Dehumidification dry kilns cut drying time for red oak.
SOLON, Maine — There’s a lot to be said for proximity. But the convenience of nearness will only get a vendor a first look. Performance is what counts.
So it was that when Kennebec Lumber Company decided to add conventional kilns some three years ago, it looked just 64 miles to the east to Nyle Systems in Brewer, Maine. Three new conventional kilns from Nyle went into service 2 ½ years ago.
Based on the performance of the Nyle conventional kilns, Kennebec looked again to Nyle Systems this year. Only this time it was to purchase six dehumidification dry kilns.
“We were drying red oak offsite,” explained Mark Gilbert, vice president operations at Kennebec Lumber. The dehumidification (DH) kilns from Nyle allow the drying to be done onsite, a real time saver.
But it’s not the only time saver. With DH kilns, Kennebec is able to dry red oak in 28 to 32 days, an overall savings of two to four days per charge. When Mark spoke with us in mid-June, the six new DH kilns from Nyle had been in service for five weeks. And all had “flipped one cycle,” he said.
Mark has high expectations for the DH kilns from Nyle. “We’ve had very good results with the first three kilns,” he said, referring to the conventional models. Consequently, he expected the same from the DH models. And the results have matched his expectations.
“The color out of these kilns is extremely good,” said Mark. “The quality is very good.” Color is important at Kennebec because the red oak goes into the company’s own flooring product and to other manufacturers.
“We have two sawmills,” explained Mark. “We manufacture hardwood lumber – 60 percent hard maple, 40 percent red oak.”
The DH dry kilns from Nyle were purchased specifically to handle red oak. In total, there are 14 kilns onsite at Kennebec Lumber, nine of them from Nyle.
“All the kilns have a purpose,” said Mark. Each of the nine kilns from Nyle has a 60,000 bf capacity. And all use propane as a fuel source for the initializing burners.
Of course, once the Nyle DH kilns get to the established temperature, the heat from the dehumidification process enters the mix. A patented design feature of the Nyle Systems DH kiln allows for oak to be dried in the same temperature range used in conventional kilns.
The Nyle DH kiln design is one Mark appreciates. “[The kiln is] a very big energy saver,” he said.
Energy savings accumulate in several ways. For one, the high-pressure spray system in the DH kiln uses a cold-water source. And, again, because once the kiln is started, there is no boiler needed to heat the DH kiln, that’s more savings. (Technically, preheating is accomplished with gas that uses an indirect-fired heater.) Finally, constructed of stainless steel and aluminum, the kilns meet very high insulation standards.
Solid construction of the DH kilns from Nyle means the energy savings they produce is entirely compatible with the quality of the wood emerging from the kiln. “They are very consistent kilns,” explained Mark.
Kennebec Lumber Company is a third-generation, family-owned business. Denis Carrier, president and owner, heads the company, which puts great emphasis on sustainability. For example, Kennebec is committed to the voluntary LEED standard on construction waste management, which aims to divert construction waste (including saw mill byproducts) from landfills. (LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, sets standards for companies across industries, largely by analyses of best practices.)
Stewardship of resources has been part of the philosophy of the Carrier family in all its business activities, said Mark. Managing timberland through best practices in forestry and adding value to waste by chipping – even designing and building chipping equipment – are part of the family’s business legacy.
The Kennebec mill in Solon, Maine began its evolution in 2000 with a conventional debarker, double-cut saw, and so on. Today, the mill is fitted with state-of-the-art technology that includes scanning (three-dimensional) on headrig, edger and trimmer, optimized ripping, and scanning to grade color.
Solon, Maine, a town of approximately 1200, is the headquarters for Kennebec Lumber. It is part of Somerset County in the west-central part of the Pine Tree State.
One hundred employees work at the Kennebec facility in Solon. The second Kennebec mill is in Tamworth, N.H. Sixteen employees work there. “The second mill was built for supporting the growth of our flooring [component],” said Mark. “There’s no scanning. There is a regrade line. We regrade all lumber. We can dress lumber if required.”
Kennebec sells its hardwood flooring under the brand Maine Traditions. In addition to the Solon and Tamworth facilities, the company has several log yards in Maine and also one in Massachusetts.
Quality control receives the highest priority at Kennebec. Frequent checks and audits of equipment and processes ensure that there is no departure from optimal dimensions. Kennebec offers tours of its Solon mill to visitors who call ahead to schedule.
“Most of our lumber is sold direct to other manufacturers,” said Mark. Lumber and flooring are sold worldwide.
Raw material for the mills comes mostly from Maine. “We do go as far as Vermont and New York for logs,” said Mark. “We practice all different concepts of procuring. We have good relationships with large landowners.”
More than 90 percent of the logs are felled by certified loggers on land that meets criteria for stewardship on certified land. Kennebec Lumber is a member of the Forest Stewardship Council. It is also a member of the American Hardwood Export Council.
Kennebec produces about 40 million board feet of lumber and flooring annually. Both NHLA dimensions and custom orders are sawed. Among the custom services offered are S2S, SLR1E (straight line rip one edge), and ripped to width.
Installation and operation of the kilns from Nyle Systems has been smooth, said Mark. “Jeremy Howard and Nathan Cyr – they’re really good to work with,” he explained. (At Nyle Systems, Jeremy Howard is the vice president sales and Nathan Cyr is the production and operations manager.)
“I’ve got a lot of respect for then Nyle team,” said Mark. That’s a high compliment from someone who has a vast amount of expertise in manufacturing. Mark has a long history in wood manufacturing.
Mark has been with Kennebec for eight years. Immediately prior to that he worked for four years at another facility belonging to the Carrier family.
The DH kilns from Nyle have some special, state-of-the-art features. And Jeremy explained them for us.
“The custom kiln controls can be accessed through a mobile device or laptop,” said Jeremy. “[That means the kiln] can be controlled from anywhere in the world.” In designing the layout of the controls, Nyle sought to incorporate such ease-of-use that a customer can either run in fully automatic or set up a custom drying schedule.
Understanding the customer is important. “We have been onsite at Kennebec Lumber Company several times to discuss their needs…,” said Jeremy. The Nyle installation crew works with a customer to get the best layout.
Jeremy emphasized that Nyle wants to know what customers are thinking. “We always like to get advice from our clients and how we can improve or what we are doing right,” he said.
With a background in engineering, Jeremy is particularly interested in using customer feedback as a way to inform modifications and innovation. Nyle Systems has a big footprint in serving industries with a need for quality drying and dehumidification. In addition to offering solutions for lumber drying, it offers solutions for drying food and other products, heat-pump water heating systems, and dehumidification and climate control of commercial and industrial facilities.
To date, Nyle has sold more than 6,000 kilns worldwide. “We have a kiln on every continent except Antarctica,” said Jeremy.
Quality products are produced by dedicated professionals. To ensure that it has a group of employees committed to outstanding results, Kennebec Lumber does several things. “We believe in coaching and mentoring,” said Mark.
Employees are valued at Kennebec, said Mark. Indeed, many of those working for the company have been there since its inception. In a recent expansion, Kennebec added a training room, a defined place for keeping employees current with techniques and procedures.
Mark said he enjoys everything about his work. “I like working with people,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot on the job.”
The interaction with the representatives of Nyle Systems has been another positive experience in his day, said Mark. “They really value the customer,” he explained.
In his free time, Mark has some definite interests. “I like to hunt and fish,” he said. “And work on my home. I’m kind of a homebody.”