Interview: Jeffrey Owen, Founder and CEO of Lightning Technologies, on How Smart Pallets Are Disrupting the Logistics Supply Chain

Photo: Lightning Technologies

Interview by Paul González-Morgan (Marine Strategy) – Jeffrey Owen is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lightning Technologies LLC, the company that has revolutionised the pallet industry. Smart TV’s, smartphones, self-driving cars, …why not a “smart pallet”?

Millions of pallets are used each year to transport goods across the supply chain, with an ever-growing importance to control and monitor shipments. Suppliers are expected to have and provide customers with real-time data for each of their consignments. No data is not an option in today’s fast-moving and competitive logistics industry. This pallet is light and durable, designed to service the needs of all parties in the supply chain.

Please talk to us about your “smart pallet” and the benefits it brings to the logistics supply chain?

We consider the pallet to be a hybrid/hybrid design utilising an engineered, sustainably sourced, plywood substrate that is robotically coated during production with a proprietary hybrid polyurea/polyurethane coating developed specifically for this application. It became a “smart pallet” because we have taken PalletChain™ very seriously and have embedded an active Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID), making it possible to track exactly where the pallet is and to monitor temperature, humidity and any physical impact the pallet may experience.

The fact that the pallet features a hermitically sealed surface, which is critical in pharmaceutical and food transportation safety to protect against bacteria, mold and other harmful organisms. We feel the opportunities for food safety and the ability to track and monitor the pallet through its logistics chain is disruptive and a game-changer.

What are the costs per pallet and how does this compare to other models in the market?

We typically do not discuss the cost of the pallet due to its many variations, tailored for each customer, but to put things in perspective in the pooling world our turn rate is competitive. In some cases, our cost is less than today’s traditional wood pallet or plastic pallet.

We also provide a lease-to-own option that allows the client to expense the investment as opposed to making a capital expenditure.

How is the pallet manufactured?

We currently use three variations of substrates, with two being utilised as a one-way, multi-use pallet with our third variation being a sustainably sourced plywood-type substrate traditionally used for pooling. We are promoting that pallet design for the produce, protein, pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. We also provide an option to include our active RFID in this design. The operations are currently located in Oxford and Lake Orion, Michigan, and feature highly automated robotics operations in all aspects of the production process.

In terms of productivity, has this reached economies of scale?

We currently have the capacity to produce approximately 300,000 pallets per year but are ramping up monthly and be capable of producing 300,000 pallets per month by December of this year after new equipment is fully installed.

What are your future growth plans?

In terms of growth, we are anticipating three facilities in the United States by the first quarter of 2020 with two additional facilities being built in 2021. In Europe and Asia, we anticipate five facilities being fully operational by the first quarter of 2021. Each of these facilities will have a capacity of three to five million pallets per year.

What feedback are you receiving from customers?

We have received very, very positive reviews and feedback from a wide range of global clients. We have partnered with Rex Lowe and GARD Pallet, which is our partner company managing the leasing and pooling of our pallets – and they have received rave reviews in all cases.

Jeffrey, please tell us more about your background. Why pallets?

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky and had an agriculture education. I then moved to Detroit, Michigan, in the early 70’s and international business opportunities were realised.

Prior to Lightning Technologies LLC, I was the majority Shareholder and CEO of a company that produced over 11 million plastic pallets for another pooling company in the United States.

What role does innovation and creativity have at Lightning Technologies?

We use four words when we discuss Lightning Technologies: Passion, Innovation, Creativity and Disruption. The importance of each individually is immense, but together they create our mission to market the “One Thing That Changes Everything™.”

Can we expect more exciting products from Lightning Technologies in the future?

We are working every day to avoid fragmentation, but we have several projects which will utilise our proprietary polyurea polyurethane formulation and these will be announced the first quarter of 2019.

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