Innovative technology is typically associated with devices such as smartphones, tablet PCs and now, wearable devices – few associate the word innovation with packaging. Smart packaging, however, is a growing market segment and new waves of innovative technologies are enabling exciting developments in this traditionally low-tech market.
Imagine smart packaging that informed users in real-time when perishable goods are about to expire, or tracked the number of doses of a particular medicine administered, or even acted as a vehicle for advertisers to reach tech-loving consumers in previously unfathomable ways.
It's no secret that technologies such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), in combination with cloud computing and data analysis, have been utilized in the smart packaging industry for years. RFID, for example, has helped improve the security, safety and logistical requirements of many consumer products. Although the cost of implementing RFID in packaging can be high when compared to traditional packaging, the use of RFID in smart packaging has consistently shown benefits across the entire supply chain – from manufacturers down to retailers.
To help combat high implementation costs, E Ink has developed a solution that integrates an ePaper display with an RFID system, which can be used to monitor the condition of environmentally-sensitive products such as blood, vaccines and biomedical drugs. The display presents the data recorded during transit directly on the packaging, requiring no additional reading devices to decipher or access information. This allows any individual to check on the status of a package in real time and, per the nature of E Ink, no power is required to hold the image due to the bistable nature of ePaper display technology.
The technology has proven to be lightweight, flexible, and durable, attributes desired in many industries, particularly pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. These industries have long been looking to innovate packaging through advancements in technology. Smart packaging, with the goal of enhancing medicinal adherence and patient compliance, is now becoming widely adopted in many clinical trials and showing positive results. For example, smart packaging technology can now record whether a pill has been taken from a blister pack, documenting both the date and time of the event. In addition to improving patient compliance, smart packaging has been proven to reduce the amount of false medical data recorded and can also be used to monitor when patients require a refill of their medication. Furthermore, the unique display can be programmed to deliver reminders, such as a message illustrating when patients need to next take their medication. This information is not limited to patients, either, with data stored in a non-volatile memory available for transmission back to healthcare providers via wireless technology. And, especially for remote care management, ePaper-enabled smart packaging can help reduce hospital readmission rates by promoting greater patient medication adherence.
While the benefits of smart packaging are well documented in both the supply chain and healthcare industries, there are other industries, such as marketing and advertising that present plenty of untapped opportunities. While there are solutions today that utilize QR codes and NFC (Near Field Communication) tags on Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) that reach consumers with virtual content, allowing marketers to create an interactive experience for their customers, ePaper display technology can help advertisers gain access to an intuitive interface that consumers can interact with on smart-packaged goods. Product information – together with marketing content – can now be seamlessly integrated into one smart surface that displays personalized content and enhances the user experience. ePaper displays give smart packaging the potential to become a new advertising medium that can revolutionize how CPG companies reach their customers.
The global demand for smart packaging is on the rise, and the technology is becoming increasingly innovative and cutting-edge. The priority factors and technologies that will make smart packaging a success will be low power, thin form factor and cost effective.
Bryan Chan, director of business development at E Ink Corporation co-authored this article.