Smart packaging development opportunities

It’s hard to imagine an intelligent purpose for paper in a digital world dominated by e-books, e-newspapers and e-documents. And yet this patently analogue concept is setting some new and smart performance benchmarks in paper-based packaging. It is one of the largest segments in the global packaging market. An entirely new segment known as smart packaging is now opening up innovative new opportunities across industries like food, healthcare and retail.The estimated potential of the smart packaging market tends to vary, from $7.8 billion by 2021 to $39.7 billion by 2020. And to $40 billion by 2020. There is even a specialized IoT packaging segment which we expect to be worth $2.2 billion by 2021.

The smart packaging opportunity, in any case, is sizable. And there are two factors to consider in order to understand the opportunity.  One, the different categories of smart packaging and two, the range of potential applications under each.

Smart packaging system classification

We can classify Smart packaging systems as active packaging and intelligent packaging. Active packaging refers to packaging systems  to play an active role in monitoring and/or maintaining the quality of the contents. Like extend shelf-life for example. Intelligent packaging systems refer to ‘packaging which senses and informs’. These, for example, we can can track across a supply chain and/or even enable interactions with end consumers.
Mobile-engaged packaging emerged as a key trend in 2015. With the proliferation of smartphones, something as simple as a QR-tagged package can help to trigger a customer interaction or to track inventory. From there, the technology has only become more sophisticated with the possibilities of embedding RFID, NFC, BLE capabilities in packaging systems.  And advances in printing intelligence, where paper is the substrate as well as an active component, could soon see widespread use of smart paper electronics. There is already a technology Laser Enabled Advanced Packaging (LEAP). Researchers at North Dakota State University developed it, it  makes possible to embed ultra thin RFID chips on flexible substrates like paper.

Applications for Smart Packaging

There are a range of applications that already exist across active and intelligent packaging systems. And we can classify them  under two categories – one, track, authenticate and protect and two, connect, interact and engage.

Smart packages enables companies to track and monitor product packs as well as their contents across the supply chain and even across the product lifecycle. The opportunity for enhancing supply chain efficiencies is immense. Business can now trace the flow of products, identify packs if they are tampered with and even automate the recall of expired or damaged goods.

Smart packages also allows the tracking of product and packaging integrity along the supply chain and authentication of at the point of sale. These solutions are especially relevant for food and pharma companies to provide tangible quality and safety assurances. For instance, Scandinavian company Stora Enso offers an intelligent chocolate package that uses tamper-evidence and smart sensor tags. They use this technology  to log information about tampering and ambient temperature. Consumers can scan the tag to confirm that product storage and handling have conformed to prescribed standards. Similarly, a time-temperature indicator (TTI) label called OnVu features a dynamic indicator printed with intelligent specialty inks. They change colors if the product has not been stored and transported under optimal conditions.

Smart packaging systems also help businesses a brand new way of connecting, interacting and engaging with their consumers. They also help in  enhancing the brand experience. The opportunity here is huge from providing access to product & usage information. The other ones are activating promotions and loyalty programs, creating social experiences, enabling personalization et al. Marketers can now create integrated campaigns. They also include the critical point at which the customer interacts with a product.  More importantly, this also gives companies the opportunity to gather insights on customer interests, preferences and behavior.  We  can leverage them  for better competitive differentiation.

Technologies used in Smart Packaging

But going beyond brand engagement, emerging technologies allow smart packaging systems to actually play an intelligent role in the customer’s consumption experience. For instance, intelligent pharmaceuticals packaging, again from Stora Enso, is also a solution for medication compliance. It  provides reminders to ensure that the user adheres to a medication schedule. The packaging also has a microchip to record the patient’s condition. The patient  can then send it  to the doctor via a mobile phone.

Italian food company Barilla and home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool collaborated on an RFID-enabled oven that interacts with RFID-tags on Barilla products to automatically cook a range of dishes including pasta, bread, pizza and cakes. The oven automatically adjust cooking procedures and times based on the meal ingredients in each pack.

The possibilities inherent in smart packaging systems will only expand as technology makes paper more intelligent. As in the Barilla-Whirlpool example, smart packaging combined with smart appliances and smart homes will soon become an important part of the connected home environment. At the same time, smart packaging will also continue to enhance the essential functionality of packaging in terms of communication, containment, convenience and protection.

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