Morgan Lumber Gains Speed and Energy Efficiency with USNR Counter Flow Kiln 

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USNR Counter Flow Kiln dries as much as 1.5 million board feet per week at Morgan Lumber and has the capacity to dry 100,000 board feet more.

RED OAK, Virginia — Imagine drying wood faster. Now couple speed with big energy savings.
“We’re using 40 percent less sawdust per 1,000 board feet to dry,” said Don Bright, vice president of operations at Morgan Lumber. “We’re using 14 percent less electricity.”
The gains at Morgan Lumber came with the addition of a USNR Counter Flow Kiln. The kiln was installed in December 2010.
Don explained that “tweaking” is ongoing, but the USNR Counter Flow Kiln demonstrated its prowess for doing more with less right from the start. The kiln is direct fired with a 25 million BTU gasifier. Fans are powered with electricity from the grid. The sawdust-fed boiler does the substantive heating.
Morgan Lumber has an older USNR (Irvington-Moore) batch kiln that has not been needed since the new counter-flow kiln arrived. The difference between the two kilns illustrates another juncture at which energy is saved. Entering air temperature is lower with the continuous kiln, explained Don. It is just 206° F compared with 230° F for the batch kiln.
The counter-flow kiln from USNR is capable of drying 1.6 million board feet per week. “I have dried 1.5 million board feet per week,” said Don. The kiln has a 70-foot main chamber, two 48-foot end chambers and a five-grate burner.
“We’re a southern yellow pine manufacturer,” said Don. “Specialty decking, boards and light timber” are in the product mix. All 5/4×6 and 5/4×4 decking material is dried. So are all 4×4 and 1×6 boards.
“We try to keep no green lumber in the yard,” said Don. “Blue stain [discoloration] is a huge issue in our industry right now.” Preventing it and alleviating concern among customers was a motivator in the choice of the high-capacity kiln from USNR.
The counter-flow kiln taps the physical principle of countercurrent exchange. In this instance, both moisture and heat are being exploited to the fullest by having the green and the moist lumber pass by the warm and the dry lumber.
As they pass each other in opposite directions, incoming green boards and outgoing dry boards exchange some heat and some moisture — each of which flows along a gradient from higher to lower. The countercurrent exchange allows heat from the dry boards to pre-dry entering green lumber. And it allows moisture from the green lumber to condition dry lumber.
Countercurrent exchange is a phenomenon that contributes to conservation of energy in settings as different as the human body and heat pumps. The USNR Counter Flow Dry Kiln is configured with three chambers and two sets of tracks. The middle chamber is the drying chamber. Conditioning takes place in each end chamber. In each end chamber, green lumber makes the most of heat from outgoing dried lumber as dry lumber makes the most of moisture from the incoming green lumber.
The kiln at Morgan Lumber is equipped with USNR Kiln Boss controls. “The Kiln Boss system does an excellent job of monitoring,” said Don. In conjunction with the expert oversight of the full-time dry-kiln manager, Terry Hylton, the results are quite impressive.
“Our standard deviation [in moisture content] of lumber coming out of the continuous kiln is 2.1,” said Don. “It was 3.2 in the old [batch] kiln.”
The Kiln Boss augmented by the expertise of Terry makes the entire drying experience one that serves the best possible outcomes. “It’s actually a simple process,” said Don. “We can make adjustments [as needed]. We adjust the push rate. That is very important.”
With not all incoming lumber having the same moisture content, the speed of the feed must be amenable to change. And with the USNR kiln, it is.
The kiln at Morgan Lumber runs 24/7. “I have employees that work as security-slash-forklift operators,” said Don. They check the kiln and load it around the clock.
Not only did USNR provide the counter-flow kiln and the Kiln Boss controls installed at Morgan Lumber, but it also provided the control room, pusher trams and more. And USNR worked closely with Don to help tailor solutions. For instance, USNR worked with Morgan Lumber on the blower system that blends air from the kiln and the burner for blow back to the kiln. The proportion of burner air and kiln air can be changed.
