DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Valutec Wood Dryers, a leading supplier of dry kilns to lumber producers in Europe and Asia, has established a beachhead in the North American market.
The company, based in Sweden, recently signed an agreement to supply two dry kilns to Pleasant River Lumber, which has four softwood lumber mills in Maine.
It will be the first installation in North America for Valutec, which began marketing efforts in North America in 2016.
The kilns are scheduled to be installed at Pleasant River mills in late summer of 2019 and be operational by the end of the season.
Executives at Pleasant River couldn’t be happier. “We’re incredibly excited to put those in,” said Jason Brochu, who owns Pleasant River with his brother, Chris, and three others. “We feel like we’re going to have the best kilns in North America until the next company puts them in.”
Pleasant River signed an agreement for two Valutec TC continuous dry kilns for its two spruce sawmills, one in Dover-Foxcroft and the other in Jackman.
Continuous dry kilns have grown in popularity in the softwood lumber industry in recent years since the technology was introduced in North America. The technology has long been used in Europe, and Valutec has been a leader in supplying continuous dry kilns.
Continuous dry kilns are track-type kilns with the lumber loaded on carts or trolleys. The kiln has several zones or chambers, and the lumber is moved through the kiln in various stages as the drying process progresses.
However, Valutec’s approach and technology is markedly different than applications in North America, where continuous dry kilns are designed for so-called counterflow of loads of lumber through the kiln. In the counter-flow type design, lumber is loaded at both ends of the kiln, and they move through the kiln in opposite directions. The design enables heat to be transferred from lumber that is finishing the drying cycle to an incoming load of green lumber to begin the pre-drying process, and for moisture that is drawn out of the green lumber in the initial drying stage to be transferred to the dried lumber for finishing.
The Valutec TC kiln or unidirectional kiln moves the lumber in parallel through the kiln; loads of lumber move in the same direction, not opposite directions. There are a number of benefits to the design, according to Valutec.
The TC kiln has five drying zones, and each zone has two sections — 10 sections in all. The drying operations — temperature and moisture — are controlled for each section. As the lumber advances through the drying stages, it is moved automatically to the next section or zone. Fans and the heat recovery system control the climate in each section. “It’s quite amazing,” said Jason.
Jason, 45, Chris, 38, and their partners purchased the spruce mill in Dover- Foxcroft in 2004, acquired two Eastern white pine mills in 2010-11, and acquired another spruce mill in Jackman in 2015.
Dover-Foxcroft is a little more than 35 miles northwest of Bangor. Jackman is further north and west, less than 20 miles from the Canadian border. One of the white pine mills is located in Sanford, which is in southern Maine, below Portland, and the other is in Hancock, near Bar Harbor.
The spruce mills produce dimension lumber for framing, 2×3 up to to 2×10 and some 1x boards; the largest percentage of the company’s spruce production is 2×4 and 2×6. The white pine mills manufacture 1- inch boards, mostly S4S and pattern stock. Pleasant River sells on the Eastern Seaboard to wholesalers, distributors and large buying groups.
Pleasant River began planning a capital improvement project to increase production at both spruce sawmills about a year ago. “One of the issues at both mills is kiln capacity,” said Jason. As the plans began to crystalize, company leaders also focused on the need for more kiln capacity and began considering upgrading existing kilns as well as exploring the option of investing in new continuous dry kilns. Each mill currently has drying capacity of 100 million board feet annually. The Valutec project will increase that to 150 million and replace some older kilns.
Although Pleasant River’s leadership was familiar with continuous dry kilns, initially they were considering conventional package kilns. That changed, however, as they researched and learned more and “put all our needs on paper,” said Jason.
“When we started looking at all our needs, it made more sense to go with that type of kiln,” he added, even though the capital cost is higher.
“In our situation, when you’re adding capacity and replacing old ones, it’s definitely the way to go,” said Jason. The new kilns will replace at least one existing kiln at each mill.
The Pleasant River leadership first heard about Valutec through the company’s North American advertising campaign, and a U.S. kiln company suggested they contact Valutec since they were interested in continuous dry kiln technology.
There were several issues that made Valutec and its technology attractive. One was the drying process itself, which is considerably different than counter-flow continuous dry kilns. Another factor was the Valutec TC kilns are projected to require much less energy than alternatives; it is a significant consideration when you add in Maine’s climate and cold winters.
Another point in Valutec’s favor was the company’s breadth and depth of experience. Valutec has been a leader in the technology for decades. It offered experience in the technology, experience with kiln installations for customers in cold climates, and experience in drying spruce. Sweden has abundant resources of Norway spruce, noted Jason. “It’s very similar to what we dry here.”
Jason, Chris, and a mill manager made a three-day trip to Sweden to tour Valutec’s facilities and some of their installations. They saw a good range of Valutec kilns — some older than 30 years, some about 10 years old, and some installed only a year ago. It was a “really good sampling of what they’ve done over the years,” said Jason. A kiln they viewed that has only been operating about a year is very similar to the Valutec TC kiln that Pleasant River decided to buy.
