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Mister Beacon Episode #141

Improving the Supply Chain with Serialized Inventory

May 17, 2022

This week we talk with the leader of the lab that is at the heart of RFID and Auto-ID, about tags in outer space and on the ocean floor. We learn about Auburn University’s pivotal relationship with the giants of retail, aerospace and the biggest vendors of the technologies that are bringing the digital and physical worlds together.

Justin Patton is the Director of the Auburn University RFID Lab, a research institute focusing on the business case and technical implementation of emerging technologies in retail, supply chain, aerospace, and manufacturing. The RFID Lab is a unique private/academic partnership between users, technology vendors, standards organizations, and faculty. Justin has participated in business case research for advanced technology with Walmart, Target, Amazon, FedEx, Dillard’s, Macy’s, Delta Air Lines, and Boeing among others, and is currently supporting projects including multiple technologies supporting serialized supply chains. He is one of the primary developers of the ARC program, the first and most widely utilized international performance validation system for RFID, and is currently working to help standardize serialized inventory in all aspects of the supply chain.


  • Steve Statler 00:00

    Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast. If you want to know what's going on in IoT in auto ID, if you want to know about digital to physical convergence, one of the best places to go is the old been RFID lab. This organization is at the center of everything of the major users of the major suppliers. They're connected operationally, they're doing the research. So I was delighted when Justin Patton, who is the director that was a founder and still runs the the lab, agreed to spend time with us to listen to this conversation is a fascinating guy, who's got amazing insight of tags that are going into space with NASA, and underwater onto oysters. So it's all here in this conversation. Take a listen to my conversation with Justin. The Mr. Beacon podcast is sponsored by Wiliot Intelligence for Everyday things, powered by IoT pixels. Justin, thanks so much for joining the show. I was really fascinated when I first learned about the work that your lab is doing. And I think it's really important. And I was pleased that you were willing to come and talk to us. So maybe we should just start off and talk about what you do what your team does, at Auburn. And the RFID. Lab, can you kick us off with that?

    Justin Patton 01:47

    Sure. So we've been doing this for about 17 years now. And we focus on a business case and business value of serialized identification technologies. Sounds so dull when you say it, but truly, it's a more focused on anything that we can do, whether it's RFID, and there's hundreds of kinds of RFID systems or even a lot of stuff with you know, QR, and serialization systems. To help establish why you would want to use one of these technologies to help any industry we focus very heavily in retail, and aviation, a lot in food a little bit in pharma. So we use students from engineering, business, human sciences, Animal Science across the board. And they focus on research projects, whether it's doing feasibility testing, and some hard research on like, what kinds of items work on what tags with physics and things like that, all the way down to helping establish pilots and metrics for sales, lift a business case or business value. So it's really a kind of a business development lab, except it's a bootstrap. One things I'm really proud of is every person who works at the lab, and there's four of us that are full time. And then there's right now 110 Student positions. All of us were students whenever we started, right, so this is really kind of the inmates running the asylum down there. So we leverage faculty and resources and stuff across campus. But this is a way that the students can work with industry partners, and do real projects so that they're developing a space so that when they graduate, the slip gear between the speed of academia and the business world is not always a smooth transition, and hopefully make it easier for them to jump out into the job world and make a difference when they get out of here. So much talk about these 110 students, how much time are they putting into this? This is not full time, they're they're still pursuing their academic studies, right? So undergrads usually work about 15 hours a week or so. grad students, if they're on a research assistantship or something like that. Typically, it's about 15 to 20 PhD students tend to put in a little bit more time because the research is their focus, right? So in the PhD students tend to work on things like the robotics and automation teams, because they're developing like, bigger, more engaged things. But yeah, most of them are part time. And sometimes in the summertime, they'll come on kind of full time if they're not out there on an on a internship or something like that. So it's very challenging, trying to run a workforce, where everyone is part time and you don't control their schedules, because they all have classes. So it's, it's very, we've learned to embrace the chaos over the years, I guess. And what's the secret? How do you do that? Just relax. Man, I'm not gonna lie, Steve, I'm the worst manager you'll ever meet. I'm terrible. And the first five years I was really horrible. Every student you talked to back then they would hate me because I would just micromanage and stress out and focus on all this stuff. And you know, it was such a, I feel like we gotta go go go, but I was younger than to because I was a grad student and, and it all seems so important when you're in your 20s Right. So And it's not that it's not now. But look, the world doesn't end very often. So you know, you have a little bit of time to make mistakes and also learned that they don't learn anything unless they mess up a project, they can do five good projects. And yeah, they all get gold stars, and it's great. And then they go out there in the real world fall on their face. But if they totally torpedo a project, not the lab, they learned. So I think that there's an age and a time that we focus on, especially people in their, in their youth in college, that there's more leeway for mistakes and experimentation. And we learn to, you know, relax, and not take it all. So seriously, I think,

