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Heating Kiln Opens New Doors for Monroe
Pallet heat kiln from Koetter Dry Kilns serves export customers, opens new domestic markets

By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 10/1/2003

EUBANK, Kentucky ó As a progressive pallet company with a strong commitment to environmental responsibility, Monroe Pallet found an additional bonus when it purchased a Koetter kiln to meet export requirements. It also picked up heat-treating business from other pallet manufacturers as well as new domestic accounts that had Ďzero toleranceí for insects.

"In late 2001 we started hearing bits and pieces about the European Union and the International Plant Protection Convention as well as their intentions regarding heat treatment or fumigation of wood pallets for export," recalled Ray Caldwell. As part of the Monroe Pallet management staff, Ray looks after the logistics of pallet delivery and scheduling.

Monroe Pallet had to determine whether heat treatment or fumigation was the best option to meet the phytosanitary requirements for wood packaging used in export. The requirements were proposed to eliminate the transfer of wood-borne insects from one country to another, but they had the potential to play havoc with pallet-using businesses that had the misfortune of having shipments quarantined at foreign ports.

The Monroe Pallet management team quickly decided against fumigation as an option. "We didnít want to get involved with methyl bromide," said Ray. "Some states were banning it." The company also had difficulty even finding a potential supplier for a fumigation solution.

Monroe Pallet then contacted Koetter Dry Kiln Inc., and the management staff, led by company president Kenny Smallwood, visited the Indiana supplier to see what it could offer. The management team was impressed by what it saw.

Under the leadership of Kenny, who owns several other businesses, Monroe Pallet has more than doubled its volume since he bought the company in 1991. The company ships about 35-38 truckloads of pallets weekly, delivered largely with its own fleet of trucks. Located about 60 miles from Lexington, it ships as far away as Georgia and Michigan.

Monroe Pallet operates plants at two sites about six miles apart, including two sawmills. It has its own logging division and buys standing timber. The company added a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle cut-up line three years ago as well as Viking Turbo 505 and Champion nailing machines.

After visiting Koetter, Kenny quickly decided to invest in a Koetter heat kiln to treat pallets. "If you ever went to visit their plant, you would be sold that they are serious," he said. "They are in the business of building heavy-duty kilns for sawmills. This is a piece of equipment that is going to stay with me for a long time."

Monroe Pallet purchased a Koetter KDK-18N-PK heat kiln and began assembly in June 2002. It was operating in August. The Koetter heat kiln has a capacity of about 1,029 48x40 pallets. Cycle time depends on the species of wood being treated and other considerations.

Since installation of the Koetter heat kiln, Monroe Palletís heat-treated pallet business has grown dramatically, Ray said. "Weíre really happy with it," he said. "It has worked even better than we expected." The company is heat-treating pallets containing about 170,000 to 220,000 board feet of lumber per month, including orders from other pallet manufactures that do not have heat-treating capability.

"Heat treating works great," said Randy Curry, plant superintendent. A forklift driver loads and unloads pallets from the Koetter heat kiln. Operational requirements are minimal; the control system automatically turns the heat kiln off after the lumber has been heated to the correct temperature for the proper length of time.

"People are concerned about the environment," noted Joy Campbell, a sales representative at Monroe Pallet, "and we are an environmentally-friendly company."

Monroe Pallet has no waste to put in a landfill. Sawdust goes to a nearby plant to be made into charcoal, and chips are sold to a paper mill. Trim ends are sold for firewood, and bark is sold to another market.

As part of Monroe Palletís ongoing commitment to efficiency and the environment, the company decided to use a wood-fueled Mahoning boiler to heat the Koetter heat kiln. The Mahoning boiler heats water to 180 degrees.

"We donít use steam," noted Koetter president Jack Meredith. "We use hot water." Hot water is an economical way of heat-treating because there is no maintenance and no water treatment is required, he said. Koetter has been building kilns since 1987; its parent company, a wood working business, has been using the technology for over 25 years.

The Koetter heat kiln relies on a lower temperature in the chamber, which helps ensure a high quality pallet at the end of the heat-treating process. For Monroe Pallet, this translates into a three or four hour heat-treatment cycle, with variables such as wood species and moisture content.

"Other manufacturers may have cycle times that are two hours or less," Jack acknowledged. "But the good part is that we are not damaging the pallets." Koetter has run tests to determine when checking and cupping become a problem. Softwood is not a concern, but oak is very heat-sensitive and therefore requires a more gentle heat-treating ó such as that utilized by the Koetter system.

The Koetter unit is computer controlled, Ray pointed out. Each charge produces a graph and documentation to show when the charge was started, temperature throughout the cycle, how long the cycle lasted, customer information and other pertinent information.

Monroe Palletís heat treatment process is certified through the National Hardwood Lumber Association. Certification is a rigorous process that requires monthly on-site inspection.

Like a lot of other pallet companies, Monroe Pallet has had to deal with mold problems, which become aggravated by moisture in the heat-treating process. "July and August are the worst months for mold," Kenny noted. "It bothers some customers, but not others."

Drawing on prior experience with owning a half-dozen car wash outlets, Kenny developed a pallet washing process. After pallets are nailed by the Viking 505 machine, they go through inspection, and a chain conveyor transports them through an enclosed area where they are sprayed with an FDA-approved chemical that inhibits mold. After going through the wash area, the conveyor takes the finished pallets to a stacker. From there they go to the heat kiln as required.

While installation of the Koetter heat kiln has allowed Monroe Pallet to meet the requirements of customers that ship to export markets, implementation of the global phytosanitary standard has caused problems for pallet users. "When Iím out in the field visiting customers, there is a lot of confusion about the requirements of each country," Joy observed. "Iím constantly talking to APHIS and IPPC."

One pleasant surprise for the Kentucky pallet maker is that the heat treatment capability opened up a new domestic market. "Weíve picked up quite a bit of business with the food processing industry," Joy added. "They canít tolerate insects." Food manufacturers previously relied on methyl bromide fumigation, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency is phasing out the use of the chemical.

Kenny acknowledged that the pallet industry has weathered a tough period since Sept. 11, 2001, but he believes that the economy ó and the manufacturing sector ó is rebounding. For Monroe Pallet, investing in cutting edge equipment such as the Koetter heat kiln has enabled it to better serve and retain existing customers while creating opportunities to serve new ones.

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