Bill Howard of Claude Howard Lumber has done a modernization project every year since the late 1980s. All of the mill’s optimization comes from USNR. Staying on top of techonology has helped increase yield, improve production, and make the company more competitive.
Bill Howard is a man with a mission. His mission is to see that his company—Claude Howard Lumber Company, Inc. in Statesboro, Georgia—stays up with technology and maintains a high level of efficiency.
Bill’s most recent upgrade to the company’s technology involved its drying process. He moved the process away from the existing batch kilns and into a USNR Counter-Flow kiln. By retrofitting one of the existing kilns, however, he didn’t have to install an entirely new system, which resulted in savings to the company as well as a substantial increase in production.
According to Bill, Claude Howard Lumber Company is steeped in tradition.
“I’m the fourth generation of my family to own the company,” he said. “My great-granddad Arthur Howard started in 1898 with a traveling sawmill here in the Statesboro area. In 1930, we established a stationary mill in Statesboro, and didn’t travel any more; that was under my granddad Claude Arthur Howard. Then in 1946, we moved to our present location, which was in the country then; now we’re in the middle of town again. My dad—Claude Arthur Howard, Jr.—took over the mill in 1975.” Bill’s brother, Claude Arthur Howard, III, is also involved in the business.
“My brother handles quality control in the dry end and over the whole plant,” Bill said.
In 1980, tragedy struck, when the mill burned to the ground.
“To rebuild, we had to borrow money at an interest rate of about 19 ½%,” Bill said. “We had to rebuild everything between the log deck and the sorter deck.” It took the company quite a few years to recover financially and pay off the debt from that experience.
“But since then—since the late 1980s—we’ve done a modernization project every year,” Bill said. Some of those projects have included adding optimizers, and replacing and adding equipment.
“The point is to stay up with technology,” Bill said. “What we’ve done each time has been to increase our yield, or to improve our production, or to make us more competitive.”
The mill has past experience with USNR, Newnes and Coe as vendors; all of the mill’s optimization is from USNR, the planer mill and sawmill trim line are Newnes, and the planer is a Coastal machine (Coe).
Bill said the mill has always cut pine saw logs from right around the Statesboro area. Today, the company purchases timber within a radius of about 100 miles around Statesboro.
“We have one contract logger who works for us and cuts all our timber,” Bill said.
When it comes to customers the mill sells to a little bit of everybody.
“The treated lumber business is probably the biggest sector we sell to,” Bill said. “Most of that ends up in Home Depot and Lowe’s. We also do some exporting, and we sell to contractor yards.”
For these accounts, Bill said, the mill makes everything from 1x4s to 2x12s. However, much of what the mill cuts is specialty material such as flooring and siding.
“We’re not a high production mill,” he said. “We’re really more of a specialty mill. We have a specialty line that will run flooring and different pattern stock. We have core products, but we also run special orders to satisfy our customers.”
Despite the emphasis on special orders and close attention to detail, Claude Howard Lumber still cuts a substantial amount of dimension lumber.
“We do around 65 million board feet in a year,” Bill said.
In many ways, Bill said, the operation at Claude Howard Lumber is similar to other mills about the same size.
“Logs go through a bucking system and get kicked to the two breakdown lines,” he said. “One is a Maxi Mill overhead carriage and the other side is a sharp chain system. Both lines feed to a double arbor gang saw.”
The side pieces go to a TMT edger, Bill said, and the pieces from the gang and edger go to a trimmer line.
“It’s just about all Perceptron (USNR) scanning,” he said. “So it’s pretty well automated.”
At this point the company has about 65 employees, with only about 20 working in the mill itself.
“Besides the employees in the mill, two people run the dry kiln, and about 18 people work around the planer,” he said. “There are two employees in the shipping department, eight in the office, and about eight on the maintenance staff.”
As he has every year, Bill undertook a modernization project during 2009. This time his goal was to upgrade the kiln system.
“We had two batch kilns,” he said. “We modified one of them into a USNR Counter Flow kiln. Now instead of closing the wood up inside a building to dry it, the ends are open and we push green lumber in on a track from one side and push green lumber in on the other track on the other side.” What comes out on the end of each line is kiln dried lumber.
Bill’s process began with a visit from Joe Denig, an Extension Sawmill Specialist from North Carolina State University. Joe said he began by giving Bill the same advice he gives every sawmill owner who’s contemplating a major change in his equipment.
“The main thing that owners and mill managers need to do is to know your goals, and what you’re trying to accomplish,” Joe said. “Then you need to educate yourself on the process, and get a real understanding of how the system works.” He encouraged Bill to look at a couple of working systems and see if they really did what he wanted his kiln to do.
