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Wood Science and Technology 36 (2002) 19–26 Ó Springer-Verlag 2002

DOI 10.1007/s002260100121

An experimental study of airflow in lumber kilns
J. J. Nijdam, R. B. Keey

19
Abstract Stacked lumber in a box-shaped kiln is prone to non-uniform flows due
to the appearance of re-circulation zones before and after the stack. Flow
visualisations in a hydraulic model of a kiln were conducted to test the
effectiveness of different kiln configurations for eliminating the larger
re-circulation zone at the inlet to the stack. When the sharp right-angled bends
are streamlined with sufficient curvature and the geometry of the kiln is such that
the flow converges through these transitions, then the re-circulation zones vanish
and the flow distribution over the height of the stack becomes less peaky and
more even. The experiments show that progressively narrowing plenum chambers
in a symmetrical kiln cause more severe flow non-uniformity over the height of
the lumber stack than plenum chambers with constant width.

Introduction
An important prerequisite for producing evenly dried lumber in a kiln is that the
airflow is uniformly distributed throughout the height of the stack. Good baffling
systems and regular stacking arrangements can improve the uniformity of flow to
a certain extent. However, previous work by Nijdam and Keey (1999, 2000) have
shown that the geometry of a box-shaped kiln also influences the distribution of
flow over the lumber stack, ensuring that some degree of flow maldistribution is
unavoidable. Improvements to current box-kiln designs can be facilitated by, first,
understanding the factors that influence flow maldistribution within a stack of
lumber, and then modifying the geometry of the kiln to mitigate their effect.
There are two major contributions to the flow maldistribution that results from
the geometry of the kiln. The first contribution is the frictional and inertial forces
which cause pressure variations down the height of the plenum chambers. The
inertial forces in the plenum chambers on either side of the stack counterbalance
each other when the plenum chamber widths are equal, which is the case in most
industrial lumber kilns. However, the frictional force causes a reduction in
pressure in the airflow direction, allowing more fluid to flow through the fillet
Received 1 November 1999
J. J. Nijdam
Wood Technology Research Centre, University of Canterbury,
Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand
e-mail: nijdamjj@cape.canterbury.ac.nz
R. B. Keey
Wood Technology Research Centre, University of Canterbury,
Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand

In double-track kilns. A vortex zone is generated near the lumber stack following the sharp right-angled turn. and to study the quantitative properties of the flowfield. to the inlet plenum chamber. In this paper. Water is pumped from the reservoir tank up to the header tank. They show that. the width of the plenum chambers should be at least equal to the sum of the width of the fillet spaces to achieve uniformity in flow over the height of the lumber stack. each having a width of 5 mm. while the hydrogen-bubble method was employed to measure the fillet- . The header tank supplies the hydraulic kiln with water at a flowrate which is controlled by a throttling valve on the outlet pipe of the hydraulic kiln. thereby eliminating the separation zone. thereby improving the uniformity of flow over the height of the lumber stack. Water from the hydraulic kiln and the header-tank overflow drains back into the reservoir tank.20 spaces near the top of the stack. and is geometrically similar to typical box-type lumber kilns found in industry. improves the uniformity of flow across the duct width downstream of the bend and reduces the pressure drop through the transition. the plenum chamber can be narrower due to the added resistance of the second lumber stack in series with the first. Nijdam and Keey (2000) have shown that the frictional pressure drop down the height of the plenum chamber decreases as the width of the plenum chambers increases. remains constant throughout the experiment. The hydraulic kiln consists of 13 equivalent fillet spaces. and the reservoir tank. each having a thickness of 10 mm. All experiments are conducted at Reynolds numbers based on the hydraulic diameter of the fillet space of between 3000 and 12000. the hydraulic kiln. An overflow from the header tank ensures that the water level inside the header tank. a simple and practical design is investigated using semicircular sections to smooth the transition of the right-angled bend. Contouring the sharp right-angled turn could be an expensive and difficult task given the shear size of most industrial-scale kilns. The main components are the header tank. These Reynolds numbers cover the range of values found in many kilns in industry. in singletrack kilns. Various geometric configurations are tested in a hydraulic model of a kiln to determine the optimum design. and therefore the flowrate into the hydraulic kiln. The water-test facility has a closed-circuit arrangement. and 13 equivalent boards. and the blocking action of this vortex can severely retard the flow of air into the uppermost fillet spaces of the lumber stack (Nijdam and Keey 1999). The ‘‘ceiling space’’ is 65-mm high and the ‘‘plenum-chamber’’ width is varied between experiments. but a few of the salient features are described here for clarity. where the fan is located. Idelchik (1993) has demonstrated the benefits to be gained from streamlining the sharp right-angled bend of a duct. The hydraulic kiln is made of Perspex to enable visualisation of the flow fields. Cavitation-induced bubbles were used to visualise the flowfields at the higher flowrates. which significantly reduces the extent of flow separation. with a subsequent improvement in the uniformity of flow over the height of the lumber stack. Sturany (1952) has shown that contouring the corner of the sharp right-angled turn smoothes this transition. Uniformity in the inlet flow is promoted by the use of flow straighteners and wire meshes. The second major contribution to flow maldistribution is the sharp right-angled turn from the ceiling space. Flow-visualisation techniques are used to gain a qualitative picture of the motion of the fluid in the hydraulic model. Experimental A detailed account of the apparatus and techniques used has been published elsewhere (Nijdam and Keey 1999).

