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Leading NE Mill Moves into Kiln Drying

HHP Invests in Better Built Dry Kiln with Nyle Technology After Adding 60-Bay Bin Sorter

By April Terreri
Date Posted: 7/1/2006


HENNIKER, New Hampshire — When HHP Inc. first began operating in 1966, it was a small pallet plant located on a six-acre site. The plant included a small sawmill consisting mainly of a circular head rig and a vertical edger to provide pallet lumber.

        Ross D’Elia and Richard Carrier bought the company in 1989. Ross is president, and Richard, vice president.

        By 1994, with the business operating as three distinct divisions, the site “was absolutely plugged up with raw material, and there was no room to move,” recalled Ross.

Expanding for Niche Market Customers

        Responding to the needs of the marketplace and needing more elbow room, the new owners purchased a larger parcel of land in 1995 and built a state-of-the-art, 200,000 square-foot hardwood sawmill and a 30,000 square-foot pallet plant on 35 acres. HHP employs 48 people and operates three distinct business units — the sawmill, pallet manufacturing division, and a debarking and chipping operation that produces about 100,000 tons of paper quality chips annually.

        HHP has worked closely with Northeast Mill Services, the U.S. distributor for PHL sawmill equipment, and the mill is extensively equipped with various PHL equipment.

        Since 1995, Ross replaced the circular head saw with a McDonough 6-foot double-cut bandmill and added a Cypress grading line, a PHL lug and trimmer system, and a Cleereman carriage and Inovec scanning and optimization system. For debarking, HHP has Nicholson A5 and A7 debarkers — one for the chipping operation and one for the sawmill.

        In 2005 the company purchased a PHL 60-bay bin sorter and stacking line. “Following that purchase, we realized that in order to justify that expense we needed to install a Better Built dry kiln with Nyle dehumidification technology,” Ross said. The company broke ground for the bin sorter, stacking line and kiln in May 2005.

        The drying operations will help boost the company’s profits, as the value of dried lumber is about two times that of green lumber. The Better Built dry kiln has three chambers, each with about a 65,000 board-foot capacity.

        HHP currently produces about 8.5 million board feet of lumber annually, making it the largest green mill in the New England region, and Ross expects production will increase to 10 million board feet once all the upgrades are in place.

        The company’s goal is to have a stronger advantage in marketing lumber, Ross explained. “Just random width and random length doesn’t get you there,” he said. “Our plan is to get into niche markets where color and width are sensitive. We can do that now because we have so many sorts in the bin, and we can sort for width and color on the white woods like hard maple, soft maple and yellow birch.”

        HHP sells to distribution yards, and the yards sort for their various customers. That is going to change, however. “We want to find end-users so we can do the color sorting and width sorting here as we saw the material,” said Ross. “Then we can put that material in with our kiln charges. This means we will process the same species and same thicknesses and make up smaller loads to service smaller accounts.” These accounts would include kitchen cabinet manufacturers, staircase manufacturers, high-end flooring manufacturers and other wood products businesses. “What we are trying to do is get out of the hardwood commodity business and become more specialized,” he added.

        This strategy was really forced on the company, admitted Ross. “We have to be responsive to the markets, which are always changing,” he said. “In order to be competitive, you have to be able to provide the service and get your efficiencies down to contain costs so you can sell your wood at the price those markets are paying. This means you have to increase production, efficiencies and the versatility of your sorting — all without adding anything to your payroll. Between our machinery and computer systems, we have kept the number of employees unchanged over the last several years, and in some cases it has actually decreased. But our performance and production have increased.”

Monitoring Grade, Recovery

        The company buys standing timber and hires independent loggers to harvest most of it. HHP also has employee crews that do cut-to-length logging. The company has three trucks – one for the loggers and two for delivering lumber and pallets.

        About 60% of the hardwood HHP cuts is red oak. “It used to be a greater percentage when the red oak market was stronger,” Ross said. Red oak is the predominant species in south-central New Hampshire. HHP recently has been buying some timber in the forests of the White Mountains, where hard maple, soft maple and yellow birch are dominant species.

        In addition to its three business segments, HHP’s cut-to-length logging operations function as a separate division. “This is a mechanized operation where we use a cut-to-length Risely Rolly II processing head on a Caterpillar harvester-forwarder,” said Ross. “This operation supplements our pulp plant business because they are going after low-grade timber for feeding the pulp plant.”