“That way you see both successes and failures, and it’s an education,” Joe said. “If you have a good understanding of the process and equipment, you can decide if it’s what you want for your situation and your goals. That’s the way Bill always does things; he looks at what’s out there and fine tunes it for his own situation.”
After Bill studied several systems, he made a decision that upgrading one of his existing kilns to a USNR Counter Flow kiln made the best sense for his operation. At that point, he turned to USNR for advice and help.
“Bill had an existing kiln that we had built,” said Alan Robbins, sales manager for USNR’s Jacksonville, Florida office. “It was a 68-foot direct fired unit.”
USNR rebuilt the kiln, and added 22 feet to one end of the main chamber.
“That made the whole system more symmetrical in terms of the duct system,” Alan said. “The heating supply duct system was not symmetrical before that.”
Then USNR added 60 feet of pre-heat/pre-dry space at each end.
“We have a complete prefabricated building for that, including the electrical,” Alan said. “We also added new trams and a pushing system, as well as an indexing system for the trams. Then we did a complete revamp of Bill’s controls, with an upgrade on his Kiln Boss Computer Control System so he can monitor the entire system.”
The entire upgrade took about 25 weeks, Alan said, which let USNR meet the goal of being done before the end of 2009.
“We started in July and had it running in mid-December,” he said.
Bill also upgraded his burner control system.
“We added to the system so now we spread the heat out some,” he said. “We’re still burning sawdust, which is coming out of our mill.”
That recycling factor is characteristic of how Claude Howard Lumber does business.
“Everything we make here is sold,” Bill said. “We have no waste. The bark goes to big box stores, the sawdust is either burned or sold to particle board plants or pellet plants, and the shavings are sold to horse farms. The logging crew sells the tops to the pulp mills.”
Expanding the dry kiln removed the bottleneck that Claude Howard Lumber had had in its operation.
“Now we have the dryer capacity, as well as the planer mill and sawmill capacity, to do 85 million board feet annually in one shift per week,” Bill said. “Before, we could only do about 60 million feet in a shift.”
He also really likes the ease with which the new kiln has integrated into the business.
“It’s much simpler to operate than the batch kiln,” he said. “It’s tough to dry good lumber with a batch kiln; you just have to put it in and hope for the best. But the Counter Flow Kiln is much easier to use; with my setup, I can control and fine tune the drying process.”
One result is a more consistent product from the Counter Flow Kiln.
“With the batch kiln, there’s always a question of when to turn it off,” Bill said. “But the Counter Flow never turns off, and it’s much easier to control. We’re seeing fewer defects in the lumber coming from the Counter Flow Kiln versus the batch kiln. So it’s improved both our capacity and our quality; it almost doubled our production out of the same burner and kiln.”
One thing Bill noticed right away that’s different in the wood from the two kilns is temperature.
“When the wood comes out of the Counter Flow Kiln, it isn’t hot like it is when it comes out of the batch kiln,” he said. “When wood comes out of the batch kiln, you have to wait 48 hours before you can dress it. But in the Counter Flow Kiln, the heat from the dried wood is absorbed by the green wood coming in. That’s the whole magic of this system. When the dried wood comes out of the heat chamber and goes into the conditioning chambers—the 60-foot extensions—the hot wood heats the green wood and starts drying it. It’s like having two pizza ovens running in opposite directions at the same time. The drying process starts with the hot wood heating up the green wood, and as the hot wood gets to the end, it’s almost cool. The heat transaction actually causes it to rain all the time in the first eight to ten feet of the kiln.”
Bill and his brother are the only two family members working at Claude Howard Lumber at this time. Bill still relies on his father for help and support when the occasion warrants it, but he said it’s too soon to know whether any of the next generation will be interested in taking over the family business.
“My brother has a junior at Old Miss and a senior in high school, and my children are 11, 8 and 5,” he said. “It’s a little early yet to tell whether they’ll be interested.”
Over the next few years, Bill said, he would like to see Claude Howard Lumber maintain its position as “the” niche lumber manufacturer in the Statesboro area.
“With God we do what nobody else wants to do,” he said. “I want us to continue doing that.”
The people he does business with, Bill said, are what makes him get up in the morning with a smile on his face.
“Everyone is really nice in this business,” he said, “both our customers and our competition. It starts with the loggers and goes all the way to the customers. Everyone is very friendly and we all work together very well. It’s one of the few businesses where you can make a million dollar deal over the phone and it happens.”
For more information, call USNR at 800/BUY-USNR.