    Steve Statler 05:39

    isn't that that's so true. When we interview people to hire them, we're all focused on their success, and they paint this picture like they never failed. But the reality is, you can be part of a really successful company or academic team. And you can be unconsciously competent, you can be lucky. But you know, when you fail, then you see the consequences of doing the wrong thing. And those are like great learning experiences, we should I think when we interview people, we need to get them to talk about their failures, as much as their successes. But yeah,

    Justin Patton 06:16

    we do that know, like, when we interview students and stuff, when they come in, as we ask them, like, what's the worst you've ever screwed up a project? And if they don't know, they have been there yet, right? So you want to give them a little time, but I it is true, it is a it is what do you take away from it. And, you know, just there's one thing you can't teach it's motivation, right? You can teach anything else, I don't care what they know when they come in, especially because we're in college. So um, but if they're motivated, and they want to get on it, even when they mess up, and sometimes a motivated student can mess up big because they can go broad with a mistake. But that's great. You know, that's something that they pick up and learn from. And we don't do that again, hopefully. So. But anyway, that's life.

    Steve Statler 06:59

    So what is the economic engine for what you do? So you got a lot of people doing a lot of stuff and take some money? You got some amazing sponsors? Can you talk a bit about that, and just sure, your business model?

    Justin Patton 07:13

    Well, the business model is weird. And you won't find many university research institutes because we're on soft funding, which means that all of the funding that supports the students and the research projects we bring in, right, so and we are organized within the university, kind of on an institute model. So we work with a few different colleges to help to do that. But um, I think the key to our success over this time has been to be on self funding. Because if I wasn't, because, like, if we don't make our budget next year, I don't have a job, which is great, because if I had tenure, and I was, you know, sitting in an office somewhere, I wouldn't be down here, you know, 5060 hours a week trying to make sure everything was was going. So um, and then our revenue sources, you know, we have some sponsorship revenue, we have an advisory board, we've got a lot of board members that have been with us, since almost the very beginning 17 years ago. And then we have some revenue that comes in from grants. And a lot of me to private grants or public grants. We have some testing services that we do, we run the art program, which helps with inlay performance for passive UHF tags. We're on a program called Alec which does kind of validation for a supplier compliance for some retailers and stuff. So I think making a healthy mix of grant funding, some services, and then also some gift funding from a networking model. If you can balance that triangle, you will live through times fat and lean in an in a university environment and then maintaining that soft funding model has been core to us. I think that's the most important thing because you've got to sing for your supper. So I think it's worked out really well.

    Steve Statler 08:58

    And you've got giants sponsoring you the likes of Walmart, I think and Target and I think Avery Dennison Boeing companies like that, right?

    Justin Patton 09:07

    Delta, Delta put a few million dollars in the year and the lab just before COVID. I hate to go down and start listing sponsors sometimes because I always forget one and it's kind of like doing a thank you list. But we have a lot of we have a lot of good sponsors for the beginning. And you listed a lot of them out there too. I can tell you in terms of research, currently, you know, we've had some good partnerships with Walmart since the very beginning. That was kind of our foundation impetus. And then we've grown to some other retail areas since they're, you know, we've been able to add a lot of friends you know, and target and Lowe's and some of the others that we're working on research with right now. Nikes a good friend of ours T Mobile just joined the board. And then in the world of aviation, you know, Delta, especially being this close to Atlanta. They really kind of helped set the pace and commercial aviation Boeing has been a good friend of ours, Airbus, Lockheed Northrop, we've done projects with. And now moving into NASA, we've got a Space Act Agreement, annex signed with them and, and some of those partners and things. So it's a good set of strong partners, we find that the end users set the direction. And that's the way it should be in the solution providers. You mentioned, like zebra and Avery and sml, and checkpoint and all those folks, they kind of tagging us, they help provide the solutions. So what we will try to make sure of as long as the end user is driving the market, everything's healthy. And when a solution providers start driving, because sometimes that can happen in the standards groups, and it gets a little bit off too far to one side, then you can normally bring it back in, but we try to focus on the users and make them happy. And then everything else kind of works this way.

    Steve Statler 10:46

    So what why are they investing? How did you get hooked up with Walmart, that must have been transformational.

    Justin Patton 10:54

    Pure luck. So at the time, we were at the University of Arkansas, and Walmart, in oh five, started an initiative where they wanted to tag everything at the case and pallet level through their full supply chain. And in those days, the thinking was very different. We were looking at this as a transformative supply chain technology, not as item level in stores. And they started onboarding a few 100 suppliers, they commissioned a lab, the lab to do some research. So we did the initial out of stock study for their business case. And then we educated in onboarded, you know, hundreds of suppliers. That was we're an educational institution, they didn't want to go out there and explain to 1000s of suppliers what RFID is and how it works. They say there's a university right there. Hey, university do it. So we did. And we got, we've been getting lucky for 17 years, man, I mean, every time we turn a corner, there's another door, and there's somebody else that needs some help. And I feel like we're just been, well, if there's one thing we're really good at is being in the right place at the right time. But that's, that's Oh,