        In the mill yard, logs are unloaded and moved with Hood motorized knuckleboom loaders. “We don’t use front-end loaders to move our wood,” Ross explained. “We use the Hood with cradles to minimize damaging the wood.”

        Loads are scaled using a Simply Computing voice-activated system. “As our scaler scales a log, he talks into a microphone, which downloads all that information on that particular log,” continued Ross. The information enhances HHP’s inventory and management systems. “We have a continuously updated inventory of what is in, what was sawn, what is ready to be shipped, and what is in the kiln. All of that ties back to our logs.”

        When a row of logs is processed, Ross has at his fingertips information on how much the logs cost and the value of the products they produced. “So we have a handle on our sawing costs and we can see what our overrun was and what our recovery was,” he said. “This gives us a good picture of how good a job we are doing in terms of purchasing timber and if we are getting the grade and recovery we had anticipated.”

        “We separate our logs by species, and we are always tracking volumes so we know what we have in the yard by species, volume and row,” said Ross. The information about the log inventory gives an accurate snapshot that is used to determine the sawing schedule.

        Logs pass through a RENS metal detector system, and any logs containing metal are ejected. Logs pass through the Nicholson debarker and then are ready for the mill.

        At the head rig, logs are scanned by Inovec technology and optimized for sawing. The Cleereman carriage features linear positioning.

        Cleereman specializes in heavy-duty, industrial sawmill carriage equipment, including carriages and carriage drives. The company’s carriages are known for their durability and longevity while working under punishing conditions.

        The first Cleereman carriage was built in 1949. Since then, the company has become a leading manufacturer of sawmill carriages. The basic design developed more than 50 years ago is still the key: simple, few moving parts, and almost maintenance free. Normal wear on a used carriage can be easily refurbished.

        The McDonough double-cut bandmill removes two sides, and the log is sent through again to make a square. The primary resaw is a PHL 6-foot linebar bandmill, which is used for cutting higher grades. The cants then go on to a secondary resaw — a PHL 62-inch linebar bandmill — where it is sawn either into four-quarter boards or pallet material. Boards then pass through a three-saw PHL edger.

        “The cants drop onto a separate chain that runs parallel to the board chain behind the lumber inspector, so the lumber inspectors are inspecting only the lumber,” Ross said. Cants run behind the inspectors and fall into the lug system feeding into the bin sorter behind the trimmer. “So grade inspectors don’t have to deal with cants — and this is unique.”

        Lumber inspectors grade and mark the boards, which then pass through a Cypress grading system that communicates with the Auto Log trimming system. “The Auto Log picks up that information, and it will know what sort to put the board into and what the trimming command should be,” said Ross.

        All the grade lumber moves to the 60-bay bin sorter. “When the bays are full, they evacuate and pass it on to an automatic stacking system,” Ross said. “If the lumber needs to go into the kiln, it will be put on stickers. If it is going to be sold green, it is dead-packed and put into the yard for shipment.”

Finding Efficiencies

        When an order arrives for a kiln-dried load of lumber, it is entered into the automatic inventory and control system. When the green lumber is sorted out and placed on sticks, it is collected in packs 5 feet wide by 4 feet high for loading into the kiln.

        “When we are drying white woods, like hard maple, soft maple and yellow birch, we use Breeze Dried kiln sticks, and when we are kiln-drying red oak we use regular sticks,” said Ross.  Breeze Dried kiln sticks lessen the chance of stick stain and help maintain the color of the lumber.

        Once lumber exits the stacker, the forklift operator end-waxes the lumber as it travels on a conveyor. “Our storage building is attached to the back of the stacker line, which is another unique thing about our mill,” Ross said. Lumber is stacked in the storage building — keeping it out of the sun and other elements — until it is ready to be dried. Because the kiln is adjacent to the storage building, operators
can load and unload the kiln in any type of weather.

        “We also chose to have a higher number of bin sorts than is normally figured into a mill of our size,” Ross said. “We can also use the same equipment to take the lumber off the sticks. Our tilt hoist can take the lumber and feed it back into the mill so it passes through the same stacking system that our green lumber goes through.”

        Ask Ross why HHP chose the Better Built kiln with Nyle dehumidification technology and he will tell you it was all about energy and efficiency. “When we moved onto this site in 1995, we were buying power from the utility, and that put us at a great disadvantage,” he noted. “So we set up diesel generators and we were producing our own energy, and during the winter months we used the heat from the generators to heat our buildings. We also installed heat exchangers in the water lines so the water was pre-heated before it went to the boilers.”

