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Wiliot on the Reusable Packaging Association's 'Reuse on Replay' Podcast

November 29, 2021
Wiliot on the Reusable Packaging Association's 'Reuse on Replay' Podcast
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Steve Statler, SVP of Marketing for Wiliot, joins the Reusable Packaging Association Podast, 'Reuse on Reply: Straight Talk with Circular Thinkers', with CMO Hillary McCutcheon to discuss Wiliot's cloud platform and IoT Pixel technology – computers the size of a postage stamp – which provide real-time tracking and visibility into the movement and condition of goods throughout the supply chain, on reusable packaging as small as a bottle or as large as a pallet or bulk bin.

Wiliot’s platform sheds light on corners of the supply chain that have been dark until now. With the intelligence that the Wiliot platform brings to reusable packaging, companies can create a truly circular economy, where waste is drastically reduced, and businesses operate much more efficiently. 

When companies can closely monitor the status of goods in Wiliot-enabled RPCs, they can more accurately match supply and demand so they’re not over-producing; they can more efficiently deliver goods where they need to go, using fewer vehicles or shorter delivery routes to reduce emissions; and they can gain greater visibility into inventory to improve business performance and offer superior service to their customers. Wiliot’s platform works across many different packaging options, efficiently moving everything from auto parts and pharmaceuticals to food and beverages.

Episode Transcription

Hillary McCutcheon 00:05

Welcome to 'Reuse on Replay' with Reusable Packaging Association. I'm Hilary McCutchen with RPA. Our podcast features experts and leaders from around the reasonable transport packaging industry and a conversation about reuse systems for the distribution of goods in the supply chain. Today, we're joined by Steve Statler of Wiliot. Wiliot's Cloud Platform connects the physical and digital worlds, using its 'IoT Pixel' tagging technology, computers the size of a postage stamp, the company's vision is to expand the Internet of Things to include trillions of everyday products, including reusable containers, crates, pallets, and other reasonable transport and consumer packaging. Thanks for listening. Thanks for joining us on the podcast. Very nice to have you.

Steve Statler 00:52

It's great to be here, I think the work that you guys are doing is really important. So it's, it's a pleasure and a privilege to be on your show.

Hillary McCutcheon 01:01

Thank you very much. We're really excited to talk about well, I thought, and maybe we can start with just, you know, looking at your website, then the mission, safety, efficiency and sustainability for trillions of everyday things is, is kind of huge. It's pretty ambitious, and and really great. So I'm wondering if you can just kind of tell us the story of the company and, and the mission and a little bit more about what you guys do.

Steve Statler 01:26

Yeah, it's a little audacious and aspirational, because really, the Internet of Things is far from that. At the moment, it's really the internet of expensive things in terms of real connectivity to the cloud, then we're talking about a few 10s of billions of expensive things. And our aspiration is to connect many more than that to go from, excuse me, from billions trillions. And we believe that if we go from, you know, connecting cars and appliances and heavy machinery to plastic crates, cardboard boxes, primary packaging clothing, that we have an incredible opportunity to change the world for the better to address climate change to improve food safety. And, you know, I joined the company like the second quarter of its founding. So the founders, three remarkable gentlemen, Tal, Yaron, and Alon, had worked together before. And they actually pioneered the development of millimeter wave technology, which is one of the major things that makes 5G communications faster than 4G communications. And they founded a company with a very similar name to Wiliot, it was called Wilocity. And the similarity is not an accident. It's sort of a lucky talisman carried forward from one generation to another. And they were working on this super high-speed technology, premium chips. And long story short, they did the first implementations started to build an ecosystem of some great companies that were working with them and Qualcomm bought, well, our city, and that's how their technology ended up becoming ubiquitous, it's part of Wi-Fi and, and the 5G standard. So as part of these deals, when your company gets bought by Qualcomm, you kind of get bought as well, you go over to the new company, and they did their two years. And Qualcomm's this amazing company, the largest mobile semiconductor company in the world, it was a great perch to look at, well, what do we do next? Once we've done our two years and handed the reins over to the team there, and they really decided they wanted to do the opposite. They wanted to democratize the internet of things. And put compute connectivity intelligence into all of these things which were largely offline even though IoT was coined by the RFID industry that connectivity has. It's been inspirational, but it's kind of fallen short, because it relies on pretty expensive infrastructure, handheld scanners that are maybe 1000 fixed infrastructure that are $10,000, sometimes more. And so the result is snapshots of a product products, be they pallets, or machinery or inventory. And it's sort of almost like the old days of batch processing the mainframes with punch cards, and that really led the way it showed us what automation could do. But if you're going to tackle the huge amount of waste and inefficiency, which I think is the opportunity that we have, you really need to have continuous connectivity you need to know where things are. all the time, it can't be a daily stock check. When retailers and grocers are competing with Amazon, they need to be able to support multiple channels, they need to bring the online web world, the E-commerce world with a bricks-and-mortar world. And if you're going to do that needs to know where everything is you need to have accurate stock counts, and you need to have complete transparency across the supply chain. 

