How Smart Packaging Could Revolutionize Retail

The potential of smart packaging

The potential of smart packaging is all around us. We can easily imagine the impact of smart packaging – packages with added intelligent functions like sensing or measuring – in so many areas of our everyday lives.

What if food labels could alert you when a product is about to expire? What if a medication package could remind you to take your next dose and record when you’ve taken it? What if customers could have a richer experience with brands, receiving helpful tips or product suggestions on their phone right from the label?

One use of smart packaging technology that is interesting for PARC is cold chain logistics – the temperature-controlled supply chain of “cool cargo” like produce, frozen food, chemicals or perishable pharmaceuticals.

Printed electronics

This month, PARC will showcase its latest advancements in sensor-enabled smart packaging technologies at Printed Electronics USA, the world’s largest event for printed and flexible electronics, November 15-16 in Santa Clara.

PARC has pioneered the field of printed electronics and smart packaging for years. “Smart packaging raises a lot of fascinating opportunities and challenges,” says Janos Veres, who leads PARC’s Novel and Printed Electronics program. “Sensors and data processing integrated into packaging allows the monitoring of many environmental parameters. In a cold chain, for example, temperature, humidity or carbon dioxide levels. This is particularly valuable for pharmaceutical products. Smart packaging can be an effective way to guarantee quality, however it must be seamless with the look and feel of the product.”

Smart sensor labels add extra assurance that a package is delivered and requirements are met.

Smart packaging in cold chain logistics

In current cold chain logistics, whether in the pharmaceutical or food industry, decisions are made based on the state of large groups of items, not the state of each individual item. The workflow is largely linear with relatively few changes made to a shipment’s destination once it’s left its origin. Furthermore, information is typically only available to the supply chain, not the consumer.

From the dashboard PARC will demonstrate at PE USA 2017.

From the dashboard PARC will demonstrate at PE USA 2017.

From the dashboard PARC will demo at PE USA.

Smart packaging, in contrast, enables a cold chain where simple readers can check package sensors throughout the logistics chain, allowing storage conditions and shipment destinations to be dynamically adjusted if and as needed – to create a more efficient, higher value, higher quality delivery. Plus, information is now available to the consumer, not only the supply chain.

With smart packaging, a whole array of benefits emerges: increased product quality, reduced waste, simplified inspections, rerouting alternatives, dynamic repricing, tremendous time and cost savings.

“When you can significantly reduce the cost of a solution, it really changes how you can use it,” says Mike Kuniavsky, who leads PARC’s Innovation Services group, which develops applications for novel technologies. “Say you’re shipping something and there’s a delay, and the product will perish if shipped to its original destination, smart packaging lets a company automatically reroute those products to another destination so they’ll still be good on arrival. Today, we’re trying to get smart packaging technology to a price point where these applications become more and more practical on a large scale.”

Printed sensing labels that PARC will demo at PE USA.

“Our demo at PE USA will show visitors how our state-of-the-art printed electronics, sensors and software come together as a configurable platform that can track a variety of environmental factors, depending on the deployment,” says PARC Designer Nicholas Meehan, who will be presenting the demo together with PARC Designer Cristina Gaitán.

In this case, temperature and humidity levels will be monitored in real time from printed sensing labels on bottles of chemicals, feeding the data to an easy-to-read customer dashboard. The platform also enables chemical or biosensors that can monitor shocks or other threats to the integrity of the packaging.

You can see the smart packaging demo and meet the PARC team at PE USA booth X22, November 15-16, 2017. Peter Kiesel, who leads PARC’s Optical Detection group, will also speak at PE USA November 16 at 11:20 a.m. in Great America J.

Learn more about PARC’s innovations in printed electronics.

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