Gilkey Lumber Expedites Drying Process with SII Design Pre-dryers

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 In an effort to minimize standing inventory, Gilkey Lumber has added three SII Design pre-dryers to expedite their drying process. Drying time for their oak production has been shortened from 90 days to 30 days allowing for quicker turnover of product.

Rutherford, North Carolina—Located in the “heart of the furniture industry of the world”, between Morristown, TN and Highpoint, NC, Gilkey Lumber has seen the market change for nearly 60 years; and they’ve changed in tandem with the market. One of their most recent changes has been the addition of three SII Design “Cross-flow” pre-dryers to complement their four pre-existing fan sheds.
Space for inventory has been one of the problems that Gilkey has had to face at their 50-acre manufacturing site. Their facilities, with kilns, fan sheds, pre-dryers, and storage units total 195,000 square feet. Gilkey’s philosophy has always been to provide “quality lumber, one board at a time.” And their goal, according to Mike Parton, treasurer and marketing manager for Gilkey, is “not to be a high production mill, but to saw higher grade logs so that they can produce better lumber.”
Gilkey Lumber, a 3rd generation lumber company, was started by Jess Parton in 1952 with the purchase of a wholesale pine lumber business in the Gilkey community. Originally the business employed just eight people, but now 55 are keeping the business going. A sawmill was added in 1955 that was later replaced by a Salem band mill in the 1989. This move proved to be very beneficial for Gilkey as the overseas demand for North American hardwood was birthed. Gilkey was ready to transition from the domestic marketplace into exportation. This was in 1980 and since that time they have been committed to exporting and moving with the anticipated market changes.
“We’ve always been in close contact with the furniture manufacturers in our area and about eight to 10 years ago we knew they were thinking of moving manufacturing to Asia,” explained Mike. “We anticipated back then that we needed to prepare for the industry change and that our product would be exporting to China. Our white oak had already been exporting for quite a while…so the transition to exporting our mid-grade was easily done.”
Jess has retired now, but the business is operated by his oldest son, William (“Bub”) as president, Tim (Bub’s son) as vice president, Mike (Bub’s brother) as secretary and treasurer, and Mike’s two sons, Ben and Jess. According to Mike, some grandsons are yet to enter the business but they are currently playing baseball right now.
According to Mike, Gilkey is primarily a “Salem mill”. They have three Volvo 120 log loaders, one Morris Bin sorter, two Morris trim saws; one dry trimmer and one green trimmer; four USNR & Taylor fork lifts, four Kiln-Tek Dry Kilns and three SII pre-dryers. Six International trucks are used to haul logs and lumber within a 125-mile radius. For any hauling beyond that range commercial trucks are hired.
Gilkey Lumber’s heritage is that of selling various grades of hardwood lumber, timber and veneer, with an emphasis on poplar, white and red oak. Approximately 60% of their raw material comes from local timber contracts and from their own timberland holdings, 5,400 acres located in western North Carolina. For the past 30 years, Gilkey’s white oak sales have been exported to Europe, while their poplar and red oak sales were retained domestically. Within the last six to eight years, their mid-grade hardwood has also been exported to China. Shipments are made direct and through agents from the ports of Charleston, SC, Wilmington, NC and Savannah, GA. Production last year alone exceeded 20 million board feet with 6.5 million board feet being exported.
“Our business has changed drastically over the last six to eight years from domestic customers to export customers,” Mike said. “Ten years ago 80% was shipped locally, but now we don’t do a lot of domestic. Most of our grade lumber is exported.”
According to Mike, the company had used the stacking air-drying methods with hat covers, and for the last 15 to 18 years four 48′ by 195′ fan sheds were implemented. With the increased demand in exporting, the need for faster drying methods arose. So just over a year ago, Mike and his family began exploring their options for solving this problem. Space and cost were huge factors in their decision. Originally they had decided to go for large shed units similar to the fan sheds that they already owned; however, they ran into an expensive glitch. For such large buildings the county code requires the installation of a $100,000 sprinkler system as well as a variety of building permits. So in August of 2010, Gilkey purchased three pre-dryers from SII Dry Kilns. Their official start up was in February 2011.