    Steve Statler 12:00

    well, I've agreed with everything you've said, apart from the luck thing, I think you make your own luck. And there's, there's a level of unpredictability there. And you have to but you have to recognize the opportunities and place the right bet. So I think you've done an amazing job in doing that. So the training that you do, so you're training, like Walmart wants to bring on a lot of vendors, so you're providing training courses for them, they, how do they get access to that that's something they pay for, presumably,

    Justin Patton 12:31

    um, not indirectly, right. So typically, in the past, usually the retailers were there, whatever retailers doing the rollout at the time, will like whether it was Dillards, or you know, Macy's, or Walmart, or target or whatever, we will educate them for free for the most part. So we do lab tours before COVID, we did lab tours every day, multiple per day. And that's starting to come back a little bit now. And that's just like, people walk in the door what's already if and then you kind of talk them through why serialized inventory matters, and show them a lot of demos, because it's a big lab, it's about 13 14,000 square feet. And then some of them have more technical needs. So we have the big chamber and we run the art program. So they'll come in and say, I need to put an RFID tag on a landing gear port, so what kind of tag work on it, where to put it, and then and it's anything from active to passive or whatever. And then, um, some of them just need help, like, they have a mandate or a request, if you will, from a retailer to go out there and do some tagging. And they need help with that. So in sometimes we can be a lot more hands on, like, right now, we're onboarding about four or 5000 suppliers from various different projects. So then it tends to get a little bit more, you know, like do the Alec program, they have a page web page they have to go through and it's less direct and hands on. I don't like it that much. It's more impersonal. But at some point, you can't do. You can't speak to 5000 people individually. So we're really trying to learn how to scale. Steve, you know, like, we've always been very direct connect. But I think as this industry scales up, we're learning how to try to speak with a broader voice and not just turn everything into a one to one conversation.

    Steve Statler 14:18

    So do you have like a learning management system or automated courseware that people go through if they want to get up to speed

    Justin Patton 14:25

    on taking notes? That sounds like a good idea.

    Steve Statler 14:30

    We're learning about learning ourselves. So we we just bought this learning management system like what does that do? It's so important, this education piece. I feel like you know, we need to evangelize. But we the biggest thing is we just need to get everyone on the same page and give them the tools to do this job. I feel like this is Uh, you know, it's important work. And a lot of the challenges are just everyone's busy and getting everyone up to speed is really, really hard. So I'm so glad our paths crossed, because for that reason,

    Justin Patton 15:13

    one of the things you're you've done really well. And it's been very impressive, especially in last few years is like, a lot of what we deal with is fundamentals and fundamentals aren't sexy, right? So operations, inventory control. I mean, come on, like, if you want to bore somebody at death with a PowerPoint slide, go talk to him about their inventory management systems, right. I mean, that's, that's what I would put in a movie to be the epitome of a boring business meeting, right? So when people think about innovation, they're like robots and cloud computing, quantum and blockchain, give me all that stuff. Right. All the buzzwords will talk to me about inventory. So I think one of the things that y'all done really well at we talked about this, you know, the first time we connected to is trying to recapture that spark of excitement innovation around why or what could we do in this world, and not get mired down in the drudgery of, you know, inventory operations as something that somebody has to do or they just appoint the intern to go figure it out while they go focus on the more exciting things. So trying to bring that spark of excitement, innovation, back to that space is, as yours marketing team has been really stellar. So it's good.

    Steve Statler 16:25

    Thanks. I will capture this and play the next board meeting when I'm being lambasted for the terrible job of marketing what we do the Yeah, I think I was. I was at NRF National Retail Federation show and they had some great interviews as CEO of Walmart and CEO of Ralph Lauren, and they asked the CEO of Ralph Lauren about Metaverse and what Ralph Lauren were doing about Metaverse, and I was just, I was like, Oh, this will be interesting the sky skies gonna really struggle and he didn't he like his the course it was prepared. But you know, here the three things that Ralph Lauren's doing about Metaverse, and I'm like, Oh, my goodness, you know, we need to learn from this. You know, if we were to ask him about serialization and auto ID, I don't know whether he could have given such a punchy, interesting response. But it's, you know, I think more important, you know, the internet's about to get 100 times bigger, because we're going to connect everything, you know, we're no longer going to be having odd socks and jackets that get lost in nightclubs, it's all going to be connected, and it's going to completely change his business model, he's gonna go from one off transactions to subscription, people are going to subscribe to clothing services, because it's all going to be connected. And we need to, you know, I think balance the educating people for the tactical things, what's the GS one, serial GTN, to thinking about, how's my business model going to change when, when I can connect, clothing and food and drugs and all these things?

    Justin Patton 18:11

    You know, the culture leadership's changed, especially in the retail world, in the last least 15 years where people don't do you know, three and five year plans, they need results in a quarter or a year at best, right. So like, people change roles more frequently, there's a lot of turnover, especially in executive leadership. And it's very hard to get them to focus on a fundamental change project like this, that is going to take you know, many years and has to be built from the ground up, we just don't have that culture of, you know, we're gonna we're in it for the long haul, I think that we did before, we just don't have time because the world's changing constantly. And that's not because people are different is because, my God, we changed our store operations five times in the last, you know, three and a half years with COVID. So nobody wants to get into a long term thing right now. And I think that's something we really struggle with is, it's easier to get these flashy, quick hit, you know, bumps than it is to do some of that long term stuff. So he's kind of have to work with operations folks that will keep you know, pushing it through.

