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Pest Heat Engineer Offers Treatment Insights
Heat treating experts discusses technical issues and insights on treating pallets to meet ISPM-15.

By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 10/1/2009

††††††††††† With the federal government tossing around the idea of a national treatment rule for solid wood packaging materials (WPM), it seemed like a good time to find out what one leading supplier had to say about the ins and outs of heat treating pallets.

††††††††††† The Pallet Enterprise discussed a wide variety of operational details and best practices with Pest Heat Sales Engineer, Vince LaMantia. Pest Heat is one of the first companies to offer heat treating chambers for pallets. This includes both modular chambers and custom designed units.

††††††††††† LaMantia has over 10 years of pest control experience working directly with wood-boring insects. He also is a member of National Pest Management Association, Pennsylvania Pest Management Association, and other local and state pest associations†††††††††

Pallet Enterprise: What are the cost variables that someone has to consider when they are looking to install a heat treating device for pallets? What kind of payback cycle should a customer expect?

LaMantia: We look at the amount of propane and natural gas they will be using per treatment as well as the cost of the chamber itself. The customer obviously must have a need to treat large quantities of pallets, and the customer knows what they can charge in their market for treating services.

††††††††††† Like any other piece of equipment, you need to be using it everyday to quickly get a payback on your investment. If the customer is only going to treat one load of pallets per week, clearly getting a system is more about convenience than a pure business decision.

Pallet Enterprise: What is the treatment time and cost for a typical load of pallets?

LaMantia: Itís normally about a 3-4 hour period. We tell the customer they will use about 20 gallons of propane for the first hour and about 10 gallons per hour for every hour thereafter. You are typically looking at about 50 gallons of propane for one load. We find that customers are typically looking to purchase chambers just prior to summer time because they like to use them during the hot days of summer where they use the least amount of propane. They are able to do about 2-3 runs per day compared to one load in the winter months, which helps them acquire profit faster.

††††††††††† Our typical chamber is designed to hold 308 pallets (48x42 size). Thus, it costs about 50 gallons of propane to treat a little more than 300 pallets. Or a customer can use natural gas, which would require about 5million BTUs of natural gas to achieve the same result.

Pallet Enterprise: Why would somebody want to use natural gas over propane?

LaMantia: If natural gas is available and you can get a permit for it, natural gas may be cheaper and doesnít require fuel trucks to deliver it. Also, the permitting process for natural gas can be much easier than propane in many urban environments. Inventory management is much easier with natural gas.

††††††††††† The cost for natural gas is about $8 per dekatherm on average. Prices can range from $6-13 across the country. A dekatherm is a million BTUs. In this example, natural gas would cost $40 per load in energy costs.

††††††††††† You have to also factor in the cost of stamping and participating in a certification program. You are typically pennies per pallet to get a pallet treated. Depending on the amount you can charge in your market determines the profitability of the service.

Pallet Enterprise: How efficient is your system compared to others on the market?

LaMantia: With the laws changing, there are a lot more pallets out there that have to be treated. Based on the fact that we have sold so many systems throughout the country, the word is out there that we have a good system. It has a high CFM output, which reduces treatment times. This means customers can complete a run in 4-5 hours. Our design offers good circulation of heated air around the pallets. It is a very high efficiency heating system.

Pallet Enterprise: One early criticism I heard about some units is the use of a cart for loading. What loading options do you offer?

LaMantia:We had a chamber before that used carts. The reality is that the pallet industry would prefer to load pallets directly via forklift without a cart or track system. We offer the ability to customize a unit to a customerís space. If they donít want to buy a chamber, we can adapt our heating technology to their needs. We can help a customer design a large capacity system, such as a thousand pallet unit.

††††††††††† Chamber sales are a prepackaged solution that requires very little thought on the customer side. All they have to do is set up an area where they will have their monitoring computer. Typically, this is like a small shed or enclosure. They have to allot space for a chamber and get us power. Then, we are up and running very quickly. Engineering is one of our strong points.

Pallet Enterprise: Beyond pallets, how are your units being used in the field?

LaMantia: We are selling systems for local pest operators to go after the bed bug industry. We are going after whole plant treatments for the food industry. Pallets are where we started. The U.S. military and the U.S Department of Agriculture asked us to co-develop some systems with them.


Pallet Enterprise: What are some factors to consider when it comes to maintenance and durability?

LaMantia: We really sell very few parts. The components we used are easily understood by any mechanical contactor. The customer is left with a product that doesnít have proprietary components. This allows a local contractor to quickly fix the unit with parts sourced locally. Units designed with proprietary parts require you to pay for airfreight and may not be as user friendly for the repair technician to fix.

††††††††††† In the manufacturing side, we sell units to the construction industry. These units get shipped to Alaska and Canada Ė some of the most remote regions you can imagine. What you end up with is a piece of equipment that users can abuse. They can hit it, bump into it, put it into very caustic or cold environments, and the units will still run with very little maintenance. We design our units to run 20-30 years.

