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An Introduction to the Considerations in Designing A Rotary Dryer

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The following is a collection of blog posts, originally designed as a series for the FEECO
International blog. We have received such a positive response from the release of this series,
that we decided to make it available as an entire article.
FEECO International has been a leading supplier of rotary dryers for over 60 years. Our rotary
dryers are custom-engineered to fit the specific needs of the material to be processed. Our
rotary dryers are robust, and built for longevity.
What follows is a general overview of things to consider before entering the process of designing
a rotary dryer. This is by no means meant to be a practical guide, but rather an introduction to
the intricacies involved in the design of a rotary dryer.
For more information on rotary dryers, visit our website:
or contact us at

3913 Algoma Rd. Green Bay, WI 54311 Phone: (920)468.1000 Fax: (920)469.5110 Email:



So you are in need of a rotary dryer. Where do
you go from there?
There are a lot of factors that come into
play when determining the needs of a rotary
dryer, and determining your needs can easily
become overwhelming. Take it a step at a
time: weve developed this series to help you
understand what goes into sizing a rotary
dryer, and what might best suit your needs.
At FEECO, we custom design our rotary dryers
based around the material and its ideal feed
rate through a rotary dryer.
The first and most important aspect in sizing
a rotary dryer is defining the needs and
limitations of the material to be worked
with. The first variable in this equation is the
percentage of moisture the material holds in
its raw state, or the state at which it will go
into the dryer. Similarly, it is necessary to know
the percentage of moisture desired in the end
product, also called the outlet moisture.
This difference in actual vs. desired percent
moisture in part determines the design of the
dryer. Lets use laundry as an example. If you
have a load of jeans that you just pulled out
of the washer, and they are soaking wet, their
percentage of moisture is going to be quite
high, therefore requiring a long period of time
in the dryer. However, if you forgot about

them on your laundry room floor for a day

and theyve had a chance to air dry, their
percentage of moisture is going to be much
lower, so you know you dont need to put
them in the dryer for as long, and the dryer
does not need to work as hard to dry them.
Bulk density is another characteristic that is
important to know when sizing a rotary dryer.
Bulk density is the weight of a material per a
specific volume. Typically, this is calculated
in pounds per cubic foot in US units or ks/m3
in metric units. Lets say you have something
that is 50 lb./ft3. This means that if you have a
1x1x1 box full of said material, it will weigh 50
lbs. Lets look at an example. Say weve got
1,000 lbs. of brick, and 1,000 lbs. of feathers.
Which weighs more? Trick question: they both
weigh the same. BUT, the bulk density of the
brick is much higher. Try to fit as many feathers


as you can in a cubic foot. Now try the same

with bricks. It will take a lot less bricks to fill
the cubic foot. So if we go back to our 1,000
lbs., 1,000 lbs. of brick may only be 500 bricks,
but 1,000 lbs. of feathers might be the size of
a building. In the case of a rotary dryer, if we
have to run brick through the rotary dryer, it
is going to take a lot more energy per cubic
foot to rotate the dryer vs. running feathers
through the rotary dryer. For this reason, the
rotary dryer will need much more heavy-duty
bearings, gear train, trunnion wheels and


Another key factor in sizing a rotary dryer is
determining the specific heat of a material.
Specific heat is defined as how much energy
it takes to raise 1 gram of material 1 degree
Celsius. In more simple terms, its how resistant
a material is to heating. Materials can have
very different values of specific heat, meaning
they take more or less heat to cause a change
in the temperature of the material. Water
has a very high specific heat, which means
that you have to add a lot of energy to raise
the temperature. Metals, however, have a
low specific heat, which means it takes less
energy to raise their temperature. In a more
specific example, lets look at copper and
water. The specific heat of water is 10 times
that of copper. That means it takes 10 times
the energy to raise the temperature of water,

as it does for copper. Specific heat relates to

how well the atoms of a substance can transfer
energy among themselves. So those that can
transfer very well, have a low specific heat,

and those that dont transfer well have a high

specific heat, because it takes more energy
to transfer the heat from one atom to another.
Of course, the type of fuel used to heat the
material running through a rotary dryer also
plays into our sizing equation.