    Steve Statler 19:21

    Yeah, I mean, it's a bit like kind of online commerce people, I think, felt, oh, we'll put up a website, and we'll be doing it. But actually, it's like a profound change in the way they do their business. And a lot of it requires infrastructure and infrastructure is kind of the boring stuff. You have to have, like a serialization system, change your core systems, join them up. So you know, I really think what we've decided to do is try and focus people on the internet of trillions of things IoT too, because if you put a number on it, on one hand, you're kind of underselling it. But on the on the other hand, it makes it specific. And I think that we need to inspire a little bit of fear and greed. And I really genuinely believe that there's going to be companies disappearing, and appearing based on mastering the art of this possibility and these new business models. I do want to ask you about some of these programs you touched on on. So maybe talk a bit more about the work you do with some of the vendors and, you know, if I'm buying or buying an RFID tag, and I want to know what it can and can't do. How do you guys help with that?

    Justin Patton 20:40

    Okay, so is this passive UHF specific? Yeah, cuz I, one of the biggest problems with RFID is people confuse technologies, they confuse active passive, all this stuff. And then generally they pick, you know, whatever they prefer, in terms of the facts from each, but um, passive UHF is the world we live in right now, because it's expanding so quickly. Last year, it was about 20 to 21 billion units were UHF tagged. This year, we're going over 30. I mean, we're it's up 50% market growth. And we're going to see probably that again, if not more of the following. It's just nuts right now the growth rate. So what that means is that there's two problems we have to solve. One is quality manufacturing. And this is paramount. This was the biggest challenge we were having with programs is that it's easy, it's easy, it's easier to make some passive UHF tags that will pass a performance test, you can put them on a box, you can put them on while water, they work great, it's very hard to make 100 million or a billion of those tags that perform the same, right, I can make a car in my garage, and it's an awesome super car, I can't make 500 of them, sell them, right. So that type of thing. So we really focus on a quality manufacturing on on inline manufacturers. And we have a QMS program that we ask them to go through for for that. But once they pass that, we do kind of a criteria testing. And this was developed in, in conjunction with like NXP and, and impinge and some of the other chipset manufacturers back in the day. But the idea is focusing on had the promise of passive UHF tags on various different dielectric. So everything from wood to plastic to rubber to cardstock, to glass to whatever it may be in banking, that information and kind of a library. We've been doing that since Oh, 708. It's a huge library of performance data. And then that way, when somebody comes to us and says, I have a project where I want to put or if I do want oysters in the ocean, which literally we did recently. So what does an oyster shell look like? Well, let me look into the library, or maybe these types of work or, you know, how do we put an RFID tag on a bag that's going like a passenger bag that's going in the Bay of a of a jetliner? Oh, well, we look in here and see these things work well on cardstock, especially in this environment. So it's the art program is that that library performance, so it's a focus on quality first, because we don't want to tell anybody to use something that they can't actually buy it, it's going to continue to work. And then that focus on performance on the back end is, as the physics of it, I guess, is the art program.

    Steve Statler 23:12

    So if I'm getting in the tag, so who's submitting their product for this? Is this the inlay assemblers? Or is it the tag converters? Who's the customer?

    Justin Patton 23:24

    Oh, man, it's such a weird business. It's not just super clearly stratified, because you have certain companies like like an Avery right, so they make inlays. But then they also convert labels, but then you'll have like a tag iOS, which is a pure play inlay manufacturer, and then they sell to converters. In the past, we had, you know, alien, and they made chips and inlays. Right, so it gets a little bit fuzzy. But um, typically was the chipset manufacturers, if you look at it as a pyramid, and there's a few of those. And then there's the inlay manufacturers, and there's a base layer those and there's a label converters, which is the kind of the broader base and then all of the products that get tagged down beneath that. So I think, for the art program, the first level of approval or the quality certification as at the manufacturer, right, and that is a like a company or a site level certification, like they know what they're doing. And then when it gets to the actual inlay models, then we do the art expects, which is a performance certification that is to a model of inlay. So I guess it's at multiple levels or layers.

    Steve Statler 24:27

    So this is very operational, it's important work. What about the future and the research side of what you guys do? And maybe before I do want to get into maybe areas of research that you're either about to publish or your team's working on. But, you know, what's your current assessment of where the market is? You talked about huge growth. Where is the growth coming? Today and then we can talk about What do you think it's gonna come from tomorrow?

