HP Brazil Integrates RFID With Smart Packaging

The technologies work in parallel and in a complementary manner, lowering costs and increasing efficiency in controlling the value chain of products.
Published: March 25, 2019

HP Brazil has entered an innovative case study to compete for the 2019 RFID Journal Awards, whose winners will be announced during the RFID Journal LIVE! 2019 conference and exhibition, to be held in Phoenix, Ariz. on Apr. 2-4. The company is experimenting with radio frequency identification technology, which it has been using for more than 15 years with the innovative concept of smart packaging. This allows the identification of products by means of materials printed digitally with elements invisible to the human eye.

Through this initiative, HP seeks to enhance its customers’ experience by using the Internet of Things (IoT). “Today’s customer demands not just quality, but improved experiences when buying or interacting with a product,” says Reinaldo Villar, HP’s strategic development manager.

HP’s Reinaldo Villar

Using packaging digitally printed by HP’s Link Technology, each product can have its own personalized identity, such as a personal document with an RFID tag. This “secret identity” (since humans cannot see it) functions as a kind of watermark.

“This fingerprint, or digital printing, integrates the design artwork of the packaging, but without interfering with its layout or quality and appearance,” Villar explains. “In addition, it makes this packaging traceable throughout the value chain.” The fingerprint technology can be applied individually in each package, and can be associated with a particular GS1 Electronic Product Code (EPC), with the same information recorded on the RFID tag. “So with the digital solution called HP Link, a unique identification is applied to the packaging during the printing process, giving each product its own individual identity.”

The cloud-based platform provides visualization and analysis software, identifies forgeries and diversions, and delivers digital content to consumers. The accompanying software tools make it easy to integrate into prepress workflow and electronic supply chain management systems.

“The software allows you to store this information in any database, even at a third-party provider, to integrate with systems in use, comply with privacy policies or support data transparency—for example, blockchain,” says Rafael Rapp, HP’s business operations manager. All the watermark content of the digitally printed carton can be accessed by the HP Link Reader mobile application. “With RFID data related to digital packaging, we have been able to enable any smartphone to function as an RFID reader.”

HP piloted notebooks with a digitally printed label on each carton that allowed customers to interact with the packaging and earn discount coupons using the HP mobile app as their own reader. “Scan data has been unveiled on the HP Link platform,” Rapp says, “containing geographic location analysis and logistics—information that can be used in the future for production planning and strategy, which are updated using in-line RFID systems.”

HP’s Rafael Rapp

The pilot of the new technology with ink cartridges has resulted in a significant increase in the recycling of products, Villar reports, which reveals the impact of the initiative with consumers. “With this positive result,” he states, “HP decided to move forward with the reduction of material from its packaging of printers manufactured in Brazil.”

Other tests were conducted to integrate RFID with the digital packaging solution. The entire process was simulated, from the receipt of the production order to RFID fabrication trace to delivery status. The learnings were documented and consolidated during the tests and resulted in a list of topics, such as RF installation, manufacturing system customization and electronic management system.

“RFID technology, because of its discrete and economical item identification system, has the potential to be used anywhere in the future,” Rapp explains, “and it also proves to be the foundation for advancing more advanced IoT applications.” The HP team is participating in the deployment of smart packaging together with the company’s own RFID specialists, and in partnership with FIT—Institute of Technology, in Sorocaba.

With RFID running and a lot of data being captured, the tests focus on how far the scope for RFID integration with smart packaging can be expanded while defining the appropriate solution for big data and business intelligence. “To provide visibility across the supply chain,” Rapp notes, “the deployment required cloud-based systems with the concept of ‘as-a-service’ and data visualization.”

Thus, the test focused on integration between a product’s RFID label and the digital packaging code. Following integration, the cloud-based software was finetuned and manufacturing testing began. “HP has also worked with print service providers to qualify their carton production process from offset to digital,” Rapp says.

HP Latin America’s supply chain began using UHF RFID in the company’s operations early in the production process, in order to improve the efficiency and visibility of the supply chain. The result was a generation of reports and, thanks to increased use, the development of applications based on RFID data, raising the initial scope. At present, HP applies millions of RFID tags annually, with more than 100 readers installed to date. “We face many challenges and help develop the technology,” Villar states, “bringing it to a more mature state. Now, we continue on this journey to pursue greater supply chain performance through technological innovation.”

HP believes Brazil to be the ideal setting to test its global supply chain initiatives as it aggregates all parts of the chain from supply to recycling in that region. The item-by-item RFID deployment was fully completed by 2010 and served as the basis for the latest big-data analysis projects in 2015, as well as cloud-based applications in 2016 and manufacturing automation in 2017. “Last year,” Villar says, “we took another step on this journey, and we are now integrating RFID with smart packaging.” Local employees have been leading pilots to combine RFID with digital printing into a project known as the Smart Packaging Program, which will create additional value for consumers and brands through packaging and smart labels.

By connecting RFID with smart packaging, Villar says, the company is reinventing its own packaging of products and connecting the physical and digital worlds. “By linking paper to valuable online interactive experiences,” he adds, “HP is creating a new communication channel, increasing the availability and speed of relevant information, while transforming the supply chain with the same solution.”