The heat transfer properties of a material are
also important to be aware of before sizing up
your rotary dryer. It is possible for two materials
to have the same percentage of moisture, but
very different heat transfer properties, which
will call for different drying needs. Lets look at
an example. Lets pretend that glass has the
same percentage of moisture as clay. They
should have the same drying time then, right?


If only it were that easy. Glass holds its moisture

on the outside, whereas clay holds its moisture
on the inside. So in comparison, the glass will
dry much faster because the moisture is all
on the surface of the material. In addition
to this, some materials may dry fairly quickly,
until their moisture drops below a certain
point, making the last remaining moisture
much harder to draw out. This has to do with
driving force, which states that the closer the
remaining moisture gets to zero, the harder it
is to draw out. Driving force diminishes as the
percentage of moisture in a material reaches
zero, therefore requiring additional time to
fully dry. For example, sand dries at a fairly
normal pace, but getting the last remaining
moisture out of it is much more difficult than
getting the initial moisture out. In this situation,
a counter-current rotary dryer would be best.
A counter current rotary dryer means just that:

the stream of gas flows in opposition to the

material. So the hottest area in the stream
of gas is at the very end of the rotary drum,
opposite the feed chute. So in the case of the
sand, the sand would dry normally as it moves
through the rotary dryer, but when it gets to
the end of the dryer, an extra boost of heat
(the beginning of the gas stream flow) will
help draw out that hard to reach moisture. The
opposite of a counter-current rotary dryer is a
co-current rotary dryer, in which the material
and gas stream flow in the same direction. It
all depends on where your material needs the
heat to be most in the cycle of dryingthe
beginning or the end.



After you have determined the characteristics
of your material, it is necessary to look at the
limitations set by your material, as these too will
play a part in the design of the rotary dryer. For
example, some materials may not be able to
come into contact with oxygen. In this case,
an indirect rotary dryer would be needed. A
direct rotary dryer applies the heat directly
to the material, via a stream of hot gas. An
indirect dryer, however, transfers the heat to
the material through the shell of the rotary
drum. So the hot air/gases do not actually
come into direct contact with the material,
except for the rotary dryer itself. An indirect
dryer would also be needed when a material
requires absolute sterility. For example, some
household items need to be safe for being
around children, etc., and so it would not be
acceptable to use any combustion gases
to sterilize them. This would also be the case
for materials that simply require sterilization
through heat. Sterility can also dictate what
type of material the shell of the rotary dryer
will be made of. Some materials for example,
cannot be allowed to cake up together. In
this case, the inside of the rotary dryer would
need to be completely polished smooth, with
absolutely no imperfections on which the
material could catch and pile up. Another
limitation that can be encountered is the
consistency of a material. Believe it or not,
a wet, sludge-like material could lead to a
fire in the rotary dryer. This occurs because

the rotary dryer surface becomes like a hot

frying pan. When the sludge-like, wet material
hits it, it sticks. The material then continues to
stick, and dry, until it becomes bone dry and
potentially starts a fire. In a situation like this,
there may be a need to reduce the moisture
to avoid sticking. This can be accomplished by
diluting the moisture via the addition of dried
product prior to the dryer.
Some materials may also be quite fragile.
Depending on how fragile the material is, we
may decide to not weld any flights for the first
so many feet of the rotary dryer. This allows
the material to have a chance to dry and
become more durable before it is gradually
introduced to the flights. The durability of the
material, in combination with particle size and
weight, also helps determine the maximum
air velocity, or how quickly air flows through
the rotary dryer. This will define the size of fan
needed for the rotary dryer.
What does atmosphere have to do with rotary
dryer design, you ask? Well actually, a lot. The
needs of a rotary dryer can differ greatly from
region to region, due to different climates.
Things like humidity, temperature, and
elevation can play a big part in determining
the specifics of your rotary dryer. Lets take
humidity for example. Imagine hanging your


wet clothes out on the line out in the desert.