Discussion Nijdam and Keey (1999) have shown that a vortex zone appears in the inlet plenum chamber of a box-shaped kiln just after the abrupt 90° bend. Figure 1a shows that the right-angled bend continues to generate a vortex zone in the plenum chamber even when a small semicircular section.7) and a semicircular section (c ¼ 0. Figure 3 shows the effect of flowrate on the relative velocity distribution over the height of the stack. In the first test.3 which was found to be amply sufficient to eliminate the vortex zone in the inlet plenum chamber. The hydrogen-bubble method involves the use of a thin metallic wire to act as the cathode of an electronic circuit to generate small hydrogen bubbles. The speeds of the hydrogen bubbles are extracted by visually recording the flow using a video camera. a semicircular section was placed in the ceiling space of the hydraulic kiln. the effect of a diverging flow is illustrated. A platinum wire of diameter 0. 6). respectively. and subsequently measuring the distances travelled by individual bubbles over a frame. whereas in the second test a semicircular section with the ratio c equal to 0. The sizes of the bubbles generated by the wire are small enough so that buoyancy effects are negligible over the region the velocity measurements are made and over the range of water velocities tested. the sharp right-angled bend was not contoured. the plenum-chamber width was set equal to the ceiling-space height at the apex of the semicircular section to ensure that the flow did not diverge through the right-angled bend. The ratio c of the radius of the semicircular section to the maximum height of the ceiling space was equal to 0. hydrogen gas bubbles are evolved at the cathode and swept off it by the flow. In Figs. with ratio c of the radius of the semicircular section to the maximum height of the ceiling space equal to 21 . The flow visualisations and relative velocity profiles for these configurations are shown in Figs. The hydrogen-bubble method is explained in detail by Shraub et al. when very little cavitation occurs. The relative velocity distribution for this configuration is compared against the relative velocity distribution of a kiln configuration with a constant plenum-chamber width (r ¼ 0. The semicircular section had a value for c of 0.3 was placed in the ceiling space of the hydraulic kiln. (1965).385. ensuring a diverging flow through the right-angled bend in both these tests. 35-mm from the platinum wire. a straight sloping wall was placed in both plenum chambers so that r at the top of the stack was equal to 0. and tapered down to 1=13 (or equivalently 5 mm) at the bottom of the stack. In the final experiment.7.07-mm is tautly stretched across the height of the stack so that it passes through every fillet space transverse to the direction of flow. 1 and 2. In these experiments. The ratio r of plenum-space width to the sum of the fillet-space widths was equal to 1.3) in the ceiling space (Fig. The bubbles are made visible by lighting at right angles to the line of sight using three 150-W incandescent bulbs. 4 and 5. stainless steel plate placed at the bottom of the hydraulic kiln.space velocities at lower flowrates. Again. Results Semicircular sections of different radii were placed in the inlet ceiling space of the hydraulic kiln to remove the vortex zone generated by the sharp right-angled turn. The anode is a thin. When a DC voltage is applied across the electrodes. The wire is located 50-mm downstream from the leading edge of the stack of Perspex boards to remove any entrance effects.3 in these particular tests.

