You may not know them by name, but you’ve likely seen their work in that trendy coffee shop, that modern hotel, or that cool craft brewery everyone is talking about. Rarely does a sign make you smile, but Oat Foundry’s mechanical Split Flap message board has been pleasing spectators around the world since its launch.
In this Q&A, we learn from Mark Kuhn, CEO of Oat Foundry, about why their acclaimed creative engineering team is anything but a sign company and how their experience building systems has earned them a reputation as a Swiss Army Knife for manufacturing and production automation. This interview covers the growing use of Split Flaps for dispensary signage, Oat Foundry’s entry to the cannabis space, and the team’s vision for cannabis manufacturing solutions.
Read the full interview below!
Ganjapreneur: What drew Oat Foundry to the cannabis industry?
Mark Kuhn: Serendipity of the best kind! We had come off of a project designing and building a 220-gallon automated cold brew coffee reactor and were beginning to release project photos and videos. In the ultimate small world story, Ashish Joseph, CEO of SC Botanicals (a South Carolina-based hemp processor) happened to be my roommate in college and has been an avid Oat Foundry fan since the beginning. A late afternoon chat happened to time up perfectly with their team’s desire to turn their proprietary system into a fully fledged shippable product. The SC team had devised a novel remediation method to extract THC from hemp without the use of solvents, and were producing incredible results, but their system was in the lab stage.
We were DM’ing back and forth about product design and what goes into PLC cabinets and industrial automation and that led to a working meeting with both teams – all of us sitting around our conference room and sketching out the future. Ash wanted our engineering design, system design, and automation design brains to help SC Botanicals go from where they were, to full scale ship-a-machine-across-the-country-and-have-it-just-work territory.
We learned quickly that our experience in building both software and hardware to create automated systems for food and beverage were hyper-relevant to the cannabis space. When you take a knowledge expert like Ashish and multiply it by our engineering team at Oat Foundry, we’re able to create some really cool stuff.
Speaking of Cool Stuff — Oat Foundry’s mission is literally to Build Cool Stuff. What is the coolest thing Oat Foundry has built?
Such a tough question to answer! As we speak, I can hear the team in the back working with liquid nitrogen. We once sent a can of La Colombe into space. We’ve helped the Philadelphia Eagles save eight seconds off the play clock by building a carbon fiber play-calling tool called Fast Box. That cold brew machine I mentioned produces cold brew 100 times faster using less coffee. It’s non-stop candyland here
We’re also unique in that we have our own products in Split Flap (a modern, connected take on the iconic mechanical airport departure boards) and Picture Flap (Split Flap’s sister product based on moving images).
We’ve found this sets us apart as an engineering firm because we have a deeper understanding of the bottom line. We run our own P&Ls for our products. We built the marketing and sales teams from scratch. We support our customers in places as far as Azerbaijan and Hong Kong. So, it’s not just about building something cool — it’s about building something that creates an impact for our partners. Something that they can scale and open new lines of business.
Why do you think the Split Flap is becoming so popular for dispensaries?
Years back, we were given a brief: We want to share information with our customers from our point of sale system, but we cant under any circumstances use TV screens. Oat Foundry set out to create something that could be evergreen in its ability to update content as quickly and seamlessly as a screen, but that could elicit a visceral yet positive response.
Our love for all-things analog led us to developing the Split Flap, and since that time we’ve been privileged to build displays for clients like Google, Starbucks, American Airlines, Nike, and more. There’s really nothing like the feeling you get when you see the letters flip and hear that iconic clack clack clack noise as the flaps rotate to reveal the next message.
What is exciting about the dispensary space is we’re seeing the level of care and dedication groups like Jushi, Rise, Airfield and many, many others are putting into their in-store experiences. They’re cultivating their spaces to represent not only their brand, but to also be an extension of the relief and benefit customers are feeling from their products. Dispensaries are truly one of the only ‘trips to the store’ that people are genuinely excited to make – for some it’s self-love – and we delight in adding to that excitement with Split Flap and Picture Flap.
We didn’t set out to build these products specifically for dispensaries, but we’re hearing from our customers that it is the perfect way to welcome guests into their experience. First you hear it, and then you can’t take your eyes off it. That’s great to highlight products and specials, but the real magic is that it creates a moment of surprise and delight in an otherwise static location.
We’re really proud of Split Flap because it’s become perfect example of our team’s ability to take a challenge and turn it into an opportunity.
What other challenges in cannabis has the Oat Foundry team identified?
I think we’re witnessing a really interesting moment in history where the rapid legalization and newly-cemented essential status of cannabis is creating an incubator for innovation. Using a standard candy depositor for edibles may have worked when you were fulfilling state-level orders, but when you’re manufacturing for the nation, you’re going to want to be sure your machine has an agitator. We heard recently that RAW rolling papers make their pre-rolled cones by hand because no one has been able to build a machine that is delicate enough to automate the process. I don’t know if that is true, but that is exactly the type of challenge that excites our team.
As these pain points become further elucidated through legalization, we want to be a trusted partner you can reach out to to develop solutions that rise to the occasion.
How can cannabis companies get in touch with Oat Foundry?
For all things Split Flap or Picture Flap, you can reach out to Kristy@OatFoundry.com and for anything System or Product Related, email Josh@OatFoundry.com. You can find our latest projects any time at oatfoundry.com or on instagram @oatfoundrybuilds
Thanks, Mark, for answering these questions! Learn more at OatFoundry.com.