    Justin Patton 25:01

    Oh, yeah, it is retail. I mean, just because the volumes are so high. So if you look at like retail apparel, so that 21 billion or so tags last year, about 20 billion went on retail apparel items. Before COVID. Market estimates were about maybe 100 billion units of apparel globally. And we've worked with a lot of those apparel manufacturers, and we know that once they get to about 35% of their stock, then they'll just flip over and tag everything. So we're at about 20 billion units, right now, once we hit 35 billion units, and I'm estimating, that's probably going to be in two to three years, then boom, the kicks on and that takes out the last, you know, 70% or so. So that'll flip over most of the retail apparel space. And then we this year, moving into kind of electronics, and toys, and sporting goods and all that stuff. And that's a whole nother area. And again, this is all passive UHF side. So um, the growth is healthy on passive UHF. But I think from a research perspective, we're very interested, less so in one particular RFID technology, we're more interested in the concept of serialized item data sharing, this is a big problem, right? Because we just don't have a way to do it effectively it is, is the weak link, you look online about UHF RFID. And you'll see all these papers and Wikipedia entries, Ah, man, we're gonna put tags on the factory that will light up the whole supply chain, read it here and here, and this port and this ship and this DC and all the way up to the store. We don't do any of that, we put a tag on at the factory, and we read it at the store right before it goes home with the customer. And we miss all that stuff in between. It's because we don't trust each other. It's because we don't allow each of those partners to continue with a serialized data ledger and send it from partner partner to the global supply chain, it would be the world's worst game of technological telephone. And it wouldn't work right, we don't use the same units, we ship stuff by case level here we do by pallet level there we do by weight their container here, then back down to the unit level. So we use EDI, which is ancient, I mean, that stuff was from the days of modems, they still charge by the bid for some of that. So as inaccuracies horrible, like there has been no major innovation or change in supply chain in decades. And we've got to get away from quantity level accounting and move down to unit level accounting. And that is going to require a huge overhaul in all of our inventory management systems and our data transmission systems. And that is across technology. It doesn't matter if it's you know, active RFID or passive RFID or QR codes or 2d data matrix, do not care. If we're applying a serialized identity to each item. The future is how do we accurately push that data and then pull it back down so that we can trust each other when we're talking about the full supply chain and and that is kind of the man we got research there for decades. I mean, it's that's a never ending process. And that's the ultimate goal. I think a from us from any of our academic projects as we push forward.

    Steve Statler 28:06

    I couldn't agree with you more. I was nodding so vigorously. I felt like because I was at a Led Zeppelin concert head banging, this, I feel like what's held us back is a part of it is cost of infrastructure. And I think that's changing rapidly. And obviously, Willie has an agenda there with Bluetooth and so forth. But I think more generally, it's what you just said, it's it's data sharing or lack of it, because if we're gonna get transparency in supply chains, no one owns the whole supply chain, or very rarely, there's some vertically integrated retailers that do but you know, the mass of retail is wholesale, where goods are handed off to distributors and retailers. And if we're going to solve climate change, it's about it's, you know, let's make half of what we're making. Let's cut the waste and get visibility through that supply chain so that the maker of the product is not just seeing it when it rolls out of the shipping dock door. They're getting continuous visibility of what's on the shelves and what's in the pantry of the consumers in the fridge. And if we do that, it can completely transform the world that we live in, in terms of quality and waste and business models.

    Justin Patton 29:29

    We throw away almost a third of the food we ship. That's ridiculous. That's irresponsible. Like we shouldn't do that. I mean, it sounds common sense. And nobody that makes it or sells it wants to either but like the fundamental problem we have is trust. We do not trust each other especially in business partners. If you go to any retailer, they're gonna have a whole floor that focuses on claims if you go to any supplier and you ask them what they can do with serialized data. The first thing they always say is claims. There's just all this like spider man pointing fingers at each other across the supply chain where well this didn't go there was your fault. It's our fault. I want to charge you this, I'm gonna charge you that we spent untold amounts of time and money and effort trying to figure out what did happen versus what was supposed to happen just because we don't trust each other. And in anything that we can do to help increase that level of trust means that we can decrease the level of operational costs, increased efficiency, emissions, and all that stuff goes away, we don't have to make so much junk to sell the same amount we can get by with a lot less and still increase, you know, sales and use of all things we make.

    Steve Statler 30:33

    Wonderful. So Justin, you have a really interesting job. I think it's kind of an unusual one. Not many people do what you do. How did you get this job?

    Justin Patton 30:43

    You know, I always joke, I've never had a real job. I went into grad school, and I was a graduate assistant in engineering, computer engineering. And Dr. Hargrave at the time was a faculty member information systems. And he was starting the RFID lab. So he hired me honest, his GPA, which he always told me, he's like, if you knew how, what a pain in the butt it would be to hire an engineering GA into the business college, he would have done what is the GA, graduate assistant. I was doing my masters and he needed someone to help him on the tech side, because that was that the early phases that was like oh four, when RFID was just kicking off with Walmart and others. So it was very funny, because I was really naive. I was a grad assistant, you know, going to college. And I remember him saying, we went from a conference room, to a basement to a warehouse in six months. And I remember him saying, hey, we need a manager for this lab. And I was like, oh, man, it sounds like a sweet job. I can't wait to see who's gonna get this. And he's like, so we need someone that could run this daily day and get paid for it. I'm like, oh, that sounds awesome. He's like, you want to do it? And I thought, you know, so I blew my mind. I got that job. Right off the bat. was doing that while I was still getting my masters. And it just took off from there. So what was your master's in computer engineering? Okay. So and he was Business College, which was very helpful in terms of understanding, like, why we're doing what we're doing a lot of times, and from there, it grew and eventually ended up here at Auburn. So all the students, whenever they're going out for job interviews and stuff, they'll ask me look at the resume, I was like, Don't ask me. I've never gone to a real job interview before. I've never left the university. I'm Peter Pan, I'm never leaving.

