Iotron trip 2016

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Each year the club plans trip to Iotron Industries, which uses an electron beam facility on the mainland in New Westminster. This March we planned another trip for club members, with a few lessons learned from last year and some tips for beekeepers on equipment packaging. The trip is a two day process – one day to gather/organise equipment and a second day for the trip from Victoria to the mainland and return, then unload and sort the equipment, return the cargo van, and help members locate their goods. Kudos to our drivers for always starting day two long before the sun is up…

This year we had 26 members signed up, they sent 231 pieces of equipment for treatment which included two observation hives and some top-bar hives. The total cost for the trip was $1564.76 with a breakdown cost of $931.25 for the Iotron treatment and $633.48 for the total transportation/rental cost. The transportation fee per item was lower this year, $2.75. The treatment fee per item varies depending on how it is priced by the facility, from $1.68 to $15.00.

We decided to rent the cargo van for an extra day this time to allow members more time to drop off their equipment which worked out well. We also improved our instructions/FAQs on packaging and labelling equipment. The initial travel and fee expenses are covered by the volunteers and club treasurer, then are reimbursed by the participating members after we calculate the final amount and the cost per item. It’s quite the spreadsheet…

Some background on the facility

The Iotron is an electron beam service that by way ionizing radiation can safely sterilize items by destroying contaminants that cause disease or infection such as bacteria, fungal spores and some pathogens. For beekeeping equipment it targets the majority of our honeybee illnesses and effects from environmental conditions. The facility accepts everything from medical devices, pharmaceuticals, agricultural feeds, food, and of course beekeeping equipment. With its ability to modify physical and chemical properties, it is even used to enhance the colour in gemstones. We are fortunate to have a facility this close to our region, as the company has just two locations in North America (Vancouver, BC and Columbia City, Indiana) which each maintain a warehouse of 50,000 square feet.

Iotron Industries has a patented system (IMPELA) that uses a high powered 10MeV accelerator that is powered just by commercial electricity, no radioactive materials are used. The company is also ISO certified and pride themselves on good client service.

When equipment is loaded onto the conveyor system, it travels through a maze of thick concrete corridors to the IMPELA Chamber where it is transferred to a special conveyor that control’s its speed to allow the correct amount of electron beam exposure to penetrate the packaging and solid materials. This process is repeated after the equipment is flipped over.

The price list from the facility this year was more detailed and it helps to encourage beekeepers to not overload each item with too many layers (too dense), thus reducing the effectiveness of the electron beam. Fees are based on the footprint of the item on the conveyor tray. For example a top-bar hive has a larger footprint than a Langstroth box. A package of inner covers is stood on it’s edge so this costs even less.

In February we started by canvassing the membership at the general meeting for interest in sending equipment and started to plan a day when our volunteers could make the trip. A few more calls trickled in from members to sign up. With a sign up list and date in place, we booked the trip – cargo van, ferry reservations and our Iotron appointment. Later that month we sent out the updated instructions and tips for equipment packaging and drop-off.

By the morning of March 8th the cargo van was ready for loading at Donald Street with complete with pallets and the sign-in sheet. The van quickly filled up with thoughtfully wrapped equipment which made it very easy to segregate into piles in the driveway later that night (loved the caution tape!). Some load reorganizing is usually required at the end to make all the puzzle shapes fit together snugly to ensure the load is stable before we tied it in with straps.

Don and Jim set off for Swartz Bay at about 5:00am the next morning to get in the ferry line as a commercial vehicle, which the weight of the large van requires. On the other side the strait, the new Fraser Perimeter Highway made travel fast and smooth until their arrival in New Westminster that required some fancy manoeuvers on the pretzel-like bridge crossings.

Once arrived, Don backed the truck up to the offloading warehouse door and the Iotron staff brought the forklifts and pallets for the hand transfer of the equipment onto new pallets just 4 hives deep. Everything was loaded into the conveyor that loads into the machine, and the hives were then loaded and arranged onto the specialized trays that fed them into IMPELA chamber.

The machine is set according to what the materials are, and the depth of penetration the beam that it requires. It is all about the density of the material. The Ion beam can pass through thin layers of metal (like hive lids), wood, and plastic containers, but the speed of travel of the conveyor must be slowed down to allow beam penetration for items such as a sack of grain. If a beekeeper packs equipment to be treated, such as a hive box with frames then adds an inner cover, outer lid and bottom board that item may not be treated as effectively due to the density of those combined items, like a sack of grain. Deep supers that are full of honey frames can be radiated but it is not guaranteed that the beam passes entirely through the honey at the center of the boxes! A hive box with just frames (maybe honey frames on the outside) is more likely to receive a full beam treatment. As the conveyor items exit the electron beam area, the Iotron staff then flip everything over to expose the other side, and it passes through the system once more. Once fully treated (2 passes), the equipment is again hand loaded onto pallets and delivered to the “out door” on the other side of the warehouse, where it was hand loaded into the van again for the trip home. The whole process at the facility took a little over 2 hours…

The Iotron facility updated their bee equipment pricing list in 2016 to include additional smaller equipment prices (i.e. packages of lids, bottom boards, nuc boxes). So if you are keen to get the best treatment possible for the equipment you send, consider how densely you decide to package each item.

Coming home must have been a sprint as Don and Jim pulled into the Donald St driveway just as I arrived home from work. They were early! We got to work unloading the truck and Murphy’s Law triumphant, the skies opened up with a rather soggy rain. Some beekeepers braved the windy night to collect and others passed by the next day but by the next evening everything was gone. Thanks all.

This year the fees were a little lower than usual for a few reasons; we had more equipment sent than in past trips, the opportunity to return the rental truck on the same day that Don and Jim returned to Victoria saved us some rental fees, and also due to our wonderful club president having won a raffle prize for an Iotron voucher at the last BCHPA meeting (autumn 2015) which he saved for our club. Thanks Bill! We really appreciate the quick payments from the club members and also the offers to volunteer some time and muscle next year which would be grand. We will give people a call and will include the person who had the heaviest supers this year…J A special thanks to Don and Jim for doing the long haul and taking good care of our equipment – a couple of Tim Horton lunch cards were included in the trip fee for them both.

Next year we will see about making it a bit easier to sort the equipment as it is loaded into the cargo van and formalise an ‘unloading party’ for the truck’s return. When the Iotron certificate arrives, we will email it to all the participants for your records. Have a great bee season and don’t forget to unwrap your nice clean equipment so it doesn’t sweat.

Loaded cargo van
Arriving at Iotron
Equipment in the facility
Hive boxes heading for the electron chamber

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