The trio had high expectations before the trip and were not disappointed, according to Jason. “The quality of the construction was just unbelievable, and the attention to detail was very high.”
Pleasant River will be able to utilize existing boilers at both mills to supply steam for the new Valutec TC kilns. That’s because steam consumption for the Valutec TC kilns is much lower than other kilns.
“That was a big factor for us,” noted Jason. With other kilns, the company would have been forced to upgrade boilers at each mill in order to increase steam capacity. The Jackman mill has a Hurst 600 hp boiler, and Dover-Foxcroft, a 600 hp IBC boiler; both burn sawdust for fuel.
The company currently has five lumber kilns at Jackman and three at Dover- Foxcroft. Some are well over 30 years old and need to be replaced.
Each Valutec TC kiln will be about 300 feet long overall. Including the staging area for loading lumber on one end, the unloading area at the opposite end, and the kiln itself, it will hold 475,000 board feet of lumber.
Valutec’s TC kiln provides energy efficiency, flexibility in drying operations, and produces high quality lumber, said Ingo Wallocha, the company’s North American representative. The company has 50 years of experience in continuous dry kiln systems and has supplied about 2,500 of these type of kilns, making it the biggest supplier of continuous dry kilns in Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia, according to Ingo.
He explained why the parallel flow of lumber through the kiln is better for a continuous dry kiln. Counter-flow continuous dry kilns do not have doors or venting, noted Ingo, so the process it not as closely regulated and controlled, and energy is lost. In addition, it generates a large volume of condensation that must be dealt with.
U.S. softwood lumber producers have found the counter-flow continuous dry kilns “pretty intriguing at first,” he added, and they experienced genuine improvements in lumber drying.
“People don’t know how much better controlled one-directional drying processes can be,” said Ingo.
In the case of Pleasant River Lumber, they wanted to dry more lumber without having to add a new boiler, hoted. “They couldn’t do that,” said Ingo, with a counterflow continuous dry kiln. Pleasant River executives were “stunned” at Valutec’s projections for energy consumption and efficiency, he said.
A continuous dry kiln can achieve energy savings of 10-15 percent compared to a batch kiln. Since the TC kiln has vents that can be equipped with heat recovery units, additional energy savings of up to 15 percent are possible.
One key to the technology of Valutec, which has obtained more than 25 patents, is a sophisticated control system that regulates the climate in each zone of the kiln. The system automatically adjusts temperatures in each zone and the time interval to move the lumber through the kiln, depending on the species, dimension, and desired final moisture content.
The control system includes a simulator that optimizes drying programs in order to avoid costly run-in time of new programs. The simulator is so accurate that it eliminates the need for probes to measure moisture content, although Valutec’s control system and simulator can accommodate inkiln moisture measuring devices.
The drying process is precise and controlled. The operator sets the final moisture content, the quality, and the energy consumption of the load, and the simulator creates the optimal drying schedule.
Transverse axial fans in each zone blow circulation air across the longitudinal direction of the kiln, via heat coils and through the timber. It’s as if each zone is a separate batch kiln, which enables drying lumber of different species and dimension and to different moisture content. The control system keeps track of the position of each package in the kiln, which allows different dimensions to be mixed between zones. The drying schedule follows each zone the length of the kiln until the lumber is finished.
Valutec’s unidirectional dry kilns have long buffer zones for loading and unloading, and they can be equipped with shelter roofs. The long buffer zones enable the kiln to run independently for a long period of time — over a weekend, for example — without the need for loading with a forklift. Valutec also offers an option for a complete traverse system to move lumber to the kiln from the stacker, eliminating the need for a forklift in that process.
(For more information about Valutec and its kiln products, visit www.valutec.ca, or contact Ingo at (778) 868-3695 or email@example.com.)
In choosing the Valutec TC kiln, Pleasant River selected a couple of optional features. The Valutec TC kiln already has “really nice bells and whistles,” said Jason, but Pleasant River also chose the optional pressure plates. The plates are lowered hydraulically on a load of lumber during the drying process and help eliminate lumber degrade. They also chose an optional heat recovery system.
Pleasant River’s expansion project will be implemented in three phases. The first phase is upgrading the planer mill at Dover- Foxcroft this fall; the company will refurbish its Yates-American planer and add lumber handling equipment. Installation of the kilns at both mills will be phase two, and the third phase will be improvements to both sawmills later in 2019. The projects represent a combined capital investment of $20 million.
Like other softwood lumber producers in the U.S., Pleasant River has benefited from anti-dumping and countervailing duties the U.S. Commerce Department imposed on softwood lumber imported from Canada.
“It’s definitely a good thing for U.S. producers,” acknowledged Jason. “It’s one big factor that’s giving us confidence to expand and invest a lot of money, knowing that we’ve got a situation where it’s a level playing field…to grow.” He noted the quantity of new and expanding softwood mills elsewhere in the U.S., “which is great.” Demand for lumber has been “steadily increasing,” said Jason, as the housing market has recovered.
Pleasant River graders are certified by the Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association, and each piece of spruce lumber is marked with a grader identification stamp to enable the company to monitor an individual graders quality.
The company also prints an American flag on every piece of spruce lumber.