    Steve Statler 32:22

    So how did it evolve from a warehouse into what it is at the moment? That's like, 16 years, I will no longer how, how did that happen?

    Justin Patton 32:34

    I don't know. It was very funny, because at the beginning, we used to tell people, This is gonna be a five year lab, right, because most academic labs, they kind of petered out after a while. But you know, as you know, the journey to you know, item level identification is way longer than I think anybody really thought when we set out. So we just needed it. I mean, it's just every time something would happen. So we started out with supply chain, and then we shifted to retail store operations. And then after that, we got real heavy in aviation, and now coming into food and pharmacy. So all these industries coming up, and these problems keep popping up over and over again. So we just kept growing. And eventually, Dr. Hargrave became a Dean of the Business College and the provost at Auburn. We moved down here to join him. And then two weeks ago, he became the president of the University of Memphis, but I'm alright, I'm not moving again. That's too much. That's too much for right now.

    Steve Statler 33:34

    Let's, I think it's an amazing job, you get to do some really interesting work, and you have people coming to you. What, what do you think is next is this? Is this a lifetime? Commitment? Or what? Have you arrived? Or is there something beyond this

    Justin Patton 33:56

    a life sentence? So I think, I don't know. We don't want to be reactive, we want to be proactive, right? But uh, everybody's selling something at the end of the day, no matter where you work and what you do. And we're very lucky because I think the product that we sell the students, right, so we train the students, and then they go out and get jobs, and hopefully we helped develop the industry that they go work in. So that's a never ending process. And you can always get more and more students from more and more disciplines and grow more and more areas. So I think that, um, space is the next big thing right now. What's happening currently is there's not a real supply chain up in orbit, you know, there's the ISS and there's here. So it's kind of a one way trip up and back. But here in the next five years, you got ACCION, putting up their private station, you've got other countries looking at putting their own stations up there. We've got gateway going around the moon, the logistics module that's going over there, the surface missions, we have deep space logistics going to Mars and beyond. So we've had a lot of conversations with those folks about there are no Real standards. If you look at the IMS system, the inventory management system on the ISS, it's very, it looks like it's just kind of bolted together over time. So that's a whole new area to move out into. And that opens up a whole new avenue for student education things as well. And, and those things reflect well on what happens on Earth. It's hard to get you know, this, it's building confidence. And what you're doing is sometimes difficult to explain to people. And you say, Yeah, but they use it on the space station, or they NASA does this or SpaceX does that, then it gives it a little bit of cachet. And it makes it easier for people to grasp on to and understand what's happening. I think so. So that's fine.

    Steve Statler 35:37

    That is very exciting to hear, there's been so many technologies that we use from you know, the fundamental computing technology to nonstick bands and Velcro, have had their boost as a result of going into outer space. And I feel like auto ID RFID is really on the ascendance now but actually having something like that to shine a light on it. And five people's imagination could do a huge amount.

    Justin Patton 36:03

    Well, I you know, Steve, let me ask you this, then. Because the nice thing about Auburn is we have Huntsville up the road. So there's a lot there were a Space Grant University. So we have a lot of connections to those programs. We're close to Atlanta, we're on the East Coast, which is where a lot of the retail operations are, we're in the Midwest, where a lot of our supply chain operations and things are as well. But the idea and one of the reasons I connected so well with you guys is a lot of people just look at this, as we're trying to do this project for inventory accuracy. Here, we're doing that project for anti counterfeiting there. But the goal is we want to serialize everything, right? So if we can apply a serialized identity, to everything to you know, this bottle of water to this jacket to everything we can. That is I guess the long term mission. And it's so rare. And we're so lucky to work in an industry where you say, Hey, we have a finish line. And it's gonna take a long time to get there. But we got a goal, right, we have a specific target that we're trying to hit. It's not just, you know, sell more product and grow bigger over time it is we're going to get to the point to where we're going to try to change everything with serialization. And and I think, you know, I don't know, but it's so helpful, I guess, probably, I don't know, what do you think like, as a company to have something to focus on. And it's hard to put a timeline on. But

