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      December 1996 January 1997 Past Issue

Northern Mills Address Need for Added Kiln Proficiency

The 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 payback.

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 it.

"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 States.

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 world.

December 1996 / January 1997 Table of Contents

Evans cited as first code victim
Soaring stumpage fees and Forest Code-inflated logging costs forced Evans Forest Products to its knees. Other mills could be facing the same fate.

Timber Sales Fund Innovative Harvesting Training Program
Eighteen people are learning new harvesting techniques.

Riding the OSB boom
Hedging against a downturn, Weyerhaeuser invests $16 million to improve recovery at its OSB plant at Slave Lake, Alberta.

Cost conscious cut-to-length
Setting up a new CTL show in remote northern Manitoba, Art Riemer wanted dependable equipment - but not at a price that would turn his accountant surly.

Sticking in a Tough Market
At Fort Nelson, the world's largest chopstick plant produces eight million units a day for demanding Japanese buyers.

CCMC Furthering Aspen as a Commercial Species in BC
CCMC is a pioneering company making exclusive use of high-quality aspen.

Tech Update: Cable Yarding Systems
A review of the different cable yarding systems that are available on the marketplace

Helicopter Logging Capability Guide
Heli-logging remains a practical harvesting alternative in many of British Columbia's mountainous regions.

The Eagle Flies
At the site of an abandoned chip mill in Miramichi, Eagle Forest Products turns the key on a new $100 million OSB plant.

New Centre Targets Value-Aded Training
With an estimated 30,000 skilled workers needed in the value-added sector in BC by 2001, the industry has moved to address a potentially serious training shortfall.

Haliburton: A Multi-Use Model
Ontario's Haliburton Forest, a popular recreation site, also hosts extensive forestry research and education programs - and a unique 'one stem at a time' selective logging program.

Yard Handling and Storage Critical to Aspen Quality
Few mill yards contain a fridge for wood, a fibre source to keep a manufacturing plant in business when green production is curtailed.

Northern Mills Address Need for Added Kiln Proficiency
The added market value of kiln-dried lumber is driving a push for new technology and added training for operators.

Supplier Newsline
Trade magazine ads pay off.


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