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What’s the future for connected packaging?

12 April 2020

The Active & Intelligent & Packaging Association (AIPIA) recently held its annual Smart Packaging Congress and Exhibition, which was delivered online due to the pandemic. From connected packaging for logistical and safety reasons, to promoting consumer engagement, the event featured 60 presentations and case studies covering the latest innovations and demonstrations of intelligent and active packaging.

The event also saw a number of launches including MagID from Inspectron, patented marking technology which offers a completely new way to mark products overtly or covertly. MagID enables magnetic ink codes to be printed on or inside packaging or labels and be read without direct line-of-sight. Track & Trace is an obvious application for MagID as it will provide brands with a simple, low-cost way to authenticate items, and defend against counterfeits or market diversion.

There are multiple technologies which can be used for smart packaging. RFID, NFC and various optical codes have been around for some time. In his conference keynote session, Raghu Das from IDTechEx, forecast that almost 21 billion packages sold in 2030 will feature an electronic feature to enhance the package. However, the high unit cost has constrained the take up of RFID tags by smaller brands and retailers.

A lot of different information can be packed into a code – encrypt it, sign it and make it GS1-compliant but this is not new. Many exhibitors and speakers at the AIPIA Congress offered the ability to add a unique ID in various forms on packaging and to keep track of the scans and data for the customer. There were multiple solutions based on the premise that consumers will scan products. One of the panel discussions mentioned that Eleven million households are expected to scan a QR code in the US this year. This seems rather low, given the size of the US population and the amount of QR codes already in existence.

The Active & Intelligent & Packaging Association (AIPIA) recently held its annual Smart Packaging Congress and Exhibition, which was delivered online due to the pandemic. From connected packaging for logistical and safety reasons, to promoting consumer engagement, the event featured 60 presentations and case studies covering the latest innovations and demonstrations of intelligent and active packaging. Whatever the chosen technology or solution a brand might employ to add codes, the fact remains that consumer engagement with packaging has not become a mass-market habit. Consumers, especially outside East Asia, still rarely scan items with their phones. Well-crafted marketing campaigns with the promise of an exciting pay-off supported by big advertising budgets stand the best chance of a consumer engaging with the brand. However, SMEs do not have the luxury of big budgets to generate consumer awareness and action. No one has managed to get consumers scanning enthusiastically and this fundamental issue was not addressed during the AIPIA Congress.

Fitting digital into packaging presents multiple opportunities for brands to gather data across the various elements of the supply chain. Following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation in 2018, there is a mind-field of GDPR issues to be aware of regarding data collection, ownership and storage. Surprisingly this did not feature in the AIPIA conference content. On Inspectrons Track & Trace system customers applications and data will be kept independent of other customers, with the customer being the controller of their own data. The platform is self-service (to keep costs low) and customers will be able to create their own applications if they wish.

The application of High-Density barcodes is an innovation which stood out. High Density barcodes can reliably carry large amounts of information – for example pictures in a form that can be digitally signed, providing information that cannot be forged which can be checked in a reader without a web connection. Using the same technology with tiny printing can carry useful digital information in a dot too small to notice, although requiring a microscope to read.

Blockchain technology was referenced was discussed in relation to how it could work in the packaging supply chain. It would also suit the security document world by enhancing the data integrity and tracking capabilities for each document.

Connected packaging has a lot to compete with. Persuading consumers to scan codes and tags seems a long way off and the technology companies need brands to use their technology to facilitate this. In Inspectrons view, the business-to-business use of connected packaging for Track & Trace and counterfeit protection offers a real opportunity to make a difference. Given the low price-point of the MagID marking technology, which makes it attractive and scaleable for SMEs, this new solution was enthusiastically received by the AIPIA community.