Expanding the Digital Value Chain With Digital Printing

HP Brazil is linking packaging to interactive online experiences.
Published: December 9, 2018

HP Brazil began developing a digital value chain back in 2004, when we implemented radio frequency identification (RFID) technology on our manufacturing line. RFID labels were applied to each product at the beginning of the product’s life, making it possible to track them throughout the supply chain.

Now, HP is taking the next step and connecting RFID with digital packaging. We are inventing our own product. By linking paper to valuable interactive online experiences, HP is creating a new channel of communication. We are increasing the availability and speed of relevant information, while transforming the supply chain with the same solution.

Lyndsay Toll

The Technology
Using a digitally printed package and label with Link from HP, each HP product and primary packaging can now have its own identity (overt or covert). The covert identity is called a watermark. It’s embedded into the artwork to provide a unique, trackable, scannable “fingerprint.” This fingerprint can be applied to each level of packaging (primary, secondary and tertiary). Each watermark fingerprint is then associated with the RFID Electronic Product Code (EPC) and the product’s serial number, creating an interconnected product identity.

Reinaldo Villar

Link from HP provides more than just serialized marks. The powerful platform provides visualization software and analytics, identifies counterfeits and diversion, and delivers digital content for consumers. The accompanying application programming interfaces (APIs) and software tools make it easy to integrate into the pre-press workflow and supply chain enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. The APIs can store this information in any database (whether Link, the brand or a third-party provider) to be integrated into current systems, comply with privacy policies or support data transparency (with blockchain, for example).

The HP manufacturing process occurs in the following way: products receive a serial number and an RFID tag. A serialized digital watermarked label is placed on the item. A simple scan of the mark establishes a relationship between it and the other two IDs (the serial number and the RFID tag). The primary packaging is also digitally printed with a covert identity, and is then associated with the product ID. Any important product, tracking or authentication information is associated through Link APIs and Link-enabled red-light/image scanners stationed at specific nodes in the supply chain. HP aggregates the data from the RFID readers and Link to increase each individual product’s visibility.

Since the active and intelligent packaging is always online, HP gains value throughout the product lifecycle, from brand protection to traceability to consumer engagement. By monitoring scanning behavior and tracking data, the Link platform automatically identifies any suspicious behavior or mis-guided packages. Cloud-based product and tracking information can be applied throughout the supply chain, not only in the manufacturing line—as it used to be—but now through to the end consumer as well.

The same mark used for traceability enables HP to improve the customer’s access to relevant and timely information, enables one-to-one marketing and allows for interactive social experiences. One example is the out-of-the-box experience. Now HP can replace static manuals with video demonstrations. Another example is boosting recycling efforts by increasing awareness, education and digital assistance. End customers, with just their mobile phone, can scan the product’s digitally printed box (or label) and have an interactive, informative experience. Not only does it improve customer experience and satisfaction, it also reduces product cost and carbon footprint by digitizing the information.

In the end, this new connection moves customers closer to the brand, empowering the development of one-to-one relationships, target offers and personalized content in real time.

How Has It Been Done?
HP sees Brazil as the perfect lab for its worldwide supply chain initiatives. This is why HP Brazil is leading a pilot to combine RFID with digital printing, known as the Digital Packaging Program, which will create additional value to consumers and brands through smart packages and labels.

HP conducted a controlled pilot and ink supplies sustainability campaign in Brazil using this digital printing solution. The pilot resulted in an increase of ink cartridge recycling returns by more than 40 percent, highlighting the impact of the smart packaging solution’s consumer reach. With this positive outcome, HP decided to move ahead with the inbox material reduction for its consumer printers manufactured in Brazil.

To ensure the sustainability and full value of this program, the HP supply chain team is managing this effort internally with an end-to-end approach. Print service providers were engaged to qualify the box production process, moving from an offset printing process to a digital printing process. HP worked together with its manufacturing partner to connect Link technology to the product manufacturing line, and different organizations of the company were involved in the process:

• Marketing: box artwork re-design, reviewing of inbox material and app solution
• Customer service support: connecting digital packaging with warranty and support
• Design center: connecting consumers to updated information
• Legal: ensuring compliance when changing inbox material content
• Sales: developing the approach for go-to-market pilot and deployment
• Social environmental organization: connecting with HP’s circular economy initiatives

HP identified that the use of active and intelligent packaging could protect its brand name from fraud, diversion and counterfeits; enhance the visibility and traceability of individual items; and simultaneously improve the customer experience—all with one serialized mark, one powerful platform and one digital printer. Link from HP creates new possibilities for labels, packaging, publishing, photos and direct mail, offering companies the potential to add value throughout a product’s entire lifecycle.

Whether Link is complementing current technologies, like RFID, or establishing precedence, it is proving the value of digital printing and smart packaging. Now, HP is ramping this project up to other product lines and measuring the following success factors:

• Reducing inbox material costs by 95 percent
• Lowering the customer support call rate and warranty costs
• Increasing returns through HP’s recycling program
• Impacting overall end customer satisfaction (net promoter score)
• Decreasing annual carbon dioxide emissions
• Improving customer engagement, driving one-to-one relationships with target offers and real-time personalized content, and enabling revenue growth
• Ensuring product authenticity and brand protection

Smart packaging is only on the cusp, and HP is using it to completely change the way in which the customer experience is managed, to protect against counterfeiting and diversion, to provide cradle-to-grave traceability, to improve supply chain management, and to reduce costs and carbon footprint.

Lyndsay Toll is the new business manager for Link from HP. Reinaldo Villar is the strategic development manager for HP SC Operations.