1.22 Fig.2 m/s at 400 K . 2. Flow patterns in the hydraulic kiln for various ratios c of the radius of the semicircular section to the maximum height of the ceiling space: equivalent average between-board air speed is 8 m/s at 400 K Fig. The effect of the ratio c of the radius of the semicircular section to the maximum height of the ceiling space on the flow distribution across the stack: equivalent average between-board air speed is 4.

385: equivalent average between-board air speed is 8 m/s at 400 K 0. The vortex zone disappears when c is increased to 0. an across-stack velocity distribution similar to the case in which no semicircular section is present can be expected. 4. is placed in the ceiling space. 1b). The effect of flowrate on the flow distribution across the stack (equivalent average between-board air speed calculated at 400 K): ratio c of the radius of the semicircular section to the maximum height of the ceiling space is 0. However. Thus.23 Fig. Flow patterns in the hydraulic kiln with the ratio r of plenum space width to the sum of the fillet-space widths equal to 1.3 Fig.2 (Fig.1. 3. flow separation persists and the separation point is located at an angle of about 130° .

3 (Fig. The effect of a semicircular section in the inlet ceiling space on the flow distribution across the stack: equivalent average between-board air speed is 4. thus reducing the flow though this fillet space. which has lower flows than the mainstream. The separation point is close to 180° from the horizontal axis. the flow through this fillet space is unlikely to be reduced significantly.2. ratio r of plenum-chamber width to sum of fillet space widths is 1. 6. 5. The second fillet space from the top appears to be unaffected by the separation zone and. The extent of flow separation is moderated even further when c is increased to 0.5 m/s at 400 from the horizontal axis. partially obstructs the uppermost fillet space. and the separation zone is less than half the width of the separation zone that occurs when c is 0.2 m/s at 400 K. The effect of a straight sloping wall in both the inlet and outlet plenum chambers on the flow distribution across the stack: equivalent average between-board air speed is 2. the separation zone continues to partially obstruct the flow . The resultant separation zone. Even so. 1c).385 Fig. therefore.24 Fig.

Thus. A distribution of velocities may still arise over the height of the stack even when the radius of the semicircular section is increased sufficiently to completely remove the separation zone. the flow maldistribution appears to worsen. The dimensionless plenum chamber width r decreased from 0.3. 4. Uniform velocity profiles can only be achieved when the width of the plenum chambers – and correspondingly the height of the ceiling space – as well as the radius of the semicircular section are increased sufficiently. There does not appear to be a significant difference between the relative velocity profiles at these different flowrates. The reduction of r below unity may explain why there appears to be no improvement in the uniformity of the relative velocity profile from the fifth fillet space downwards. The vortex zone is not eliminated when the ratio p of the width of the plenum chamber to the height of the ceiling space at the apex is greater than unity. in a previous investigation. although a separation zone persists which reduces the velocity in the uppermost fillet space. The vortex zone is eliminated once c is at least equal to 0. 5. the separation zone has the greatest effect on the flow distribution in the top quarter of the stack. However. Fig. Streamlining the right-angled bend has very little benefit when the width of the duct expands through the transition. The blocking action of the vortex zone appears to become more severe as the flowrate rises.5 to 4. thus mitigating the influence of the separation zone. Clearly. The fluid is able to resist a change in direction for 25 .of water into the uppermost fillet space. Figure 3 shows the effect of increasing the equivalent average air velocity over the range from 2. the ratio p of the plenum chamber width to the ceiling-space height at the apex of the semicircular section remained constant at unity as the radius of the semicircular section was increased. while the frictional effect influences the flow distribution in the remaining portion of the stack. when the vortex zone is eliminated. The frictional effect down the height of the plenum chamber will ensure that the highest velocity appears in the uppermost fillet space and the lowest velocity appears in the lowermost fillet space.7 as the dimensionless radius c of the semicircular section increased from 0. 2 shows that increasing the radius of the semicircular section has the effect of moving the peak velocity towards the uppermost fillet space and narrowing the flow distribution in the top quarter of the stack.3.2. which increases the flowrate at the constriction. The flow restriction becomes less pronounced as the radius of the semicircular section is increased further with c equal to 0. this has resulted in the reduction of the ratio r of the plenum-chamber width to the sum of the fillet space widths. The higher the value of p.1 to 0. although the restriction in flow is not so severe. which suggests that flow maldistribution is not strongly affected by the flowrate over the limited range investigated.3.2 m/s through the stack on the flow distribution over the height of the stack when c is 0. Indeed. Nijdam and Keey (1999) have shown that the velocity distribution becomes significantly more peaky as the flowrate is increased. when a vortex zone exists in the plenum chamber. even though the semicircular section increases in radius. as shown in Fig. In order to eliminate the diffuser effect in the right-angled bend. The semicircular section reduces the height of the ceiling space. as shown in Fig. By contrast. the velocity distribution across the width of the plenum chamber downstream of the 90° turn is a function of the degree of expansion of the right-angled bend.9 to 0. Nijdam and Keey (2000) have shown that r must be at least equal to unity for the frictional effect to become negligible. the greater the diffuser effect and consequently the larger the separation zone.

