Nyle Dry Kilns, a division of Nyle Systems, which has offices and manufacturing facilities in Brewer, Maine, is marking 43 years of manufacturing its dehumidification lumber dry kilns, a technology the company helped to pioneer. It also is making its recently developed Kiln Optimization program available to businesses that have dry kilns from any manufacturer.
Nyle Systems, which also manufactures food drying systems and water heating systems, was founded by Don Lewis and Sam Nyer. The company was named for the two of them, using the first two letters of each man’s last name.
Don worked in the refrigeration industry for many years. In 1977 he was contacted by the University of Maine to work on a project aimed at improving the technology of lumber drying. As a part of that project, Don developed what eventually became Nyle Dry Kilns’ first lumber dry kiln product, which was a heat pump dehumidifier. At that time, other dehumidification kilns already were on the market. However, what made the Nyle Dry Kilns system different was the temperature at which it operated.
“One of the things Don put together was the ability to dry lumber at temperatures up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Jeremy Howard, whom Don initially hired as a controls engineer and now serves as president of sales & marketing for Nyle Dry Kilns. “That’s what really set Nyle apart from the rest of the industry.”
The company has sold more than 7,500 dehumidification kilns based on this technology. Don, who worked as a senior engineer at Nyle Dry Kilns until he retired three years ago, well into his 80s, continued refining and updating his original design.
“We’ve made considerable changes to the controls of our equipment over the years,” Jeremy noted. “We’ve made major improvements to the original design. The design has evolved to where it is today, which is far more efficient than it was then, which was then the most efficient way to dry lumber.”
Nyle Dry Kilns still takes pride in the high degree of energy efficiency of their kilns, he added. “We target electrification in a number of industries, but particularly in the lumber world,” said Jeremy. “We believe that this is the right thing for the planet and the best way for companies to produce the highest quality product at the lowest cost. It’s best for their business and gives them less dependency on older technologies.”
The dehumidification kilns Nyle Dry Kilns manufactures are essentially industrial-sized heat pumps. Just as heat pumps are used to heat and cool houses, they also can be used to dry lumber. This technology for removing water from lumber produces a better product, according to Jeremy, and remains a focus of the company’s continuing innovations. Using a heat pump to dry wood means removing moisture more quickly than traditional fired systems and with less overall stress on the lumber. The drying technology can cause less lumber degrade — less cupping, warping and twisting — and produces a better color of the finished lumber, Jeremy said.
Beside offering energy-efficient dehumidification kilns, Nyle Dry Kilns also provides indirect gas fired and hot water/steam kilns for the lumber industry. Their kilns of this type use a heat recovery technique that can require up to 30 percent less energy to produce the same amount of dry lumber as more conventional or older-style kilns.
“Some of the older, more traditional kilns of this style are not highly energy efficient,” observed Jeremy. Companies that cannot add kiln space to their operations have been able to adapt some of Nyle Dry Kilns’ control sequences technologies and recovery venting options to their existing kilns — increasing the amount of lumber they can dry in a given time.
“It’s not necessarily that they don’t have physical room for more kiln space,” Jeremy said. “It’s that they don’t have enough steam pressure available to enlarge their systems.” These heat recovery systems can be retrofitted to any kiln from any manufacturer; by adapting Nyle Dry Kilns recovery venting and control technology, a lumber company can reduce the steam requirement on the kiln and increase drying through-put.
Nyle Dry Kilns offers only indirect fired kilns. They are less likely to cause issues than traditional direct fired gas kilns, according to Jeremy. Direct fired gas systems are less expensive, he acknowledged, but combustion gases never enter an indirect fired kiln, so there are never live flames inside the structure; therefore, the risk of a kiln fire is greatly reduced or even eliminated.
Nyle Dry Kilns also offers pallet and firewood heat-treating systems. Although this is a smaller market than either the energy-efficient dehumidification kilns or the indirect gas fired and hot water/steam kilns, these systems nonetheless represent a significant market. The pallet and firewood heat-treating systems utilize the company’s indirect gas-fired burners and heat-recovery vents. The control software allows for conventional kiln drying in those systems as well, as many customers want the option to do both in the same kiln.
“These are very low-cost alternatives to dry kilns because of the simplicity of the build,” Jeremy said. “These systems make up about ten percent of our overall sales for the year, but it’s a market that we’ve chosen to maintain because it’s a market that probably always will exist. So, it makes sense for us to do it.”
Nyle Dry Kilns managers have always taken pride in what they consider some of the leading control systems in the lumber drying industry. “The focus of the control systems has always been kiln efficiency and control,” Jeremy said.
Nyle Dry Kilns recently rolled out a kiln services option that is a completely new direction for the company. It is called the Kiln Optimization program. It is a service that begins with a complete review of each facility, current standard operating procedures for kilns, and a comprehensive analysis that includes thermal imagery and kiln equipment grading.
Once the analysis is finished, Nyle Dry Kilns provides a detailed report on the customer’s kilns and processes along with recommendations on how to improve the efficiency of each kiln.
Nyle Dry Kilns also offers service agreements that help customers reduce the downtime of kilns. The agreements include a custom preventive maintenance program that Nyle Dry Kilns develops for each kiln based on its analysis. The service agreements and preventive maintenance programs do not have to be for a Nyle Dry Kilns kiln; the company will provide them for any brand of kiln.
Next, Nyle Dry Kilns creates a training course and provides on-site training completely tailored to the individual customer, the management style, and kiln operator. “We’re taking our industry knowledge to the customer rather than having the customer come to us,” Jeremy said.
Nyle Dry Kilns will continue to sponsor and support kiln-drying training classes across the country; these classes are held at locations such as the University of Kentucky, Syracuse University, North Carolina State University, and other institutions of higher learning.
“We’ve found that companies send people to those classes for training, and while they’re great, there’s still a need for more information and expertise for an individual company,” Jeremy said. “In some cases the kiln-drying knowledge that exists in companies is ‘tribal knowledge’ that gets passed on, and there may be a lack of formal training for new kiln operators.”
Nyle Dry Kilns takes that available knowledge and makes sure it is communicated to kiln operators so lumber companies can maintain and sustain good lumber drying practices.
“By doing that, we are enabling those companies to be more successful,” Jeremy said. “To date, every sawmill company that we have done that training with has been able to increase their efficiency and productivity through their kilns by no less than five percent. We’ve been working with customers all over the country this past year, with every manufacturer known, even our competitors.”
The willingness to improve even competitors’ kilns is something Jeremy feels strongly about. “This is something the industry needs,” he said. “Our focus is about education and sustainability.”
By removing the “competitive factor” and working with kilns from any manufacturer, Nyle Dry Kilns has significantly increased its market share. The last three years have been record-setters for Nyle Dry Kilns. The number of employees has increased from 12 to almost 60, and the company’s facilities have been expanded from 25,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet. Jeremy expects 2020 to be another solid year in terms of growth.
“We’ve incorporated core values into our daily routines,” he said. “We’ve been working on lean training for the past five years, and we’ve added Enterprise Resource Planning manufacturing software to our facility and to our employee training. We’ve also reduced our turnover by a huge amount just by figuring all this stuff out.”
To improve communication with customers, Nyle Dry Kilns has completely overhauled its social media experience. It has added a couple of YouTube channels, including one called KilnTech, which covers a lot of frequently asked questions about Nyle Dry Kilns products and other kiln products in general. The other, called KilnIQ, covers industry-wide processes and questions. The company encourages customers to send in questions so those questions can be answered on a video segment.
“We’re really trying to promote kiln drying and what it can do for a company if it’s done correctly,” Jeremy said.
Over the next few years, Jeremy said, he believes the industry will go in the direction that Nyle Dry Kilns is leading.
“We would like to be on the table and in consideration any time someone is interested in expanding or trying to improve their kiln efficiency. If you have kiln drying questions, we want Nyle to be considered one of the first options in getting them figured out. With education being our primary focus, we will help customers get the answers they need so they can continue to dry lumber. Our objective is to be considered one of the premier kiln services companies in the industry.”