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The Ultimate Guide to Lumber Moisture Control – Part 1: Introduction

Part 1 of a 4-part series As seen in the October issue of Timber Processing.

There are hundreds of steps and machines mills use to produce quality lumber. It only takes one thing to unravel it all: moisture.

Every phase of lumber manufacturing— the sawmill, kilns, and planer—runs more productively through accurate sensing and controlling of moisture content. At a high level, the introduction to this Ultimate Guide to Lumber Moisture Control will walk through the need to measure moisture at all stages of the mill:

Developed by scientific study and research, and proven by extensive scholarly and industry-based testing, a new era of precision moisture content control has arrived. Hi-tech moisture sensors connect with advanced hardware and software solutions to determine moisture content. Assisted further by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), you gain control over moisture content, virtually from the forest floor to your customers’ doors.

You can’t order a specific moisture content percentage from Mother Nature. You play the cards you’re dealt. However, you can stack the deck in your favor. Employing accurate moisture sensors to the roughhewn lumber, you’re able to sort them into groups that fall within sets of predetermined parameters.

This procedure at the sawmill translates into increased productivity and efficiency at the kiln. By pre-sorting boards, the potential degradation from over-drying is minimized. The drying process is fine-tuned to the moisture content of the lot. A study by FPInnovations indicated that by sorting 114 X 114 mm (4” x 4”) lumber into three optimized groups, overall drying time could be reduced by a full day. That extrapolated into an approximate $8/MFBM increase in lumber value.

Besides supplying the kiln with more uniform product, sensors used during the drying process increase overall efficiency. Sensors mounted before, after and during the procedure, monitor moisture content continuously. Assisted by connected hardware and software, the fuel, energy and time consumed are constantly tweaked to ensure proper drying temperature and minimize wasted energy costs.

When connected by IIoT networks, the process can be monitored remotely. While a company command center—either on-site or remote—uses this information, it has an additional benefit. Accessed by a technical support team, remote troubleshooting and even preventative maintenance keeps operations running smoothly.

When the planing operation receives lumber dried to exacting specifications, a more profitable finished product follows. The entire planing process benefits from sensor-monitored moisture content. Overly dried boards can literally blow up during planing. The wood must be backed out and the planer checked for damage. Overly wet wood gums up blades, causing a minimum 15 to 30 minutes downtime. Both are significant profit suckers, caused in part by lost productivity.

Finally, sensors located at the end of the planing process have another potentially money-saving benefit. It’s possible that one end of an otherwise perfect board will be above the acceptable parameters for moisture content. A sensor will discover that, allowing the manufacturer to cut the wet section from the board, salvaging its higher grade.

If an increasingly profitable lumber operation is your goal—and wet lumber claims, lost productivity, and excessive operating costs are the stuff of your nightmares—hi-tech, IIoT-connected sensor systems provide immediate results.

Next up: Part 2: Kilns, as seen in the November issue of Timber Processing.

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