Wood Business

Features Equipment Sawmilling
Drying experts: a rare breed

June 3, 2024  By Francis Charette

Uncontrolled drying can greatly deteriorate the final quality. Photos: Annex Business Media.

It’s no secret in the industry that drying experts are thin on the ground. 

Indeed, expertise in all areas is becoming increasingly scarce. However, I have the impression that this scarcity is more strongly felt when it comes to the wood drying process. It’s certainly not the most attractive process in lumber processing – with cycles that last several hours without having any visual in the kiln – but the importance of kiln drying on the final quality of the lumber and the complexity of the operations should attract workers looking for jobs with impactful and tangible results. 

I can’t explain this lack of interest of the new generation for the drying process, having the chance to work with drying experts whose passion for this process is noticeable. Drying is a complex process, as you are working with a living material that is constantly interacting with the ambient conditions. Mastering this process requires knowledge of the physics of materials, but above all, attention to details and an understanding of the impact of drying on the final quality of products. 

As far as I know, there are general training courses in drying at the college and university levels, as well as more specific training offered by FPInnovations, and some manufacturers. However, these alone cannot generate state-of-the-art process expertise. 


As supporting evidence: kiln dryers audit, operation support, and training are among the most popular services at FPInnovations, thereby indirectly illustrating the industry’s need for expertise.

The importance of good-quality drying

I have often heard the following comment when talking about drying: alone, the drying process does not increase the quality of the sawmill, but uncontrolled drying can greatly deteriorate the final quality. 

And it’s true that uncontrolled drying will cause downgrading and direct monetary losses. In addition, a drying process that is not optimized will be less productive, which will result in higher operating costs. The impact of sub-optimal drying is also felt at the planer mill: overdried lumber causes a lot of breakage problems, which causes the planer to stop.

Beyond the process itself, the entire management of the raw material in its green state greatly influences the quality of the lumber when it dries. Depending on the species and the storage time, a difference will be noted on the evolution of the moisture content of the wood. 

In the hope of obtaining optimal quality at the end of the drying process, it will be necessary to ensure batches have similar moisture contents. It is certainly not easy to quantify the monetary losses associated with kiln drying, since the final distribution of grades is influenced by several factors, including the final moisture content, natural defects, as well as all the practices related to wood processing. However, according to FPInnovations experts consulted, traditional coaching work in drying generates gains of around $5/Mbf in product value increases and five per cent in productivity increases.

Technology as a partial solution

Can technology help fill this gap? 

Personally, I think so – I see technology working on many levels to alleviate the shortage of drying experts. 

First, the technological transition can be a motivator for the new generation hungry for technology. In addition, I also see expert systems like Algorex’s helping operators and supervisors, on a daily basis, performing their tasks as well as facilitating and speeding up their understanding of the process. Technology can reduce the mental load of drying managers by giving them a better view on process performance and create attraction for this key position in the industry. 

The addition of mill-wide wood traceability systems also allows for better overall decisions to be made to maximize the value of the wood by taking into account the gains that each process, including drying, can make. 

Finally, the technology will allow drying experts to be more efficient and support multiple plants remotely at the same time, in a more efficient way than before, with increased access to operational data.

I hope that after reading this text, some people will have the interest of investigating a career in wood drying.

 Francis Charrette is the president and CEO of Algorex.

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