Smart Packaging Industry Estimated to Reach $6 Billion By 2023

By Edson Perin

At a recent AIPIA event, Smithers Pira addressed how inventory control, validity, authenticity, security and the consumer experience will all be impacted by technologies such as RFID; other companies presented their latest innovations.

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The time has come when the technology in packaging is in the materials in which a product is packaged. Due to the excessive waste generated on the planet, this aspect of the evolution of boxes, bottles, trays and sachets continues to rise, with surveys being conducted at agencies such as Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), which is looking for biodegradable materials to pack without creating pollution. Identifying products, counting stock, controlling validity and authenticity, providing security against theft and ensuring a pleasurable consumer experience are among the most current goals.

The smart packaging sector is estimated to reach $6 billion by 2023, according to Smithers Pira‘s “The Future of Active and Intelligent Packaging to 2023” consultancy report. The data was presented to the public at the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA) event, held in New Jersey on June 3-4, 2019, which brought together solution providers and buyers, including representatives from paper companies. Most of the solutions incorporated radio frequency identification (RFID), primarily Near Field Communication (NFC) and passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags. Also shown were systems based on image reading, as well as hybrid solutions utilizing RFID.

HP Brazil, for example, was an exhibitor as a smart packaging user. The firm showcased its innovative case study that won an RFID Journal Award at the RFID Journal LIVE! 2019 conference and exhibition (held in Phoenix, Ariz., on Apr. 2-4). HP employs a hybrid UHF RFID system, which has been in use for more than 15 years, in conjunction with digitally printed packaging with watermarks invisible to human eyes.

Reinaldo Villar, HP’s business strategy manager, presented his company’s case study at the AIPIA conference. HP’s innovation made it possible to eliminate a large amount of instruction manuals, CDs and other paperwork that used to be included inside the boxes of one of its printer models, greatly reducing the number of items that would otherwise end up going to waste in a consumer’s home. As a result, HP stopped using 78 tons of carbon per year.

HP’s Reinaldo Villar presents the hybrid solution used by his company with RFID and smart packaging.

“This fingerprint—or digital printing—integrates the design artwork of the packaging, however, without interfering with its layout, quality and appearance,” Villar explained, “and makes this packaging traceable throughout the value chain.” Fingerprint technology can be applied individually to each package and can thus be associated with the GS1 Electronic Product Code (EPC), with the same information recorded on RFID tags. Thus allows users to identify each product individually.

In the exhibition area of the AIPIA summit, the use of NFC RFID to allow customers to verify product authenticity was present in several solutions, either alone or in conjunction with other technologies. One chip-free innovation, offered by Digimarc, is based on the same kind of feature found on HP printer boxes, with watermarks printed on the images of the packaging without damaging its layout. According to Digimarc executive Mathew Okin, with pixel modulation applied to an image, a software-recognizable signal can be created via a conventional mobile camera, for example.

This reduces the cost of the application, since users need not acquire RFID reading equipment, nor must they change processes so that tags are embedded. On the other hand, readings performed for traceability purposes are not as accurate as with radio frequency identification. The biggest gain is the use of a common camera to read data from an EPC, which reduces costs and facilitates access to this information even by the end consumers of a particular product.

Digimarc’s Mathew Okin says the pixel modulation of an image allows users to create an app-recognizable signal.

Another completely chip-free alternative uses microscopic variations of barcode printing from one carton to another to differentiate products individually. “Just as each barcode print is not exactly the same as another,” said Chris Martin of Systech, “we have fingerprints that give a unique identity to each unit of the same product.”

Chris Martin, from Systech, discusses a solution that allows users to individually identify each product by differentiating the print variants of barcodes.

Because barcodes are already printed on products, Systech can offer a low-cost solution to enable identification and tracking. The system also enables an innovative experience for customers, including certification of product authenticity.

Another vendor showcased a solution that integrates various technologies into a single packaging, allowing the identification and tracking of goods, while offering a broader experience to consumers at various stages of production and distribution for a particular product. Derek Dlugosh-Ostap, the president and CEO of PackSmart, explained that in addition to RFID, the platform favors the use of any other technology to achieve customers’ business objectives.

PackSmart’s Derek Dlugosh-Ostap explains how the platform integrates diverse identification, tracking and customer experience technologies into product packaging.

One solution that attracted the attention of many visitors was presented by VTT, which is researching the printing of paper circuits. The system can receive additional electronic components and can thus play an active role in paper envelopes, for example. The project includes the possibility of sending credit cards by mail in an envelope containing a numeric keypad, so that the password sent to the user must then be entered by another communication channel. If the password entered is correct, one can simply open the envelope and remove the card already activated; otherwise, the card will be invalidated.

VTT’s Lisa Hakola talks about research into the printing of paper circuits to insert intelligence into envelopes—for example, to guarantee the safety of credit cards.

An e-paper solution was presented by Jennifer Su, an executive at E Ink, who outlined the possibilities of this new manner of distributing information. Applications, she said, range from reading books on devices like the Amazon Kindle to making retail store displays capable of being upgraded remotely in real time, or even more interactive.

E Ink’s Jennifer Su explains what electronic paper can do for products.

Eef de Ferrante, AIPIA’s executive director, says a new industry is emerging with new technologies to identify products, count inventory, control validity and authenticity, provide security against theft and robbery, and ensure a positive consumer experience. According to de Ferrante, sustainability initiatives—which companies are increasingly promoting to suit country rules and the demands of their consumers—are among the benefits these technologies offer.

The importance of data for companies is growing with the advancement of new technologies, blockchain and big data, de Ferrante says. This impacts what brands are worth and also changes the relationships between companies, products and buyers.

AIPIA’s EIF de Ferrante outlines the birth of a new market that brings together companies that offer smart packaging products and their customers.