        Then the company was hit by the soaring price of fuel oil. “The electric utility approached us because they wanted us back on the grid. And we were maxing out the capacity of the generator because we were adding more and more new machinery,” Ross continued.

        The utility offered a handsome rebate on electric costs if the company used variable-speed fans. HHP uses six 48-inch variable-speed fans in each kiln chamber.

        The rebate from the utility and the efficiency of the Better Built-Nyle kilns made the choice easy for Ross, who decided using electricity long-term as an energy source would be more cost-effective.

        Better Built and Nyle are separate companies, and HHP made the selection separately. First the company elected dehumidification kilns, and then it chose Better Built. Nyle works with other kiln manufacturers in addition, including American Wood Dryers, Brunner-Hilde­brand, and Wellons.

        Nyle dehumidification technology kiln uses a heat pump system to remove the water from lumber. One primary advantage of this type of system is that it recycles heat continuously instead of venting away heated air, as a conventional kiln does. So it is more energy efficient and its operating cost is usually lower.

        Dehumidification kilns are very easy to operate and can help minimize defects in dried lumber. Drying times are about the same as conventional kilns that operate at comparable temperatures.

        Each kiln chamber at HHP can hold about 65,000 board feet. The company soon will begin drying about 45,000 board feet of white wood per chamber.

Best System, Least Problems

        Another reason Ross chose Better Built-Nyle is because of the quality and high insulation value, added Ross. “Because we are working with hardwoods, we were looking for a stainless steel interior chamber so we wouldn’t have to deal with corrosive issues. And we wanted a kiln that was as tight and efficient as possible because of the tremendous amount of energy required to dry the lumber. So between the Better Built kiln and the Nyle technology, we have a great system.”

        Ross added that choosing the Nyle dehumidification system was right for the company. “We were just branching out into the kiln-drying business, and we wanted to make sure the integrity of our lumber would be as good as it was when we were selling it green,” he continued. “The integrity of our grade, color and thickness was always good as a green product, and we felt that the Nyle system was a lot more forgiving. And for us, this is a value-added process behind the sawmill. It’s not driving the sawmill. So if we were going to get into this business, we wanted to make sure we had the best system available so we would have the least amount of problems.”

        The kiln is unique in that it is more of a hybrid system than a standard dehumidification kiln system that can run on direct-fired steam or a DH unit running on electricity off compressors, noted Ross. “What we did was put a 50-horsepower boiler in the kiln to bring the three chambers up above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so the efficiency of the DH units will run at their most efficient temperature,” he said. “At that point, the dehumidification units kick in. We also have a cold-water conditioning system so at the end of the cycle we can condition the wood.”

        The Better Built kilns at HHP have vented mufflers to dampen sound because of a nearby neighborhood; the kiln manufacturer was able to direct sound away from the homes. They also feature R32 insulation and 5-1/2-inch thick loading doors. The kilns feature all stainless steel interiors and an anodized structure in order to prevent corrosion.

        Better Built also manufactures a unique fan line, said Larry Randall, although it is not part of the installation at HHP. The company’s turbo tubes, with the fan and motor housed in a tube that runs from the front to the rear of the lumber, increases fan efficiency 15-17%.      

        The forest products industry is the fourth-largest industry in New Hampshire, and Ross has been very active in the industry’s state and national associations. He is a member of the Hardwood Manufacturers Association and the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. He also has served in the past on the board of Project Learning Tree and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. HHP’s forester has served on the board of the NH Timberland Owners Association.

        Ross, 53, said he kind of fell into the forest products industry while he was a student at the University of New Hampshire. Not sure of which major to choose, he learned about the Thompson School of Applied Science at UNH. “The courses intrigued me, so I enrolled,” said Ross. “Once I graduated, I worked in sawmills in the region, and over the years I became familiar with the various operations within a sawmill. The more highly skilled operators here in my mill have been with us for many years, and we really all grew together as a company.”

        When he is not busy overseeing the business of the sawmill, you can find Ross — an avid cyclist — on cycling tours, where he racks up about 3,000 miles every year. During the winter months, Ross does a lot of Nordic skiing.

        With all the continuous improvements and machinery additions, HHP is truly positioned to penetrate more specialized markets.


 






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