Savannah Wood Preserving Co. adds drying capacity, turns to Kiln-direct.com for new unit.
SAVANNAH, Ga. – Everyone is familiar with U.S. companies that have set up operations abroad or outsourced labor-intensive tasks to workers in foreign countries.
It must be a little bit unusual, though, for a business overseas to invest in a U.S. company in order to establish a presence in America.
In the case of Savannah Wood Preserving Co., however, the interest of its Taiwanese owner is primarily to provide a source of high quality treated Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) lumber products the owner can import.
Under the company’s new ownership, Savannah Wood Preserving Co. also has expanded – and continues to expand – into kiln drying. Its latest addition is a lumber dry kiln that was supplied by Kiln-direct.com.
Savannah Wood was founded in 1978. Kirby Beam and Herbert Guerry bought Savannah Celcure Company, renovated the processing plant and converted with the industry to new chemical treatment, and renamed the business. Guerry operated the business for nearly 30 years until he retired in March 2012 and sold the company two months later.
The new owner, Wen-Chuan Huang, also owns a lumber business in Taipei, Taiwan that specializes in the production of high quality wood moulding. Matt Gardner, 29, has been employed by the company since 2006 and continues to work for the new owner.
The company’s business is split roughly between exports to Taiwan and its domestic customers. Most domestic customers are located within roughly 200 miles. In addition to exporting to Taiwan, the company also has a few customers in the Caribbean islands.
Savannah Wood Preserving Co., which has a website at www.savwood.com, does business with lumber brokers who sell to other lumber companies and an equal portion of lumber yards that well stock to end consumers. About 20-25 percent of its customers are local building contractors.
Historically the company’s dominant business has been providing treating services – treating material for lumber companies. It has been expanding into buying lumber, treating it, and reselling it as well as kiln-drying lumber. The company typically treats kiln-dried lumber and then re-dries it.
The company buys high-grade Southern Yellow Pine to produce its pressure treated products, doing businesses with sawmill companies in Georgia and the Carolinas. Its products include Surfaced 4 Sides (S4S) 1x 4 through 1×12, 5/4 decking in 4-inch and 6-inch widths, 2×4 through 2×12, 4×4 6×6, and rough 2×4 through 2×12. Other products include plywood, poles and posts, dock and seawall material, and sill plate stock.
“Southern Yellow Pine is very popular in Taiwan,” said Gardner, for outdoor building material because of its strength and price. “Southern Yellow Pine treats very easily,” he added, making it a popular species for treating material used in decking and other exterior building applications.
It became important to Huang’s business to have an American company he could depend on. “There are treating plants in China and Taiwan, but the quality is not the same,” said Gardner.
“Drying becomes pretty important,” observed Gardner, when lumber has been treated and it is going to be in a shipping container for two months. “It can get moldy if not dried properly.” If the wood is treated to a very high retention level of chemical, mold normally is not a problem, he added, but it is not always desirable to treat it to such a level.
“Even if it’s heavily treated, sometimes a surface mold can form if it’s wet,” said Gardner.
The company is located pretty close to the heart of downtown and is situated on 1.5 acres with 63,000 square feet under roof. The company’s plant consists of two treating facilities, two dry kilns, three shed-type storage buildings, and an office. Savannah Wood Preserving Co. has six full-time employees and three full-time seasonal workers.
Savannah Wood Preserving Co. is also conveniently located close to Interstate 95 and less than a mile from Interstate 16 in Savannah, Georgia, the nation’s fourth largest port. This location near the port allows it to easily manage, arrange and quickly ship products internationally. These advantages, coupled with prompt customer service and quick delivery times, allow it to meet the most demanding customers’ needs.
Gardner considered three other suppliers before deciding to invest in a dry kiln from Kiln-direct.com, which is owned and operated by Niels Jorgensen. Factors in his decision to choose Kiln-direct.com were the chamber layout and size, construction, cost, and ease of getting it done.
“Basically, this is a small lumber kiln that we have customized or made better for the softwood and pressure treating industry,” said Jorgensen. “We call it our high performance small lumber kiln.” The unit has additional air flow and heat capacity; it has 14 main fans and two large gas burners. The company’s high performance small lumber kiln also is equipped for heat recovery on venting in order to reduce energy costs.
Most companies producing a premium treated wood product will kiln-dry the material after it has been treated, noted Jorgensen. The Kiln-direct.com kiln re-dries the wood in 36-50 hours.
Like other Kiln-direct.com dry kilns, it is delivered in one unit. The customer needs only a concrete slab to put it on and to hook up the gas and power. Kiln-direct.com staff are on-site for several days to make sure the hook-ups have been done properly and to start up the kiln with the customer. “It’s a turn-key delivery,” said Jorgensen.
Savannah Wood Preserving Co. made one additional upgrade: adding a dual control system. “It’s two kilns in one,” said Jorgensen, with the dual control system. The dual control system enables the company to operate it as a full featured dry kiln with the latest controller technology, and also as a heat-treating chamber using internal wood temperature sensors to sterilize wood pallets and other wood material. “You really get two kilns in one,” added Jorgensen, who also has other customers who have invested in the high performance lumber kiln. The investments have been spurred by increased demand for premium pressure treated lumber products, he said.
