HENNIKER, New Hampshire — New Hampshire-based HHP has steadily upgraded its sawmill and pallet operations through the years and also expanded into production of kiln-dried hardwood lumber. The company recently added more dry kiln capacity, turning to its original kiln supplier, Nyle Systems.
HHP is a family business owned by Marco Carrier, 57, his brother, Richard, 68, and Marco’s son, Joe, 30, general manager. Located on the outskirts of Henniker, a small community in southern New Hampshire, HHP’s operations are located on 44 acres and employ 78 people. The two main facilities are the sawmill and pallet shop. HHP is about 15 miles west of the state capital, Concord.
The sawmill produces about 13 million board of hardwood lumber annually. The company mainly cuts 4/4 as well as 5/4 and 6/4, rough sawn, in lengths from 8 feet to 14 feet. About 4.2 million board feet was sold kiln-dried in 2020, but the number will likely increase in 2021 with the addition of the new Nyle dry kilns.
Lumber is sold according to grade and primarily by random width. Customers include end users like flooring manufacturers as well as concentration yards and other distributors. A good volume is sold to companies that manufacture engineered wood flooring and require special widths. The sawmill supplies low-grade lumber and cants to its pallet division, which produces 400-500,000 pallets annually.
The mill’s largest percentage of lumber by species is northern red oak. Other species include ash, soft maple, hard maple, and birches.
“We’re constantly growing and upgrading equipment,” said Joe. Improvements in recent years include the head rig, resaw, and sorter. “We try to get the most out of the raw material we can, to increase yield and production while maintaining the quality we’re known for.”
HHP sold its lumber production green until it added its first kilns from Nyle in 2005. That was when Nyle was buying standard kilns from Better Built Kilns and modifying them with Nyle’s dehumidification technology, noted Joe. Those first three Nyle kilns had a combined capacity of 225,000 board feet.
The company’s most recent upgrade to the sawmill was the addition of USNR scanners, optimizer and controls for the head rig in June of 2020, and new Nyle kilns that began operating in April of this year.
HHP has a timber procurement department, and it also buys some gate logs from contractors who meet their standards for log quality and volume. The company buys logs in 2-foot increments down to an 8-inch top. It employs two logging crews to harvest timber it purchases.
Logs are unloaded in the yard by Hood self-propelled knuckleboom loaders — the company has seven of them. The loaders also are used to put logs onto a deck to go through a Nicholson A8 ring debarker. From there the logs are fed into the mill and to the head rig, which consists of a Cleereman carriage and McDonough double-cut band mill. The head rig opens four faces and sends the square to a PHL vertical band resaw to remove grade material. After the grade material is removed, the cant goes to a second, smaller PHL vertical band resaw to cut low-grade material. The remaining cant goes through a PHL cant sizer equipped with two circular saws to remove up to ½-inch of material and bring it down to a nominal size for the pallet shop. Boards from both resaws are routed to a PHL-Comac linear optimized edger.
After edging the boards are concentrated in one area and conveyed to a landing table and then a grading table. Then they move to a PHL trimmer and then a PHL 60-bin sorter and PHL stacker.
The PHL machines have been added gradually in about the last 20 years. “We stuck with PHL because we like their equipment, obviously, and they helped us develop the whole footprint of the mill,” said Joe.
HHP is fortunate to have strong markets for residuals. Slabs and other wood scraps are chipped by a Precision Husky machine, and the chips are screened and supplied to a pulp mill or a wood fuel pellet manufacturing plant. Bark is supplied to a biomass facility, and sawdust is sold to the pellet plant and to farmers.
The new Nyle kilns are four chambers connected in one building. They are package-loaded kilns, completely designed and built by Nyle and featuring the company’s dehumidification technology. The new kilns increased HHP’s drying capacity to 525,000 board feet.
“We investigated all options,” said Joe. “We got quotes and visited mills to see other kilns and what would match our needs.”
One thing that drew HHP to Nyle when it first added kilns in 2005 was the fact that Nyle’s dehumidification system did not require having a wood-fired boiler. “As far as our choice to go with dehumidification versus steam…it has more to do with the efficiency, simplicity and quality,” said Joe. “Not to mention steam boilers can be a fair amount of maintenance.
That’s why we went with a dehumidification system.”