Desert air, aside from being very hot, is also
very dry, meaning it has the potential to hold
a lot of moisture. Moisture is quickly absorbed
into the air, drying everything in record time.
But here in Wisconsin, hang your wet clothes
on the line on one of our humid summer days,
and you will be waiting a while. When the air
is humid, some or much of its water holding
capability is already used up, meaning it is
already reaching its water holding capacity
and cannot absorb much more. Here again,
driving force comes into play, because the
drier the air, the larger the driving force. In a

humid atmosphere, it will require many more

BTUs to dry the material, as opposed to a dry
atmosphere, where it will require significantly
less energy to dry the material. Think back to
our discussion on specific heat; water is more
resistant to temperature change than many
other materials. So more energy is required to
heat the moisture-laden air than air holding
less moisture. Ambient air temperature is also
an important factor to look at. When it comes
to air temperature, it makes it easy to think of
your dryer like a furnace. In a cold climate,
you furnace is going to require more energy
to heat your house. But in a warm climate,


your furnace does not have to work very hard

to heat your house. It may not even need to
use much energy at all, depending on your
specific situation. So if you are living in hot and
Sunny Florida, your rotary dryer may not need
as powerful a motor and fan as someone
whos living in Antarctica. It wouldnt make
sense to pay the price to run a super heavyduty furnace all year round in the event
that you get one cold day a year. However,
determining rotary dryer design can get tricky
when you live in a place like the Midwest,
where in the summer its 90 and humid, and in
the winter its -20 and dry. In this case, it is up
to you to find the balance and figure out what
makes most sense and is most efficient in your
particular situation. Elevation also plays a role
in rotary dryer design. At higher elevations, the
air contains less oxygen. Because of this, the
same volume of air that might be effective at
sea level, is not as efficient in a higher elevation.
Pulling the same volume of air through the
rotary dryer will not be effective, because the
air is less dense, so a higher volume of air is
required, and therefore a bigger fan.
Another key phase in rotary dryer design is
determining the best flights to use inside the
rotary dryer. Flights are like specially designed
fins, that pick up the material as the rotary
drum rotates, and then gradually drop the
material through the stream of gas, like a

clothes dryer. This falling of the material is

called a curtain. Ideally, the curtain will span
across the inside of the drum, with material
falling evenly from one side to the other.
An ideal curtain is created by having the
optimum volume of material flowing through
the rotary dryer, in combination with the most
efficient flight design. The flight design is in part
created based on the angle of repose of the
material. In more simple terms, when a flight
is piled with material, the rotation of the drum
will cause the material to slide out of the flight.
Angle of repose of a material is at what angle
(relative to a horizontal plane), the material
will slide against itself off of the pile. However,
when it comes to flights in a rotary dryer, it
can get tricky, because you dont want all
the material to fall at once in a big clump;
it needs to slide and fall evenly through the
stream of air. This curtain can also be affected
by the pattern in which the flights are welded
into the dryer. For example, flights may be


staggered, or they may line up flush with each

other. In the section on material limitations,
we discussed how if a material is too fragile to
be dropped when it is first fed into the rotary
dryer, then flights may not be put in for several
feet, allowing the material to dry and toughen
before it is gradually introduced to lifting flights.
When requested by the customer, FEECO has
the ability to test flight design and pattern with
a flight simulator.

Its easy to see how determining the design
of a rotary dryer can become overwhelming.
Hopefully now, youve got a better idea. If
not, no worriesFEECO International can take
care of it all, from testing your materials characteristics, to delivering the end product to
your door. Backed by 60 years of knowledge
and experience, your rotary dryer is in good
hands at FEECO International.

For more information on rotary dryers, visit our website: or contact us at
3913 Algoma Rd. Green Bay, WI 54311 Phone: (920)468.1000 Fax: (920)469.5110 Email: