HOMERVILLE, Georgia — Steve Conner has been in the wood products business since 2005, operating companies that manufactured posts and lumber. His latest ventures are two mills in Georgia that are processing Southern Yellow Pine logs into lumber products. He turned to SII Dry Kilns to provide Dual Path Kilns at each facility to dry their lumber production.
Conner Holdings is located in Homerville in southern Georgia, about 35 miles northeast of Valdosta. The company is a start-up, its new facilities built on a site and operations beginning in April 2019. The facilities consist of a 40,000-square-foot sawmill, 20,000-square-foot planer mill, and warehouses with a combined 40,000 square feet for storing finished lumber.
The other company, Dupont Pine Products, is located in Alapaha, about 44 miles northwest of Homerville. Steve purchased the business, previously known as Hubert Moore Lumber, in 2011. He made use of some existing buildings and has added new ones and has upgraded some equipment.
Dupont Pine Products has an 80,000-square foot sawmill and 20,000-square-foot planer mill along with warehouses with a combined 60,000 square feet for storing finished lumber.
The facilities also include two old batch dry kilns that are no longer used. A new Cone Machinery chip-n-saw was installed in February of this year, and the company was installing a new Gilbert planer in its planer mill in June.
Steve restarted an idle mill in Cross City, Florida, about 50 miles west of Gainesville, in 2018 and sold it to a private equity group earlier this year.
Steve is involved in the day-to-day operations of the companies. His management team includes his son, also named Steve, along with Tyler McCallister, James Foss, Ashley Futch, Will Williams, and Robert Morgan.
The mill at Conner Holdings manufactures 4×4 and pallet stock and sells its products to local, national, and international markets. Dupont Pine Products manufactures 1x, 2x, 4x, and 6x lumber in every dimension up to 24 feet long and also decking. Both mills process Southern Yellow Pine logs, and the companies contract to buy timber through Pierce Timber in Blackshear, Georgia.
Steve has invested in SII Dry Kilns Continuous Dual-Path Kilns (DPK) at each location. Both are heated by natural gas burner systems. Each location can dry 1.9 million board feet per week. The first project was the Conner Holdings facility, which began operating in 2019.
Satisfied with the kiln’s efficiency, production, and lumber quality, he decided to add the same type of SII kiln at Dupont Pine Products to replace old batch kilns, and the new SII DPK began operating earlier this year. Steve wanted to increase drying capacity and improve efficiency and lumber quality. The SII Dual Path Kiln reduced moisture content drastically, increasing drying speed by more than 75 percent compared to the old batch kilns.
Steve researched kiln suppliers before deciding on SII. “We looked at all of the kiln manufacturers,” he said. “We decided to go with SII due to their knowledge and expertise in the lumber drying field. Their kilns work great.”
“SII did a turn-key project,” he continued. “The kilns have performed fantastic. We are very satisfied with the drying capacity and the quality of the lumber when it comes out of the SII kiln.”
SII Dry Kilns, based in Lexington, North Carolina, is a family owned and operated business that began in 1969. The company is known for its quality design, manufacturing, installation and service of dry kilns and is committed to improving all aspects of lumber drying.
SII manufactures conventional package-loaded kilns, single and double track-loaded kilns, various types of fan sheds, as well as multi-zoned pre-dryers. It also manufactures pallet heat treating and firewood kiln equipment that meets all standards by the American Lumber Standard Committee. SII has well over 2,000 drying facilities in operation around the world.
In a Dual Path Kiln, green lumber is loaded onto carts that travel in opposite directions through the kiln. As a cart enters the kiln, the lumber begins to be heated and dried by warm air recovered from the process of conditioning the cart of lumber that is in the last stage of the kiln. The lumber is advanced to the drying chamber and then a conditioning chamber before it exits. The lumber moves through the entire kiln and is advanced at the appropriate time by the control system. The technology can increase production 150-200 percent compared to traditional batch kilns while reducing energy consumption by 20-25 percent per board foot, according to SII.
SII Dual Path Kilns feature a central drying chamber constructed of heavy steel with 0.040-inch aluminum and R22 insulation panels. The kiln extensions feature aluminum and stainless steel panels with the same insulation and aluminum structures.
SII offers conventional and high-temperature kilns. Heat sources can be high pressure steam or direct-fired using natural gas or green or dry biomass fuel. Emergency by-pass systems are provided on all green fuel direct-fired systems.
SII design and construction enables air flow capacities up to 1,250 feet per minute. The company uses Smithco variable pitch fans for maximum efficiency. Weighted aluminum horizontal and vertical baffles ensure maximum air circulation through the lumber.
(For more information about SII and its products, visit www.siidrykilns.com or call (800) 545-6379.)
“Steve is a very hands-on owner,” noted Brian Turlington, vice president of SII. “He is very mechanically inclined and understands machinery,” which is a unique attribute to bring to the table. “He gets in there and makes sure things are running the way they should.”
Steve consulted in detail to come up with the right length of the kilns in order to dry the volume of lumber to meet his company’s needs. “It was a process of about six or seven months, working back and forth with Steve, to hone in on the proper sizing of the two kilns,” which are identical noted Ken Matthews, South and Southeastern sales representative for SII.
“Steve and his whole team at both locations were a pleasure to work with,” added Brian. “They’re extremely knowledgeable about equipment and laying out a plant so all the processes flow together efficiently.”
At the Conner Holdings mill, Steve has made substantial investments to equip the new facility. They include an Endurance Equipment log merchandising system, optimization for the chip-n-saw, and the Cone Machinery chip-n-saw.
On the log yard at Conner Holdings, a Fulghum Industries track circle crane unloads trucks and stacks the logs. The crane can store enough logs for two weeks.
Logs are debarked by a Nicholoson debarker, then conveyed to the Endurance Equipment log merchandising system. After being bucked to length, the logs are scanned prior to entering the Cone Machinery chip-n-saw. The Cone system chips four sides, and a series of saws removes boards and cuts the remaining cant into lumber. The rough lumber is sorted by a Timber Automation sorter and then stacked by a Timber Automation stacker.
The green rough lumber is loaded into the SII Continuous Dry Kiln as soon as possible and after drying is put into dry storage or taken directly to the planer mill.
Scrap material is processed by a Progress Industries chipper and stored in two bins to prevent contamination. The residual material is sold to plants that manufacture wood fuel pellets and also to farmers. Bark and some residual material is supplied to an affiliated company — Georgia STAR Landscaping Supply — that produces bagged bark and mulches for landscaping.
Steve’s companies have operated as usual during the COVID-19 pandemic except for an improved approach to employee hygiene and wellbeing and safety.
Employees are eligible for paid vacation and holidays, health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance, and other insurance. Human resources personnel provide safety training and put new workers through a thorough on-boarding process.
Steve is a member of the Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association, the Georgia Forestry Association, and the Florida Forestry Association. He also is a member of the local Chamber of Commerce and Homerville United Methodist Church. In his spare time he enjoys golf and watching his grandchildren participate in sports teams.