Orlando, Fla. — While pallets may not be the sexiest products around, they are without any doubt one of the most used and hardworking items on the planet.
As Jeffrey Owen, CEO of Lightning Technologies LLC, speaking at the May 8 BASF news conference at NPE2018 in Orlando pointed out, "Everything, literally, is shipped on a pallet."
His Oxford, Mich.-based company is a relative newcomer to the pallet industry, an industry that Owen said is basically still churning out the same products — 8 billion of them a year — since their invention some 80 years ago. Sturdily designed and typically made of wood, despite their ubiquitous use, pallets can cause problems for the products being shipped on them. One of the unintentional problems is mold. And while manufacturers can choose to treat their pallets with prophylactic fungicides, the effects tend to last a mere six to eight months. Besides, manufacturers would rather not take the chance of having their products come into contact with these chemicals.
Mold contamination can affect the quality of products, lead to expensive recalls and damaged reputations. Owen decided this was a challenge he would tackle. He came up with a smart pallet, complete with an embedded active RFID chip, making it possible to track exactly where the pallet is and monitor temperature, humidity and any impacts the pallet withstands. His pallet features a hermetically sealed surface, crucial in pharmaceutical and food transportation safety, to protect against insects, bacteria, mold and other harmful organisms.
The pallet is composed of a plywood-like, sustainably sourced substrate that is sprayed during production with a newly formulated proprietary hybrid polyurea coating, developed in partnership with BASF SE.
"We approached BASF, not knowing if the company would be interested in partnering with a startup," Owen said. "But over the past two and a half years, we've developed a very close relationship, and they committed to us."
The chemistry was there, and it resulted in the development of Exobond, the polyurea spray coating material developed specifically for this application. The new, sealed pallet is a revolution in the pallet world.
Scott Schlicker, industrial marketing manager at BASF Performance Materials, pointed to a range of advantages: "The coating creates a chemically resistant, hermetically sealed surface, which ensures safety during storage and transportation and increases the durability of the pallet. Its improved strength-to-weight performance makes the pallet lighter, easier to handle and more fuel-efficient to transport."
The industry has responded with interest. "We are expanding very quickly," said Owen. "Poland, Sweden, South America, Korea, China — we are there."
With plans to become the leading pallet in the market, Lightning Technologies is not modest about stating its ambitions. In Owen's words: "We are going to change the industry."