Pallet Enterprise: What type of material is used in your chambers? Do you have any advice when it comes to chamber design?

LaMantia: We use aluminum skin, similar to what you would find on a truck body. This is riveted to a steel frame. We put three inches of insulation on the inside. Then we put heat-durable plywood on the interior.

††††††††††† Our chambers are found to be reliable at very high temperatures. Some customers opt to use their own chambers. One of the things they may overlook is getting the chamber insulated. If the chamber is not insulated, it requires more heat to keep the treatment progressing. The heat radiating off the outer surfaces can be a safety concern without proper insulation. For example, some customers in the past have wanted to use sea containers.

††††††††††† We continue to work with customers to fix problems they have encountered due to poor system designs by other suppliers. We will help customers get up and running no matter the issue.

Pallet Enterprise: Describe the typical maintenance needed for heat treatment systems. What maintenance advice can you give the industry?

LaMantia: Very little maintenance is required. You can image a microwave oven. You wouldnít avoid keeping it clean. You are putting pallets and wood products in a chamber. You are going to have to sweep up after treatments to keep sawdust from coating the chamber, which could keep airflow from circulating around the pallets. We use a floor that is similar to a reefer trailer. It allows the heat to make its way under the wood that is touching the floor. If you let those tracks fill up with sawdust, then you prevent airflow from getting under your wood.

††††††††††† On the mechanical side, it would be good to have a contractor come out once per year and check all the valves and regulators, make sure that the heater is performing properly, similar to what an HVAC contractor would do in checking your furnace before the winter season. There are no filters or parts that routinely need to be changed. We have heard that a lot of customers run the units for years without having them inspected. We donít recommend that. But these systems are designed to require minimal maintenance.

Pallet Enterprise: What best practices have you learned from years of working in the field with customers?

LaMantia: One of our biggest advantages is that our competitors tend to use smaller heating devices. They have a longer warm up cycle. With our units, the customer has the ability to really pour on the heat the beginning of the treatment. If they want, they can achieve temperature in a matter of minutes, which really speeds up the treatment process. We are using a larger air handler than anyone else in the industry, and we have the capacity to put more heat into a chamber than our competitors can. We can put up to 2.5 million BTUs of heat into a unit.

††††††††††† Best practices would be that they put in the appropriate amount of heat at the beginning to achieve the right temperature so that their overall treatment takes less time to complete. One of the biggest expenses is the labor that is involved in monitoring and loading the chambers. If you only get one cycle through the course of a shift, then your labor costs are high. We have heard of competitors taking 6-7 hours to complete a treatment cycle. Typically, we will be done with a treatment in less than four hours, which is phenomenal production for a little unit like that.

††††††††††† How many pallets are you treating? If a company does 2,500-3,000 pallets per week and is subcontracting that work to another supplier, they will quickly become profitable if they buy a chamber.

Pallet Enterprise: There has been a lot of discussion about the development of a domestic rule for all WPM. How long will it take to supply the industry with the capacity to comply?

LaMantia: From a manufacturing capacity standpoint if we ramped up to full production, we could put out 50 systems per month. If you look at the current treatment capacity that is out there, I think there is already reserve capacity in the market if they went to a second shift. I am sure they would be grateful for the extra work.

††††††††††† It is mainly a freight issue for the pallet industry. They wouldnít ship their pallets to another due to the high cost of freight. They are really looking for a local provider. If companies start going to second shift, this would take a big bite out of the capacity needed to treat all domestic wood pallets. I think the problem may not be as great as some expect.

††††††††††† Adding additional chambers would also be necessary in some areas. If there was a need, we could ramp up production fairly quickly. If we need to look at even larger production, we could subcontract out the construction and at that point, the sky is the limit as far as production goes. We would much rather do all the fabrication in-house.

Pallet Enterprise: Do you offer national coverage? What is the added cost to ship a unit to the West Coast?

LaMantia: We sell units all over the country and even have some international installations. We have technicians strategically located around the country.

Looking at the overall cost of the system, there is probably a $2,000-3,000 premium to ship a unit to the West Coast. This amounts to about a 7-8% increase in cost.

Pallet Enterprise: What type of things should a smart consumer look for when buying a heat treating chamber?

LaMantia: Ease of use, the ability to document treatment easily in a format that the regulatory agency can understand, ease of getting the unit repaired, buying a system that you can get serviced in your local market, etc.

††††††††††† Some other systems are very technical. Our approach is to offer an easy to use system. We have received positive feedback on our reporting capabilities, especially from the regulatory bodies. We use very simple technology that is durable and doesnít require much service.

††††††††††† You can find out more about Pest Heatís pallet systems at www.pestheat.com

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