales or administrative positions. “Our employees are the reason we can do what we do everyday,” said Craig.
Customers of TBM Hardwoods range from two- and three-person shops to large, well-known companies.
The long history of TBM Hardwoods parallels that of the USNR Irvington-Moore dry kilns. Lafayette Moore of Jacksonville, Fla., started building the first Moore kilns in the 19th century. Today, USNR hardwood dry kilns use the most sophisticated technology combined with durable components to provide the most control to date. The Kiln Boss computer control system monitors conditions in the kiln and in the lumber packages and adjusts drying operations as necessary. USNR uses motors are made of the highest quality cast iron and feature double dip winding lubricated with high temperature grease. Venting is designed to speed moisture removal. The system achieves superior one-zone control, producing wood that is lighter and brighter.
USNR kilns require very little attention in terms of maintenance, said Keith. Regularly scheduled greasing and routine checks of seals and fans keep the kilns working at optimum.
Employees adhere strictly to procedures to produce quality lumber. Grading and sorting follow NHLA as well as company guidelines. Graders are certified by NHLA. Any lumber that is degraded in the drying operations is removed and does not enter inventory.
USNR dry kilns have demonstrated an 8% reduction in degrade in hardwood lumber drying, according to the supplier. That is just one of the many ways that USNR has helped TBM Hardwoods increase efficiency. The company’s 26-bay sorter-stacker, also supplied by USNR, is a state-of-the-art piece of equipment.
TBM Hardwoods can sort according to width and length by increments as small as 1/100-inch. The company also can sort certain species by color and other characteristics. For most domestic species, TBM offers a proprietary width-sorted Clear 1 Face (C1F) sort — boards that are 90 percent clear on one face. Sorting is done with the customers in mind. For instance, the 4/4 C1F red oak and poplar sorts are done in 1-inch increments between 5 and 10 inches.
In his relatively new role as kiln manager, Keith did not have a part in the selection of the original USNR dry kilns for TBM Hardwoods. But the kilns have such a long record of good performance, he explained, “We’ve just never wanted to switch.”
Keith was involved in the decision to invest in two new dry kilns, and he recommended staying with USNR. “I think Irvington-Moore USNR kilns are the best,” he said.
The USNR kilns and Kiln Boss control system enable TBM Hardwoods to produce quality lumber. Since each species of wood has its own drying schedule, and given the exotic hardwoods that TBM also deals in, the capabilities of the Kiln Boss operating system are put to full use.
The USNR product line includes machinery and equipment for primary and secondary breakdown, scanning and optimization systems, lumber handling, remanufacturing and engineered wood products. USNR’s headquarters are located in Woodland, Wash. with additional facilities in Jacksonville, Fla., Hot Springs, Ark., Brighton, Mich., Parksville, B.C., and Quebec. USNR manufactures dry kilns in Jacksonville, Fla.
When Craig started with TBM Hardwoods, he could go into the woods and name every species of tree, but he had much to learn about making the most of wood. TBM Hardwoods has given him the opportunity to do that. It gave Keith the same opportunity. Outside of work, Craig does automobile restoration as a hobby, and Keith enjoys hunting.