“USNR was very helpful,” said Don. So, too, was the manufacturer of the burner. “I got a lot of information from Cliff McConnell with McConnell Burner.”
Don has been with Morgan Lumber for 14 years. He joined the company after graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in forest products markets management. It was at Virginia Tech where he first met Ken Morgan, the owner of Morgan Lumber. Ken has endowed two scholarships at the university.
A native of Eastern North Carolina, Don knew early on that he wanted to join the timber industry. “I grew up around the industry,” he explained.
We spoke to Don in early June. This July, he will be wearing a new hat as the head of his own company. He and three partners purchased an existing grade hardwood lumber saw mill. Owning a mill is a dream realized, but the departure from Morgan Lumber will be bittersweet. “I could not have done it without Ken’s mentoring me for 14 years,” he said. And he will miss his many coworkers – there are 74 employees at the company — and responsibilities he has had at Morgan Lumber.
Don’s new mill will be close to the home of Morgan Lumber in Red Oak, Va. Red Oak is a town of approximately 1,400 in Charlotte County in the south-central part of the Old Dominion.
“I love sawmill equipment,” said Don. “I like to work closely with equipment managers.”
Don first met Andy Pollard at a roundtable session at a Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association meeting. He explained that Andy was working on the counter-flow kiln system now licensed to USNR.
Captivated by the potential in the system Andy was developing, Don wanted to know more. “The first thing that intrigued me was the amount of wood he could dry – the efficiency, the quality of the drying.” At the time, Don was building on a strong relationship with USNR.
“I strengthened our relationship with USNR after a planer mill fire in 2006,” said Don. The entire mill, which operates today around a Newman 990 planer, had to be rebuilt. The experience in rebuilding the planer mill and outfitting it with much equipment from USNR — including a line-shaft trimmer, a 30-bin sorter, a high-speed lumber package maker and a strapper, made Don very comfortable with the company.
When it came time to consider a new kiln and especially a continuous flow kiln, Don looked to USNR again. “I went with USNR because of their experience,” he said. “Their willingness to do it the way I wanted to do it” was very important.
“In our kiln, we’re spending about 20 percent of time equalizing lumber, 60 of time percent drying lumber and 20 percent of time conditioning lumber,” said Don. “I have one continuous kiln [now that is] so efficient – does such a good job drying – that we are doing everything we can” without a need for the older USNR (Irvington-Moore) batch kiln.
The USNR Counter Flow Kiln has many features that commend it beyond its speed and efficiency, said Don. “The burner is extremely clean running,” he explained. “We get virtually no ash. It’s every bit as clean as steam.” The five-grate burner contributes to the clean burn. It ensures that when there is a big pull on the burner for heat, the warm air will not be laden with ash.
The planer operators also appreciate the results. “The lumber is significantly more relaxed,” said Don. It is easier to plane and there are fewer stops. “We saw an immediate uptick in production.”
Shavings from the planer mill become high-quality equine bedding, which is bagged and sold under the Royal Canadian Wood Shavings label in partnership with Morgan Lumber. “The new dry kiln [makes] the moisture very even from the inside to the outside of the board,” said Don. And that contributes to superior shavings.
In its sophistication, the USNR Counter Flow Kiln complements the other components of the Morgan Lumber operation. And it fits in amongst many other pieces of USNR equipment. For example, in 2009, the sawmill got a new primary breakdown line. “We bought a Quad mill with extended band feed.” It was updated with USNR scanning and optimizing technology. Overall production at Morgan Lumber has increased by 80 to 90 percent since that installation, said Don.
Don is a very active person and his free time is full of commitments. “I’m a Sunday School teacher. I coach Dixie Youth softball and baseball.”
And that’s just the beginning of the engagements. Don is on the board of the Virginia Forestry Association. He is on a number of other boards, including a local chapter of Gideons International. He also serves as a spotter on Ken’s auto racing team.