Mills Address Need for Added Kiln Proficiency
added market value of kiln-dried lumber is driving a push for new technology and added
training for operators.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.
Over the past decade, sawmills have cut costs and installed the
best equipment money can buy to improve recovery. Still, the bottom line needs work. So
what's left? Many have turned to more efficient kiln drying, realizing an almost instant
The average kiln sells for between $800,000 and $1.2 million.
Properly dried wood can increase lumber value as much as seven per cent. Each per cent of
grade out-turn represents between a $200,000 and $300,000 return on investment for a
sawmill that produces an average 200 million feet per year. A seven per-cent grade
improvement means an average $2 to $3 million return on investment.
All mills in the BC Interior and Alberta kiln-dry their wood. The
practice is well-established and is popular because of savings gained in shipping costs.
Wood becomes lighter when dried, and lumber companies pay shipping costs based on weight.
Most kilns are North American made, 120 to 150 cubic-foot buildings, and heated with
either natural gas, hot oil or steam. The three major kiln manufacturers are Salton, Coe
and Airodiyn. Airodiyn recently introduced a round-shaped kiln that could revolutionize
the kiln drying industry over the next decade.
Drying wood has many other benefits besides weight reduction.
First, dried wood is stronger. Second, there is no concern for warping or twisting with
dry lumber. Drying also controls fungus and mold. But that's assuming mills have qualified
staff operating the kiln.
Wood must dry at precise temperatures and for a specific
duration, depending on species. Drying wood in a Canadian winter is particularly
challenging. Because the wood is frozen, it takes longer to dry, requiring careful
scheduling. Kilns need to be heated slowly in cold weather, with particular attention to
how long the wood is dried. That can cause havoc with a production schedule.
That's why the newly formed Northern BC and Alberta Kiln Drying
Association plays such an important role. Now starting its third year, the association has
70 members from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan to Mackenzie, BC. They represent the gamut of
the industry forest producers, suppliers and equipment manufacturers.
The association recently introduced a kiln-drying training
course. "The training course is probably the biggest success story of our
association," says association president Andre Friolet. He is a senior kiln operator
for Timber West in Mackenzie, with 18 years of kiln-drying experience. Launched about a
year ago, the association offers a four-day course tailored to teach anyone from rookies
to experienced kiln operators. So far they have given the course to 100 operators. They
also have a one-day course for kiln managers, and 25 middle and upper managers have taken
"Lumber drying is kind of a fifty-fifty deal," he says.
"It's fifty per cent art and fifty per cent science. It's one of those things where
it would be great if everybody had all the best equipment. They don't all have the best
equipment." Therefore, about 75 per cent of the course has generic content so that
all operators can apply what they learn to their specific operations.
Complimenting what operators and managers learn in the classroom
is the association's trouble-shooting manual. Should an operator experience an equipment
or process problem, he can refer to the manual and find two or three other operators using
a similar or exact combination of equipment. He can contact them, share his problem, then
ask for any suggestions they might have.
"The real goal of our training course," says Friolet,
"is to teach people how to dry the most wood in the least amount of time with the
highest quality." In addition to the training course, the kiln drying association
meets four times a year, rotating meetings between areas of highest membership
concentration. There are three guest speakers at each meeting, representing individuals
with innovative ideas, manufacturers with new projects, and companies such as BC Hydro,
demonstrating how variable speed motors can make a kiln operate more efficiently. Between
30 and 40 members usually attend.
The association is now working toward hosting a major function.
"We are actually in the process of putting together an international wood drying
conference in Prince George tentatively in the spring of 1997," says Friolet.
"It's going to be called Lumber Drying in the 21st Century." Among the invited
guests will be representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Japan and the United
In addition to sharing ideas among themselves, the association
believes that it can learn a lot from kiln drying representatives in other parts of the