Keey RB (1999) Airflow behaviour in timber (lumber) kilns. progressively narrowing plenum chambers do not improve the uniformity of flow over the height of the stack since inertial forces in the plenum chambers counterbalance. the radius of a semicircular section must be at least equal to one-fifth of the height of the ceiling space. provided the vortex zone has been eliminated. However.5 to 4. Sloping walls are effective for improving flow uniformity in these cases. Drying Technology.Werkstoff 10: 201–207 . the width of the plenum chamber must be less than or equal to the height of the ceiling-space at the apex of the semicircular section. Thus. the inertial forces in the plenum chambers on either side of the stack already counterbalance each other. Second. Drying Technology (in press) Shraub FA. A straight sloping wall essentially equalises the velocity down the height of the plenum chamber. Nijdam and Keey (1999. Henry J. Thus. References Idelchik IE (1993) Fluid dynamics of industrial equipment: flow distribution design methods. Kline SJ. Littell A (1965) Use of hydrogen bubbles for quantitative determination of time-dependant velocity fields in low speed water flows.2 m/s has very little effect on the uniformity of flow over the height of the stack. Two conditions must be met in order to eliminate the vortex zone using the semicircular section. Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.26 longer as it travels along the ceiling space due to the increase in momentum induced at the constriction. because the width of the plenum chamber is reduced proportionally with a loss in volumetric flowrate through the fillet spaces. 2000) have shown that the uniformity in flow worsens when the plenum chamber width in a box-shaped kiln is reduced. due to an increased average velocity in the plenum chamber which exacerbates the frictional effect. in a symmetrical lumber kiln. straight sloping walls increase the average velocity in the plenum chamber. Runstadler PW. One kiln configuration employed a semicircular section in the ceiling-space of a box-shaped kiln to streamline the sharp right-angled bend. such as those used in pipe burners (Dow and Shreveport 1950). 87: 429–444 Sturany H (1952) Questions of flow in the drying of wood. the size of the vortex zone is increased and the flow through the uppermost fillet spaces is reduced even further. 17: 1511–1522 Nijdam JJ. Holz Roh. Figure 6 shows that sloping walls in the plenum chambers do not improve the uniformity of flow over the height of the stack. because the inertial and frictional forces can be counterbalanced to bring about a zero pressure gradient along the length of the manifold. We have found that the magnitude of the flowrate over the range from 2. Previous. Finally. Basic Eng. Keey RB (2000) The influence of kiln geometry on flow maldistribution across timber stacks in kilns. New York Nijdam JJ. thus accentuating the velocity profile over the height of the stack. Conclusions The effectiveness of various kiln configurations for eliminating the inlet vortex zone and improving the uniformity of flow over the height of the lumber stack is investigated. First. ASME J. leaving only the frictional force. which intensifies the frictional effect. This differs from single-pipe manifolds.