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Energy-Saving Upgrades to Our Dry Kilns

February 2007-

What small company wouldn’t want to save $30,000-$40,000 a year in electricity costs? When Hull Forest Products Kiln Manager John Cody approached management about installing new dry kiln controls in 2006, it was the potential savings in energy costs that generated the most excitement. Connecticut Light and Power sent out a private engineer who determined that if all four kilns were running, the annual savings in the electricity bill could be that huge.

The new computerized kiln controls, installed in February 2007, save money by drawing less power: all four kiln fans now start up much more slowly, drawing fewer kilowatts in the process.

But there was an additional bonus with this installation. Because the new kiln controls allow for incremental adjustments, the temperature in the kiln can be ramped up slowly, placing less stress on the lumber and resulting in less degrade. Cody likens the incremental increase in temperature to walking up a ramp instead of taking the steps: it’s a much more gradual process, and the change is almost imperceptible to the wood. As a result, there have been fewer cracks and splits in kiln dried lumber lately. The cost savings on this increased yield may well turn out to be more than the savings on electricity.

Woodworkers have taken note of the improved color that comes with this slower drying process, particularly in Red Oak, whose prized pinkish-red hue is especially well preserved. Manufactured by Lignomat, the new controls and software make it possible for changes to be made online from any location, and according to Cody, “the accuracy is incredible.”

It has been a win-win situation for Hull Forest Products and evidence that investment in new technology continues to pay off for this manufacturer.

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Old Growth Forest Identified and Preserved

Old growth hemlock and pine, Ashfield, MA
Core samples taken in 2003 revealed this stand of eastern hemlock and white pine to then range from 183-250 years old.

June 2003- A Glimpse of the Precolonial Forest in Ashfield, Massachusetts

When our family land trust, Hull Forestlands, purchased the Sears Meadow Forest in Ashfield, Massachusetts in 2000, we realized there was a very old stand of eastern hemlock and white pine on the property. Tall and stately with deeply furrowed bark, these trees stand straight and solemn, their long trunks free of low branches and their canopy darkening the forest floor.

Intrigued by the possibility that this could be old growth, we invited eastern old growth forest expert Bob Leverett and Harvard University Forest Ecologist David Orwig to measure the trees in the stand. Leverett found pines with circumferences ranging from 7.6 to 11.7 feet and heights ranging from 117-131.9 feet, with an average of 260 square foot/acre basal area. One of the biggest pines was estimated to have 3,500 board feet of volume. After conducting ring counts, David Orwig estimated one of the hemlocks could be as old as 250, while the white pines ranged between 183-217 years in age. Orwig also found the pines had very good growth early on, averaging 5-8 rings per inch. His estimates are conservative, and he feels the trees could be much older, but since many were rotten at the core, it was difficult to get an accurate core sample.

According to Leverett, these trees offer a glimpse of the forests of North America prior to settlement by European colonists. And their longevity is remarkable as they are as convenient to access as any old growth in New England.

Hull Forestlands has pledged to protect this stand of old growth and we placed the property under conservation restriction with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in 2003.

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Waste Not, Want Not: Recovering Optimum Value from Every Board

How the edger views a board
This photo shows how our edger views a board as it approaches the saw box. The computer models the 3D data collected by a scanner and analyzes the geometric limitations of the NHLA grade rules across several grades, combined with relative values, to obtain the optimum solution based on human-entered variables combining appearance, grade, and recovery. At a cost of $1 million, the computer-optimized edger system gives us a recovery value of 97-99 percent from each board.  

January 2004-Hull Forest Products Installs First-of-Its-Kind Edger

In 2004, Hull Forest Products installed and began running a new computer-optimized edger system that was the first of its kind in North America.

An edger is a machine that saws the round edges off boards from the saw carriage. This may sound like a simple task, but with thousands of boards sawn each day, even the best trained human operators can only be expected to perform at about 75 to 80 percent of optimal. Small errors in edging of 1/16 or 1/8 inch per board add up to significant lost profits.

With our new system, we have the ability to consistently saw products to within a couple of thousandths of an inch, yielding 97 to 99 percent of the optimal value recovery from each board. We can also saw fixed width, random width, and specialty products, as well as edge different thicknesses to different parameters, all in the same production run. This system has enabled HFP to provide more customized and value-added products to its customers, which benefits not only manufacturers and end users, but also landowners, who may receive more money for a given quantity of timber due to the increased value of a product that is manufactured using computer optimization.

The new edger cost over $1 million and is essentially a production rip saw that incorporates the latest in laser scanning and computer processing technology. In contrast with the traditional method of manually operating an edger (which requires extensive grading and math skills utilized in just a short moment to make the best decision on how to edge each individual board, at thousands of pieces each day), the new edger can process a day’s production and achieve the highest value solution on every board from the first to the last.

With minimal human input to identify grade zones and defects on the lumber, the edger scanners collect a high density 3D profile of each board within one foot of travel. As the board continues toward the saw box, the computer models the 3D data collected by the scanner and analyzes the geometric limitations of the NHLA grade rules across several grades, combined with relative values, to obtain the optimum solution based on human-entered variables combining appearance, grade, and recovery. The optimizer can evaluate over 20,000 independent solutions for each board in only tenths of a second. As the board approaches the saws, the computer finalizes its decision and directs the hydraulic system to position the saws at the correct angle and spacing. As the saws enter the cut, they slew at a rate defined by the angle and speed of the board. As the board exits the machine, it is pushed out onto the lumber deck, while the edgings are dropped into the by-product system.

The edger machine hardware was produced by Timber Machine Technologies (TMT) of Tualatin, Oregon. The scanning and software package was produced by Inovec of Eugene, Oregon. Inovec is a division of GE Infrastructure. The two companies have a history of working well together on sawmill optimization projects.

Our new edger installation was featured in The Timberline Magazine.

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Cowls Sells Timbers Business to HFP

January 2010-

Hull Forest Products announces the addition of pine timbers to its existing spruce and hardwood timbers line, following its purchase of W.D. Cowls’ pine timbers business. Included in the purchase was the Cowls company timber sizer, which enables Hull Forest Products to surface timbers 16” tall and up to 24” wide—huge pieces of wood—on four sides in one pass.

“We are sorry to see the closing of the Cowls sawmill,” said Bill Hull, founder and CEO of Hull Forest Products. “We’ve been friends with the Cowls for many decades, and we’re thankful that we’re in a position to assist them with this transition.  In these tough economic times, our purchase of Cowls’ pine timber business represents a continuing consolidation within the industry and adds another niche to our existing hardwood timber frame business. We look forward to servicing all of Cowls former customers.”

Hull Forest Products offers framers a variety of softwood and hardwood timbers, along with options such as NELMA grade stamping, FSC-certified timbers, timber lengths to 26 feet, and surfacing—all from a single supplier.   The company’s land base of largely FSC-certified woodlands in New England also plays a key role in timber procurement, providing a sound resource for the sawmill.

“We are a large landowner in southern New England, as is Cowls, and we harvest timber in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York,” says Hull.  “Because we handle a huge volume of softwood material, the bulk of which does not go to any mills in New England, we have a huge internal resource with which to meet our customer’s needs.”