And that's really what we're moving towards. And we think the opportunity is there to address the major problems of our time, climate change being a key part of that, I was just looking at a United Nations study on food waste, the estimates, almost half of the food we make is wasted, it's wasted. It depends on where in the world you are, where the greatest waste is. But throughout the entire supply chain, we are wasting products. And our view is if we can have continuous visibility, we can avoid that waste. And some of the things that we're already seeing with our first implementations is this ability to just by putting our tags on plastic crates, and our tags are basically a computer the size of a postage stamp that powers itself by harvesting radio frequency energy, so no batteries, no connectivity, but an ARM processor, RAM and ROM and the ability to do pretty sophisticated things from measuring temperature to even understanding if a plastic craters got something in it or not all for very small numbers of pennies. When you get that visibility, then the kind of things that we're saying you can do include just looking at the flow of those pallets through a warehouse, through a delivery system and through a supply chain. And we're seeing things that no one's been able to see before like, is it really a FIFO, first in first out queue through the packing shed through the warehouse. And it turns out, it isn't because we're all human. And we tend to grab boxes that are close by and things get left at the back. And so what you find is produce is spending a lot of time at sub optimal temperatures. And even if it doesn't go completely bad, the shelf life is diminished. And so you know, a problem in the packing shed, or the distribution center can manifest itself in your fridge and how often have you bought something and you thought you had a week to eat it and it starts to go bad? And what do you do, you throw it away, and we all feel guilty, we feel like it's our fault. And sometimes it is, and I think our technology can help with with that with better management of what's in your fridge. But very often, it's not your fault, it's because the retailer in good faith just didn't have visibility of what was going on in the supply chain. And with simple things that we all spend our times where there's just these plastic crates, if we know where they are, if we know what temperature they're at, and if we know whether they're full or empty, we can do a huge amount to optimize the supply chain, which basically feeds all of us.

Hillary McCutcheon 08:30

Yeah, yeah, it's so true. I mean, we think about, you know, how much time effort and advancement you know, everyone across the supply chain from manufacturers and producers through to retailers put into designing these processes needs sophisticated warehouses and systems and automation. And, and all of this, you know, if run optimally, is really going to do what it's supposed to do and, and reduce food waste, but but without the visibility to really know if it's happening the way it's supposed to. It's very hard to control and hard to optimize. So I think it's a really, really important step forward. And, you know, there have been, of course, over the years, you know, getting more and more advanced, a lot of different types of tracking, whether it's, you know, the clunky old, you know, GPS trackers, which which are still used today all the way to, you know, RFID chips that are embedded in different types of reusable crates and pallets. So can you talk to me, I understand that the size obviously is a big difference. But how is this different in terms of you know, what it's enabling in the supply chain and what a difference it would make for those manufacturers or retailers from what they're using.

Steve Statler 09:47

It's fascinating to me, we see this trend across not just food but pharmaceuticals, furniture, everything where use To be that we were managing the flow of production, the lifecycle of a product at the SKU level. So it was, you know, courgettes from a certain area, or it's a brown shirt, or a blue sweater. But what's happening is a huge shift to serialization, where there's a unique identity that is either being given to the product, or the container of the product. And so knowing, just generally, roughly what you've got is no longer sufficient for many, many reasons. Because there's counterfeit, there's issues with authenticity, there's huge losses, there, if you if you don't have a unique identity that's kind of burned into the product of the palette, it's very difficult to optimize things. So one of the major trends that we see is the shift to serialization, which is non trivial. And so you know, why isn't everyone doing this, it's takes time. But the great thing is that in in the past, there was this bit of a trade off between the environment and between profit, and between people. And you are kind of it's I was kind of joking with one of my marketing colleagues, and she was saying, yeah, it's impossible to find a man who's good looking tall, wealthy, and nice, you just can't, you know, you have to give up on one of those things. And it seemed like with people planet profit, the triple bottom line, it was always a trade off. And I, I'm really excited about where we are at the moment, because I don't see it as a trade off. Because if you can move to serialization, which allows you to track where everything is, it gives you the basis of getting a digital passport to track where things are, then you can start to increase efficiency, you can reduce waste, you can avoid overstocking in one location, you can avoid over under stocking and another which gets in the way of sales. And so you're reducing the capital employed in your supply chain, you are increasing conversion rate of sales. And you're also reducing the expense of shipping products around. And all of that is done as a result of a layer of technologies, which are industry. You know, there's a lot of people that are familiar with a lot of people are familiar with RFID. 

