SCHAUMBURG, Illinois – You may not be familiar with E+E Elektronik if you dry lumber, but they may be an integral part of your lumber drying operations.
The Austrian company, which has operations in the U.S., received its first requests for reliable sensors for wood drying kilns in 1996. It developed a robust sensor – the series EE30 – for the extreme conditions of a lumber kiln and underwent extensive testing in the equipment of a prospective customer. With good results from the beta testing, E+E Elektronik won its first customer in the lumber kiln industry.
E+E Elektronik, founded in 1979, manufactures sensing elements and sensors for HVAC, building automation, industrial processes, the pharmaceutical industry, food industry, clean rooms, environmental applications, and agriculture. The company has a global presence.
E+E Elektronik has been supplying sensors to the wood products industry for 25 years. The company’s sensors function in dry kilns around the world made by major manufacturers.
For example, American Wood Dryers (AWD) in Clackamas, Oregon has used E+E Elektronik sensors since 2012. American Wood Dryers specializes in wood drying equipment including kilns, pre-dryers, steamers, fan sheds, dry sheds and control systems.
“AWD has kilns operating in Asia, North Africa, North and South America, Russia, New Zealand, Australia,” said Floyd Vocque, sales engineers for the southeast U.S.
AWD got its start in 1981, providing kilns to manufacturers of pencil slats, toothpicks, barrel staves, furniture, flooring, other wood products and also to sawmills.
“AWD was the first kiln manufacturer in the USA to build all-aluminum kilns,” noted Floyd. The company continues to innovate. It recently received patents related to its Single Path Continuous lumber dry kilns.
E+E Elektronik supplies the sensors that AWD uses in its batch kilns to monitor wet and dry bulb temperatures. AWD chose the E+E Elektronik sensors because they combine “waterless wet bulb function and reliability,” said Floyd.
Floyd, who has a background in engineering and industrial physical plants, gives the E+E Elektronik sensors high marks. “Units are user-friendly to set up and work well,” he said.
Those attributes are important not only to customers, but also to Floyd. “I enjoy working with the different mill operations throughout the Southeast United States, working to improve and grow their daily operations,” he said.
The E+E Elektronik sensors are optional for AWD batch kilns. The exacting sensors provide customers with another important tool for their lumber drying operations. American Wood Products takes in the whole picture of client requirements and tailors its recommendations and solutions, whether the focus is improving the efficiency of kiln operations, increasing production, increasing lumber quality, or other objectives.
E+E Elektronik sensors for lumber kilns precisely measure temperature, humidity and other factors. Their accuracy instills confidence in lumber drying operations. “We offer our customers the reliability and peace of mind in knowing they have an accurate assessment of their current environment,” said Matthew Nemeth, managing director at E+E Elektronik U.S. branch in Schaumburg, Illinois.
Matthew is part of a team of seven. The unit handles sales for the U.S. and Canada. A lab at the facility allows for calibration of new sensors and those in the field.
“We are a small team in the United States, but very nimble,” said Matthew. Responding quickly to customers is an important dimension of the “customer-centric” and “customer-first” approach that guides E+E Elektronik.
The accuracy that customers expect and receive when they adopt sensors from E+E Elektronik begins with the control the company strives to maintain over as many aspects of production as possible. “E+E prides itself on manufacturing high quality precision sensors,” said Matthew.
“Our factory in Austria manufactures humidity sensors using similar technologies used to make microchips,” he explained. “This allows us to quickly innovate, control the quality of the sensor, and respond very quickly to market demands.”
Feedback and input from customers invigorates the innovation cycle. “Customer feedback is integrated into our product designs, resulting in sensors that operate in high heat and high humidity environments,” said Matthew.
The EE310 sensor used in lumber kilns is a good example. It is built with industrial-grade materials, and it can thus withstand the extreme kiln environment over long periods of time.
Verifying sensor function is a vital part of the manufacturing process at E+E Elektronik. “Every single product we make is calibrated and quality tested before it leaves our door,” said Matthew.
“Reliability is critical to our customers because once a unit is installed in the field, the expectation is that it will work,” he added. “We take this very seriously…”
E+E Elektronik provides calibration certificates to customers. The certificates demonstrate the level of care taken in the manufacturing process.
The Engerwitzdorf, Austria, home to E+E Elektronik puts the company in the community of other high-technology firms. The town of 8,000, which lies approximately 125 miles west of Vienna, is home to makers of both sensors, semiconductors, and more.
Matthew brings a background to his role that enables him to serve the best interests of customers. It begins with the 17 years he has spent working in manufacturing. He has engaged with thousands of customers, ranging from those in the automotive sector to those in power generation. “When it comes to wood products, I have experience providing sensors to sawmills and even worked on one project processing railroad ties,” he said.
“The varied experience helped me understand how robust sensors need to be when working with wood, along with what pains our customers might be experiencing,” said Matthew.
Working with customers to “find the right solution” and then “doing our best to deliver quickly” defines the day-to-day operations at E+E Elektronik, said Matthew.
In a recent essay at the E+E Elektronik website, Matthew highlighted a problem that sensors must be able to counter. It is called drift, or the departure from accurate readings.
One cause of drift is accumulation of process byproducts on a sensor. When wood is dried in a kiln, evaporated water and volatile oils and acid mix with the ambient air. They can be a bane to a sensor. E+E Elektronik designs its sensors to ensure they are not affected by their environment and do not experience drift.
Several features are built into and around E+E Elektronik sensors to keep them functioning optimally, explained Matthew. The sensor has a stainless steel transmitter housing rated to IP65 to keep out moisture. Detachable stainless steel probes not only can be removed for cleaning and calibrating, but because of their composition they function well in an environment of high heat and humidity.
In addition, E+E Elektronik sensors have another special feature, explained Matthew. It is a proprietary coating that keeps residues from infiltrating critical elements.
The precision that is the hallmark of E+E Elektronik sensors really comes to the fore in the sensors for lumber dry kilns. Water may be the big byproduct of drying wood, but E+E Elektronik considers all the byproducts.
“When wood is dried, the steam emitted is nearly all water,” said Matthew. “However, trace amounts of other compounds exist.”
Given enough time and enough wood, trace amounts become menacing amounts. That is why E+E Elektronik takes the steps Matthew outlined to prevent sensors from being affected by steam and volatile compounds.
“A humidity sensor is microscopically porous and works by absorbing water and measuring the electrical effect over time,” explained Matthew. “The more water in the pores, the bigger the change in electrical performance.” If other compounds settle into the pores — even a tiny fraction of the pores — they interfere with the absorption of water. To interfere with pores absorbing water is to cause the sensor to malfunction. Therefore, the proprietary coating E+E Elektronik uses on its sensors is of great importance.
“The coating allows only water to be absorbed and released by the sensor,” said Matthew. “Any other compound cannot get past the coating, thereby maintaining the reliability of the measured value.”
E+E sensors can be placed among the boards to monitor drying in addition to being placed on the walls of the kiln. “Anyone having sensors placed throughout the wood batches will have a good understanding if some wood is drying faster than other wood,” noted Matthew.
“Microclimates have been a big discussion lately with other industries.”
As refinements continue apace in the wood drying industry, Matthew expects microclimates to be a focus within it, too.