“We just didn’t have enough room for a large building nor did we want to pay all the extra expenses,” explained Mike. “Eighteen years ago we had installed three fan sheds with a total capacity of three million board feet and a separate shed for poplar. (So) we definitely didn’t have the room. These chamber-type units are a kiln-type system, rather than a large building. The county treated it like a piece of machinery. This new system that SII engineered has worked great for us.”
According to Ken Matthews, SII’s regional sales representative for the Southeast, the three pre-dryers sit connected alongside each other in a row with shared common walls. Each pre-dryer was designed to hold two kiln charges, approximately 147,000 board feet. The pre-dryers have a center fan wall with loading doors on both ends. The loading area on each side of the fan wall is exactly the same size as one kiln (approximately 73,500 board feet) so when each pre-dryer is unloaded they can go directly into one of Gilkey’s kilns. Mike says it’s like having six pre-dryers, rather than just three pre-dryers simply because of the capacity of the units.
Gilkey’s pre-dryers are SII Design, which is the name of their units that host the center fan wall for their kilns or pre-dryers. SII Kilns, located in Lexington, NC, has been installing center fan wall kilns for 25 years with their first center fan wall pre-dryer being installed in 2000. According to Ken, Gilkey’s SII pre-dryer system is the first one they have installed utilizing kiln buildings.
“Normally equipment is installed in a singe metal building with insulation attached to it,” explained Ken. “The buildings are purchased from and installed by a metal building contractor. In this case, we manufactured and installed the buildings and equipment. The difference is the buildings we provide are constructed of aluminum and stainless steel with pre-manufactured panels, which are more expensive but much less corrosive and much more energy efficient.”
Mike is currently using both his old and new methods of pre-drying. He said that he has “much more downgrading in the fan sheds than in the pre-dryers.” Typically, he’s finding that in his fan sheds it is taking 90 days in the summer, but sometimes it can take up to 120 days on a five-quarter rotation. In his pre-dryers it’s taking only 30 days.
“We’re turning it much faster,” Mike said. “The pre-dryer has a stainless steel roof and aluminum sides and we’re finding that we are loosing 1.5% to 2% moisture content per day in the pre-dryers, while on average it’s only 0.5% per day in the fan sheds. However, it does depend on the weather as to how much moisture is lost. In the winter it could be 0.5% to 0.75% in the fan sheds. More is lost in the summer. We definitely have much more control in the SII pre-dryers.”
Drying in a pre-dryer is totally controlled drying, according to Ken. Limited temperature, humidity and air movement controls are used to insure that green wood is dried to a moisture content of 25% or less before the wood is transferred into a dry kiln. Basically, the temperature for SII pre-dryers ranges between 85° F to 105° F. Pre-dryers have many advantages when comparing them to air-drying. Pre-drying not only allows for the regulation of the drying rate, but also it creates brighter lumber, a more uniform moisture content throughout the wood, an increased reduction in drying defects, and up to one-third or more of a reduction in drying times.
“Traditionally, pre-dryers have been more popular with companies that process a large volume of oak, especially with flooring plants,” Ken said. “But before and after the recession years, SII has been installing a few smaller pre-dryers for companies that produce higher grade lumber. In fact, Gilkey’s is the smallest pre-dryer that we have sold. I believe there is a growing market for the smaller pre-dryers for high grade oak.”
Mike and his family have long been impressed with SII Dry Kilns, especially with the founder, Paul Mathews. Nearly 30 years ago SII assisted them in setting up their original Nyle dehumidification units and just three years ago SII completely upgraded Gilkey’s kilns.
“We never doubted that when the time came for our upgrades that we’d use SII,” stated Mike. “I go way back with Paul Mathews. He’s in his 80’s now and he’s always been known as a ‘great gentleman.” He and his company have always done a great job. We’ve been extremely happy with all of their work. They did everything that we needed and they did the job well. We never even thought to look anywhere else except SII for what we’ve needed.”
“Working with Mike and Bub at Gilkey Lumber is always such a pleasure,” Ken said. “We worked closely with Danny Ingle, who is Gilkey’s mill manager. Danny is one of the most knowledgeable mill managers that I have ever met and he was so meticulous in deciding which drying system was best for their company. Gilkey Lumber has one of the best reputations in the industry and we are proud to add them to our family tree of customers.”