    Steve Statler 37:21

    I agree the having having a mission from the Kennedy inspire, you know, the ultimate mission statement, man on the moon and return safely. That was the thing that propelled everything, it was stated quite simply, but it had a profound impact. I mean, what you touch on is super interesting to me, because I think about what we're doing. And at one level, it's pretty mundane, we're kind of associating a number with a thing, and we've got these stickers that help to do that. But in another level, we are bringing a digital universe into conjunction with a physical universe where we're seeing these, the world of the internet of cloud computing, of cyber, coinciding with everyday things. And I think, you know, the internet is gonna get a lot bigger pretty quickly, it's already big. But in my mind, it's gonna get 100 times bigger in the next 10 years, the internet will be two orders of magnitude bigger than it is because suddenly, everyday things, clothing, food, containers, packaging, all these things that are offline, are going to be online, and it's going to change everything, businesses will disappear, new ones will appear. Safety will incur food safety, drug safety, it'll impact the environment. I mean, I think it's just absolutely massive. And we get so hunkered down, and I'll read rates and she is one serial GTINs. And it's kind of not particularly interesting, but the the overall impact on people's lives. The quality of their lives, is profound. And you know, if you think how potent The Internet is, and the internet is only connected with a tiny percentage of the things that exist, what if we went from maybe, you know, a few percentage of the things that are connected to half the things we're connected, that's gonna really make a big difference. And I don't think people realize that, all right.

    Justin Patton 39:37

    Not to get too philosophical, right. But as people, we live in this fog of approximation at all times. I mean, I've been doing this kind of thought experiment where I'll meet new people and say, We chat with you, Steve. How many pair of shoes do you all right. See, nobody knows. I had one lady answer me one time she knew exactly because she Just don't inventory. And you ask people when they say, I don't know, you ask people like, how many things do you own that cost more than $2,000. And a lot of people will sit there and they'll really think about it. And I think I should probably know that but I don't, right. So we just wander around, like with things all around us. And we kind of know what we got. But how many times have I really gone out there and bought a nine set six 916 socket set from the hardware store, and I have three other in a drawer, but just forgot about them or couldn't find them. And like, all this stuff that is all around us. And we have no idea what it is or where it is, it is just like this, we just Bumble our way through as people sometimes and things seem to just kind of appear around us. But I think we're moving to a world of as you say, we're connecting with that digital world. But I think we're moving to an era of specificity. So there's not going to be all of this just guesswork and approximation and what I think I have, I don't know how that's going to change things. But I can guarantee it's gonna change things significantly. I don't have I will not have near as much crap in my house in the future. If I knew in real time inventory of what I have my neighbors have, there may be ways to share things between each other that we didn't normally before. And I'm not talking about live in each other's houses. But hell, if I got a leaf blower, My neighbor needs it, maybe they can use it things like that, even within family, I think that it's going to be a huge change in the way that we view the world and things around us. If we have the ability to tangibly identify him, we're terrible at counting people are awful at it win, you shouldn't have to spend a lot of time doing it. I mean, I can take a roomful of PhDs, and pass a box of 232 pencils around the room. And I'm going to get 10 different answers, because you start counting. And then your mind focuses on more important things and sitting there and doing all the way down through. So I think we're learning how to use the world around us or the web, as you put it, to start offloading some of the information and knowledge that would help us in daily lives, rather than just relying on some type of very poor inventory system that we have self created over over time.

    Steve Statler 42:05

    I'm so excited to hear you talk along these lines, because I absolutely agree. But I want to get back to you as an individual. And we have this tradition of asking all our guests for three songs that make a difference is Do you listen to a little music? Is music important part of what you do or is it sort of background?

    Justin Patton 42:24

    It does? It's I mean, it used to be a lot more important when I was younger and as you get older and have kids you know, it just it II fade in and out right? You get in the world of podcasts as we are today and things. There's more information at your fingertips. But yeah, yeah, it's always been important.

    Steve Statler 42:41

    So what would your three songs be? Well,

    Justin Patton 42:43

    first one I would pick would be and I'm sure everybody says this Otis Redding. Always Wins, especially me being near and from Memphis, right so you don't miss your water is probably the best song he ever recorded. It was from Otis blue. It was recorded in Memphis, it stacks is Booker T and the MGS is the backing band. That is probably the best album ever made in Memphis. Definitely the best album of 60s Probably one of the best albums ever made. But Otis Redding is definitely a top of the stack and being kind of a local hometown. He wrote to that, that all works in your favor.

    Steve Statler 43:23

    This is the first time I was just reading his come up. I feel a little embarrassed. I confess that we get a lot of David Bowie. Really cream. Yeah, it's great.

    Justin Patton 43:33

    I don't know I guess it depends on where you're from. But I feel like I feel like if you ask 10 people around here, at least a five of them are going to come up with all the shredding somewhere. So

    Steve Statler 43:43

    of course, great. First Choice was number two.

    Justin Patton 43:46

    Number two. I picked this because I've been listening to it every Friday. The aggro lights free time. It's a song that they made in 2000 late 2000s At some point aggro bikes were banned out of LA it's kind of a reggae thing but I'm telling you for Friday afternoon getting off work it is the best song you can you can listen to that is getting ready for the weekend getting out of here for the day. Music.

    Steve Statler 44:13

    All right, I feel like my horizons just got expanded a bit. And then what's number three?

