The recent updates to ISPM15 have approved the use of heat treatment using dielectric heating. What exactly does this involve and are there any benefits to or concerns about its use within pallet manufacturing?
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The International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No15 (ISPM15) set out guidelines for the treatment of wood used in packaging materials. This treatment is designed to prevent the spread of diseases and pests through global shipping routes. The materials used in packaging products, including pallets, must either be heat-treated or fumigated prior to use and then marked to show they comply.
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Earlier this year, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM) adopted new guidelines as part of ISPM 15. These allowed for the use of heat treatment using dielectric heating, as well as the alternative measures already permitted. Prior to this, all wood had to either be heat-treated in an enclosed chamber or fumigated with methyl bromide.
This new form of heat treatment uses microwaves to heat the packaging to the required temperature. According to the guidelines, the wood packaging to be heated must not be over 20cm at the smallest diameter point. It has to be heated to a minimum of 60 degrees C for one continuous minute. This temperature needs to be reached across the whole profile of the material, including the surface. In order to be effectively treated, the minimum temperature must be reached within 30 minutes of starting the process.
Any manufacturer that wants to offer this treatment must be approved by the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO).
What Benefits Does This Form of Heat Treatment Provide?
The dielectric heat systems take up considerably less space than the traditional method of heat treatment, making them more convenient to fit into manufacturing facilities. This could mean more companies can accommodate the machines or that those that already provide heat treatment can have access to more equipment and thus take on more orders.
There is less handling required of the wood packaging, as there is no need to load them directly into a chamber. With less handling and movement of the materials, there is a lower risk of them becoming damaged. The process of dielectric heating is far quicker than in a heated chamber and requires fewer operators. This makes it a much more cost-effective process for heat treatment providers.
Are There Any Potential Concerns for Pallet Manufacturers?
The initial costs of buying and installing the machinery are higher than those for a chamber heating system. There are also additional concerns about the likely price of any maintenance and the electrical running costs. For manufacturers that already offer heat treatment, this cost could be prohibitive. Once it has been passed on to the pallet manufacturer, it could make heat treated pallets too costly for buyers.
As this is still a relatively new form of treatment, the reliability of the machines is an unknown quantity. With more manufacturers and equipment coming on board, all these questions should be answered and the benefits of the process could far outweigh the costs.