“When the decision was made to put up more kilns and increase capacity, we liked the quality and overall return we get from the Nyle equipment,” said Jeremy Almstrom, HHP’s kiln superintendent. “While we did investigate other options, it was always in the back of our mind that we didn’t want to add an investment in a wood boiler,” and use residuals to fuel it. “And we liked the Nyle dehumidification system and the lumber quality.”
“We wanted to be at the cutting edge,” added Joe. “We liked the dehumidification technology and wanted to stick with that. It’s a cleaner process.” HHP dealt with the same people at Nyle and also considered Nyle a ‘local’ company since it is based in the neighboring state of Maine. “All those factors led to our decision making,” said Joe.
Nyle Systems offers conventional and dehumidification kilns for drying hardwood and softwood lumber. Perhaps it is best known for its innovative dehumidification dry kiln systems. Nyle built and patented the first dehumidification systems that allowed kilns to operate at the same temperatures as conventional steam and gas kilns.
A single Nyle dehumidification kiln drying unit can pull up to 20,000 pounds of water each day in a dry kiln. A single kiln can have multiple units to increase the capacity even further.
Dehumidification kilns are the most energy efficient and economical drying method for most applications, according to Nyle. The dehumidification drying process achieves the same speeds as conventional gas and steam kilns. The technology provides more precise temperature control for better lumber quality and less degrade.
Nyle also offers indirect gas and steam kilns. It can provide a complete turn-key dry kiln system or specific components. Installation services are available for any size kiln, performed by Nyle staff.
(For more information about Nyle and Nyle kilns, visit www.nyle.com or call (800) 777-6953.)
Construction for the new kilns 4began in September last year, including site preparation work and pouring a concrete pad, and replacing an electrical transformer. The new kilns, which feature all Nyle controls, began operating this spring. At the same time, HHP upgraded the controls and heating system of the old kilns, so all the kilns now have the same Nyle software and control systems. All seven kilns are heated by propane. Each chamber has its own indirect-fired propane burner. The first Nyle kilns originally were fired by oil.
“With every start-up there are challenges,” said Joe, “but Nyle was good about communicating and solving whatever issues popped up. Ultimately, we’re very happy with the overall construction and the way things are running.”
The kilns have performed to expectations. The lumber is flat, well-dried, and has a good uniform color. “The quality has been consistent,” said Joe. “That’s what we’ve been looking for.”
Most of the company’s production is dried green and freshly sawn. It is mainly drying northern red oak, which takes about 30 days. “We’re working with Nyle to cut it down a little,” said Joe.
“We want to balance cycle time and quality,” added Jeremy. “We’d like to push it a little more, but we want to maintain color and consistency. You can only go so fast with the drying process.”
HHP also is moving toward having the technology to be able to remotely monitor and control the kilns. “We’re working with Nyle for a ‘dashboard’ system,” said Jeremy.
HHP offers employees health insurance, dental insurance, short-term disability insurance, life insurance, a 401(k) retirement savings plan, and six paid holidays. “The last few years we have made a big effort to invest in employees,” said Joe. The company recently added an employee to take on more human resource responsibilities. “To make sure the relationship with our employees is being tended to and that is a good line of communication,” said Joe.
The company is a member of three trade organizations: the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, the New England Lumbermen’s Association, and the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association.
“We try very hard to constantly be evolving,” said Jeremy, “constantly looking for new markets to service. “We throw away as little as possible.” Residual wood material also is supplied to an affiliated business in Brentwood, about 50-plus miles southeast, that produces bark mulch. “We try to use every piece of byproduct in a potential revenue stream.”
“Whether it’s the pallet shop or the sawmill, our focus is always on quality,” said Joe. “If we don’t see the quality, we don’t participate in that market.” HHP supplies pallets to customers that use them in highly automated distribution or warehouse facilities, and the automated equipment is sensitive to any deviations in pallet size or defect. “Our pallets have to be consistent and high quality. We’re focused on the same thing with our lumber: consistency and quality. If we want to add volume, we want to make sure consistency and quality are the same.”
The COVID-19 pandemic “certainly impacted us,” acknowledged Joe. “Last year there was obviously an economic slow-down…All the hurdles that you had to go through definitely bogged down the operations and upgrades we planned on doing.” Nevertheless, the company did not have to lay off employees. “We followed Center for Disease Control and state guidelines and pushed through and did our best.”
The company — like others — still suffers the residual effects of the pandemic on businesses and the overall economy. “There’s a backlog on getting materials and parts,” said Joe, “longer lead times on everything…It’s going to take a while for things to get back to normal.”