    Justin Patton 44:18

    Number three. This is not one of my favorite songs, but you said songs that had an impact. And this is a little embarrassing that didn't know this. But Elvis got to pick something from Elvis some from near Memphis. So suspicious minds, right? So that is the most overplayed song you'll ever hear. But it's funny because you think you meet from radical Elvis fans somewhere but when you are around Memphis, my lord, they take it to another level and especially growing up in the 80s and 90s. I did not know that was an Elvis song for the longest time because every band up and down Beale Street would play that as a cover song every time you went somewhere. So I assumed it was some local band had made that and it wasn't until I got in my 20s and I realize, oh wait, that is actually Elvis that made that to begin with. So it is it at least it was in the 90s. That was the sound of the Mid South in Memphis, Tennessee. So not my favorite. But in terms of importance, I probably heard that song more than anything in my life besides frozen because my daughter listens to that nonstop as well. But

    Steve Statler 45:21

    I'm glad you dropped that in as well. I mean, Elvis the king, it's incredible how he went from, you know, this the heart of America to around the world and to like to England and I've been thinking a lot about the Beatles because that, you know, the documentary came out the nine hours or whatever it was of, of making let it be. And they, a bunch of them have told stories of their first time that they visited Elvis, and you take the Beatles who are like the pinnacle of musical significance, and then you realize that they were tongue tied and ord in the presence of Elvis and what a huge impact he had on on them. It's it's quite remarkable.

    Justin Patton 46:05

    You know, it's weird that you say that too. Because there was always a little bit of a competition between Elvis and Beatles here right for hearts and minds, right? I mean, even talked about in Pulp Fiction says there's two kinds of people. There's beagles people. And there's Elvis people, right? So which one are you? And it kind of feels like that you had to choose. Now you don't have to so much anymore. But it really felt like you had to pick a team back in the day. So Beatles, I remember what first listening to those. And it didn't get played a lot locally on the radio. So I didn't really know much about him until you know, early college. And it's it's good, but I can't ever get off to email this man. Steve, you've been asking these questions for all these people for these podcasts? What's one of yours? You got? Like, what's one? Have you ever done this?

    Steve Statler 46:50

    I do it all the time. Because this is really just what I ask is a homage. It's a tribute to Desert Island Discs, which is the longest running radio show in the world by the BBC. And they ask their guests for eight records. And I'm constantly like resourcing what will be in and what will be out. For me, it's got to be Dave Brubeck. Take five. So that I mean, maybe that's an album and a song. But I'd probably go for unsquare dance as this amazing musical signature. And for me, it's got very poignant, it's something that my parents love to listen, my dad passed away due to COVID. And so that's sort of, he loved it. My mom loved it. So that was something and then when I left home, and I went to college, I started doing a radio show. At the college I was at first I was kind of very felt at sea, didn't couldn't connect with the people around me. And then I found the college radio station, I started doing a show and I started to meet kindred spirits, all these weird people with different musical tastes and ended up running the radio station. So it's my first management job doing technology and artistic thing. So I would say the Dave Brubeck unsquare dance.

    Justin Patton 48:18

    So what's your hometown?

    Steve Statler 48:21

    Well, I was born in San Francisco, but my dad loved England and he married a Brit. So I grew up in England and I grew up I started off in Coventry, which was in the Midlands, it's a industrial dark, cold, wet place. And then we move down to London, which is a little warmer, and there's a little bit more going on. So I kind of consider myself as a Londoner. But I love America as well. I love the fact that it's got it's it's the anyone can be president, literally anyone can be president. And you know that? No, no regards. I mean, there is some barriers, but this kind of ideal of do what you do what inspires you and no glass ceilings? And when I grew up in England, that was a class structure and, you know, you didn't didn't want to kind of get ahead of yourself and I just love America's Creative entrepreneurialism. And, and that's and also the weather's better. So

    Justin Patton 49:28

    San Diego, you can't beat it. Well, Coventry. That was where was that round? Where like, plant and bottom were from then they come down from there to London whenever Yeah,

    Steve Statler 49:37

    absolutely. You're right. Yeah, Led Zeppelin. They that's that's where they were. Yeah.

    Justin Patton 49:42

    Yeah. Well, it's good that you can pick something that you shared with your parents, you know, that's it's good that you can have so many times you know, you pick music that your parents would never listen to just because they wouldn't but it's good to be able to maintain that that connection as well.

    Steve Statler 49:59

    Well, Justin, Thanks so much. I really enjoyed this conversation. I feel like we should grab a whiskey or a beer or something at this point. I guess we both got work to do. So really appreciate you joining us for the show.

    Justin Patton 50:11

    Hey, thank you, man. This was one of my favorite interviews I've done in a long time. It's rare that we get to talk to people that, live it and get it right. So thank you for the time and for inviting me.

    Steve Statler 50:24

    Well, I look forward to hopefully, you coming to San Diego and visiting us. We can continue the conversation then. Very good. I hope you enjoy this conversation a fraction of what I did. It was great talking to Justin, It's great talking to someone who's really smart, who's really plugged in. Thank you very much for spending time with this. And do join us next time I'm telling you what's what we see happening at least in this weird and wonderful IoT auto ID University to safe, be well, be happy.