When it comes to buying, selling, and shipping, the pallet is usually the last thing anyone might think about, but it’s also one of the most ubiquitous aspects of the retail industry. According to Forbes, there are nearly 2 billion pallets circulating in the U.S at any given time. While many take the pallet for granted, if not careful, pallets can cause much unneeded stress, anxiety, and, worse of all: damage to your merchandise.
Your standard pallet consists of hardwood such as pine or oak that is simply nailed together. While relatively cheap and easy to maintain, wood can absorb bacteria and in turn spoil food products and even contaminate plastic bottles of Tylenol, which happened in 2009. Issues also include the wood splitting and causing a stack of brand new TVs to topple over, or in the case of a fire, pallets serve as excellent tinder.
So why hasn’t a plastic pallet been invented to stop the spread of contamination, breakage, and fire? It turns out that plastic pallets have been around since 1965, but they are three times as expensive as wooden pallets and cannot be repaired if broken. In this case, there is not a great future in plastics. But Jeffrey Owens of Lightning Technologies thinks he’s found the answer.
Mr. Owens business model is based on combining several attributes into one product that is virtually indestructible, lightweight, hygienic, and fire-retardant, and here’s the kicker, it comes with an embedded tracking chip. The chip can record the pallet’s location, including temperature, humidity, and can tell if an accident occurs. These advancements in pallet tech has the industry excited, “Today there’s no way to measure how the product is handled or controlled for temperature,” says Bob Spence, a vice president at Del Monte Fresh Produce. “And God forbid there’s a recall.”
Adding a tracking chip to a pallet is not an original idea, but Lightning Technologies rolls several innovations into one so that it’s lightweight, sustainable, hygienic, easily repaired and skid-free. The active ID chips can beam information to and from the cloud anywhere, anytime for real time updates. Located north of Detroit, Lightning Tech already has $87 million in pallet orders, primarily from Costco’s suppliers and they haven’t even hit peak manufacturing yet.
The pallet itself isn’t going away anytime soon, as it’s the primary way to ship merchandise, but the future is coming and with it more safety, risk avoidance, and tracking capability.