And Wiliot's product essentially, is assembled using an RFID process. It's, we take chips, and they're glued to an antenna. And it's done at very large scale using an automation process using the same machines that are used to make NFC and RFID. But it's using Bluetooth, and everyone's familiar with Bluetooth, we carry it in our pocket, it's in our smart speakers, it's in our Wi Fi access points. And so the tags that we made these tiny postage stamp sized computers, we no longer have to make the argument that there needs to be connectivity in the store, or in the home. Or even now increasingly in the warehouse, there's already Wi Fi connectivity. And so a big part of the infrastructure which had to be justified and very often got minimized to the point where it wasn't as useful as it should be. It's already there, the security work has already been done by the big grocery stores for that communication system. And so because what we're doing is essentially recycling common sources of power these radio waves from Bluetooth and other frequencies, sub gigahertz frequencies we can harvest from as well. And because we're using Rails transportation that's already there, which is the Bluetooth infrastructure, I'm really optimistic that we can move forward quickly. And we're able to reduce the cost of all this because a lot of what would have normally been done on one of these big bulky sensors that you were describing before, is done either in a very miniaturized way. Everything that was on that printed circuit boards now on the single chip that Wiliot has designed, but it's also done in the cloud. And that is a really, really important thing if you have 50,000 crates, all broadcasting simultaneously. That's potentially a tsunami of data that's flowing into the internet. And unless you want a very large cloud processing bill with the AWS or Google or Microsoft, you need to have software or on all three tiers of a three tier architecture in the bridges and gateways, as well as in the cloud to manage that to manage the data ownership. So actually, without doesn't make any money from these postage stamp size computers that I was trumpeting about earlier on in this conversation, what we charge for his for the cloud services that manage the data that that kind of the traffic cops that manage the flow, that ensure privacy is maintained that do a lot of things that would typically be done on that big sense of it, do them in the cloud, a lot of our sensing is is done in the cloud. 

And the key thing, you know, the reason why that's important, is that allows us to drive down the cost of that sensor from, say, $100, to just a few pennies. And by putting a lot of what would be done on that device in the cloud, we only need to use it when it's being used. So the idea is these tags can go into crates, and pallets, and even when they're not being used, they're ready to be used. And when you activate them, then you start paying for the cloud services at the time when you start to get the benefit of visibility of your supply chain and so forth. So that was a very long answer to your question. But hopefully, you've kind of got a a sense of how that technology the chip and the cloud are applied, and why it makes sense to leverage all these skills that are already out there, that we have an RFID ecosystem, we have a Bluetooth ecosystem, we have Wi Fi connectivity, we have the cloud, we're just kind of reassembling those competencies in a way that we think is going to be really efficient and scalable. And that's how we're gonna get from billions to trillions of connected things, and in achieving that scale, how we have a chance of making these this progress environmentally in more optimized supply chains. Yeah,

Hillary McCutcheon 17:03

yeah, I mean, making this sort of visibility accessible. from a cost standpoint, and, and an implementation standpoint, and a privacy standpoint, I think is so important. You know, we have more and more companies, thankfully that are that are trying to move towards a more circular supply chain trying to implement you know, reusable, returnable packaging, whether it's, you know, the at the secondary packaging level pallets and bulk containers, which of course, the RPA is concerned with, but all the way through to consumer packaging, you know, which, of course, increases the number of these of these items. And so, you know, understandably, a big concern as well, if we invest in this, you know, these more durable, longer lasting, you know, reusable packaging, how can we be sure we're going to get it back? How are we going to kind of get that that ROI. So I think having, you know, something that's, that's easy to implement, that's, that's inexpensive, that can help them to track that can really help to enable that adoption a lot faster, which I think is a great step forward for our industry. So

Steve Statler 18:10

yeah, it's hard to justify the more robust palette, or container if you don't, if you can't track its, its reuse. And if you are starting to lose those things, because you can't track them, then that's bad. So I think this putting a digital identity that allows you to manage and measure is is super important. And it applies both in your kind of home territory of the plastic crates, and the container and the pallet, all the way to what we're starting to see which is reusable packaging, for everything from toothpaste, to dog food, to detergent. And there are some really interesting companies. I we've been talking with the folks that are Grima for for a while they're this really interesting Chilean company where they they're working with some giants, Colgate Unilever, to create reusable, plastic containers that are refilled. And the ROI is actually great on those as well. Because you end up as a as a CPG company, you end up getting loyalty and your cost cost of customer acquisition goes down and you've got, you know, a link with there's a reason to come back which is an environmental reason and I also like it just as a human level. You you start to get when you get loyalty. There's some business benefits, but there's also some people benefits you kind of go to the same place to get the containers refilled. And it's I grew up in an era in England when there was a milkman coming around and delivering the milk box And, you know, they were a part of the community. And so I think there's benefits at multiple level on on reuse. And it's, it's great to see that that's the way things are going.

Hillary McCutcheon 20:12

Yeah, absolutely. Well, we're certainly excited about it and excited to have, you know, companies like, like we'll add that are helping to advance, you know, and solve some of the some of the challenges of tracking which really helps to make these models much more economically viable, environmentally viable, and just better overall for the supply chain and the planet. So we're excited to have you with us. And yeah, it's been great talking to you.

Steve Statler 20:42

Wonderful. Yeah. Thanks, Hilary. We're excited to be members. And this is when we were at the show in Las Vegas, it felt like we were home amongst a whole community of companies that are all working to do the same thing and, and not having to make the trade off between people planet and profit. We can actually feel good about doing something for shareholders as well as everyone else that we care about.

Hillary McCutcheon 21:10

That's the goal. Okay, very nice talking to you, Steve. Thank you so much. All the best Tillery