“It’s a big industrial, high performance kiln in a small format,” said Jorgensen. It features all-aluminum construction, and the unit for Savannah Wood Preserving Co. has bi-fold doors for easy access. The kiln uses a wireless system to communicate with the company’s office for continuous record-keeping and managing drying schedules. If the office computer is connected to the Internet then the same wireless system enables Kiln-direct.com to provide technical support via the Internet.
Kiln-direct.com (the company’s website is at www.kiln-direct.com) based in North Carolina, supplies dry kilns for lumber, pallets and other specialty wood products, and firewood. It brings the best technology and features to kiln controllers, which are completely computerized and have network access. Kiln-Direct has been in business since 1994 with its roots in Wooddryer System started by Niels Jorgensen’s dad. Having now served the wood industry worldwide for 30 years, they have over 1,000 kiln installations and customers in 40 countries.
“We’ve been pretty happy with it so far,” said Gardner, referring to the company’s new dry kiln. “It’s been drying very quickly for us,” and with very little degrade. “We’re real happy with it.”
Gardner came across Jorgensen’s company as he searched on the Internet for suppliers of dry kilns. What impressed him about the company and its dry kilns was that the units are pre-built and delivered on a trailer.
“It came in fairly seamlessly,” said Gardner, only requiring a day or two to set up and get running.
“They’ve been pretty good to us with feedback and support,” he added.
The kiln’s longer, rectangular layout compared to other kilns, which are squarer in dimension, allows easier access, noted Gardner. The kiln door is much longer, wider. “It seems a lot easier to get the forklifts in and out,” said Gardner.
Natural gas for fuel is cost effective, he has found. “The way the natural gas market has been.”
“We’re very happy with the software they provided,” added Gardner. “We like it a lot.”
The software provided by Kiln-direct.com can be controlled remotely from the office. “It’s got a readout that shows if there’re any problems with the fans,” said Gardner. “It’ll alert you if there’s any error of any kind.”
“It’s got a pretty smart system for automating drying schedules,” he added. “We can set the schedule and let it run. It’s pretty smart, running by itself.”
The software also generates automatic system reports. “It reads off every little thing you want to know about temperature, humidity,” and other conditions, said Gardner. “Everything you want at a moment’s notice. Pretty good.”
The company’s other kiln is an electric-powered dehumidification kiln from Nyle Systems. Savannah Wood Preserving Co. invested in the Nyle Systems kiln when it began its foray into kiln-drying a little over a year ago.
The company treats an average of 360,000 board feet of lumber products per month, said Gardner. About half of the production is kiln-dried after the treating process.
A considerable volume of lumber has been kiln-dried prior to treating. “It’s better to have it kiln-dried first because it accepts the chemical much more easily,” explained Gardner.
Savannah Wood Preserving Co. uses both CCA (chromated copper arsenate) and MCA (micronized copper azole). CCA is used for treating wood products used in nonresidential applications, such as poles, cross arms, and other industrial component. MCA is used for residential construction applications. About 60 percent of the company’s production is treated with MCA and 40 percent with CCA.
When Kirby and Herbert first bought the business and renovated it, the wood preserving chemistry was converted from the preservative ACC (Acid Copper Chromate or “Celcure”) to the more popular CCA. Over the years MCA and DOT Borates (disodium octaborate tetrahydrate) were added to the treating services.
When the industry migrated away from CCA for wood products for residential construction, Savannah Wood Preserving Co. tried several alternatives before deciding on MCA.
For treating, the company is equipped with 48-foot-long pressure chambers. After they are loaded with material the chamber – which holds 9,000 board feet – is sealed, and the fluid is pumped in. The chamber is pressurized to inject the fluid into the wood, and a vacuum is applied before the material is removed. The cycle takes about 90 minutes. The company is the process of adding equipment and controls to automate the process; currently, all valves, pumps and other controls are switched on and off by hand.
Savannah Wood Preserving Co. is a member of the Southern Forest Products Association, the Treated Wood Council, and the American Wood Protection Association.
In addition to the in-house quality control procedures, Savannah Wood Preserving Co. subscribes to the services of Timber Products Inspection Agency (TPI). TPI follows American Lumber Standards Committee guidelines for inspections and provides unannounced monthly inspections of the company’s treated products to insure independent quality control.
The company adjusted to the weak economy in recent years by downsizing somewhat. “We sunk down to a pretty lean, skeleton crew for a while to survive,” said Gardner, “but we held in there.”
Another tact the company took was to add a different service. “We tried our hand at loading shipping containers with lumber for a while and got some experience with that,” said Gardner. They suspended that activity for a while, but now Savannah Wood Preserving Co. is putting in a new loading dock and getting a trained crew in order to be able to provide the service once again.
Although business has been stagnant in recent years – “it was a rough few years,” said Gardner – revenues are up this year as the market has been improving.
“More orders are coming in,” said Gardner. “It’s good to see sawmills starting to produce again. It’s easier to find material. Overall, demand has been up for us.”
“A huge part of that has been the Asian market opening up to American lumber,” added Gardner. Domestic business also has been on the rise, he said.