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Smart Packaging for Smart Brands

Tom Egan

Packaging is getting smarter. New active packaging systems, also referred to as intelligent or smart packaging, are making life easier for the consumer by helping to ensure the quality, safety and freshness of everyday products. Most commonly found in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries, these active packaging solutions are designed to prolong shelf life, monitor freshness, track and trace a particular product’s journey or provide a seal of authentication—and they are increasingly being found on beauty shelves, as well.

According to a study from Research and Markets, a global market research resource based in Dublin, Ireland, the global active and smart packaging technology market will grow from $15.79 million in 2010 to $23.47 million in 2015. Smart packaging technologies are becoming increasingly important as shoppers look for value in what they purchase—getting the most for their dollar with the confidence that what they are putting in their basket is the real deal.

A variety of active packaging solutions help conquer challenges like freshness and counterfeiting, and some of the latest technologies on the market will be showcased at Pack Expo Las Vegas 2013, taking place September 23–25 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The Real Deal

Knowing if a product is authentic can be worrisome for consumers, and providing that confidence can be challenging for brands and manufacturers who don’t want their brand misrepresented by counterfeiting. Packaging suppliers such as Complete Inspection Systems, Inc., a provider of digital print inspection and tracking and authentication technologies, can offer products a way to combat this, such as its new HD Barcode.

While it’s similar to a QR code, which has become synonymous with product tracking, identification and marketing, the HD Barcode from is what company president Gary Parish calls “a QR code on steroids. QR codes can have about 4kB of data. The HD Barcode can handle 703kB. So it’s like jumping a quantum leap forward.”

The multi-use barcode holds more secure data and can be configured so it will not scan properly if copied. The codes can be scanned with a smartphone or PC scanner to reveal detailed product information without the need of the Internet. The barcodes, explains Parish, include alpha/numeric codes that must match in the authentication system and can be used on a wide range of items, such as a driver’s license for identification, or on packaging for authentication and multilingual instructions. It can also be customized with full color images or in different shapes to complement specific packaging traits. The barcode can even be printed to be visible only with infrared or ultraviolet light.

This type of product, says Parish, is increasingly important in the pharmaceutical industry because of the prevalence of counterfeit drugs. And because the HD Barcode can store so much data, it can provide information including location of label printing, revision numbers and distribution regions making the journey of products traceable.

Holographic packaging solutions, like those offered by Sonoco, also provide a seal of authentication to stymie counterfeiters, according to Tom McClaughry, CPP, creative services manager for Alloyd Design Works, a Sonoco company. Sonoco works with a supplier that provides proprietary, customizable holographic laminate, and McClaughry says the company is targeting high-end products to protect against counterfeiting.

“We are anticipating some customers might want a custom pattern or some other visual icon that is more difficult to reproduce within the pack,” says McClaughry. “The holographic laminate is heat sealed onto an entire package, for example a blister card, and is highly visible, more so than other holographic packaging on the market. It takes ambient light and refracts it, so as you are walking by, depending on the angle of refraction, you get an eye-catching effect.”

Oxygen Detection

Intelligent or smart packaging also includes technologies such as oxygen absorbers, oxygen scavengers and instruments that trace oxygen levels within a package to ensure freshness and quality.

For example, OxySense, Inc., a producer of noninvasive oxygen measurement systems and permeation testing, is introducing its new low-cost printable sensor, which will allow producers of modified atmosphere bulk packages and packers of high-value products to include a real-time oxygen sensor in every package.

OxySense says the new verification system, VerOx, will allow 100% verification of good packaging and seals at the point of manufacture and the point of use, eliminating most issues related to package and seal failures. The technology will give the beauty, food and pharmaceutical industries a way to confirm package integrity at the point of receipt.

“This is a marketplace where there is a lot of concern about oxygen, not only on the food side, but more in the high-value item area and the medical and pharmaceutical areas,” says Peter Gerard, the former president and CEO of OxySense, who’s now a consultant to the company. VerOx, which will be sold under the company’s OxyDot brand, is based on similar fluorescence decay and oxygen measurement technology. Gerard adds that a sensor, a fluorescent dot the size of a pencil eraser, absorbs oxygen and emits light that is measured to calculate the level of oxygen.

“The sensor will measure the oxygen of the adjacent area no matter what form it is. So if you had the sensor in the air then it will measure the air. If you put it in wine, it will measure the dissolved oxygen in the wine,” he explains.

Freshness First

Sealed Air, known for its Cryovac food packaging solutions, has extended its product range with Freshness Plus Pouches, which incorporate oxygen-scavenging solutions in a rollstock format for vertical pouch packaging (VPP). Freshness Plus for VPP is an active-barrier oxygen scavenging film that removes oxygen that migrates from the inside or outside of the packaging to ensure no flex cracks so oxygen cannot degrade the product.

While designed for food products, this type of packaging can also have applications in beauty. The active packaging technology is engineered to extend shelf life and maximize product color while reducing odors.

Track and Trace

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and chips are also considered smart labels because they are used to track and trace packages and bulk products throughout the distribution chain. This can play an important role in product recalls, quality control and the authentication of sensitive or high value products.

Zebra Technologies offers a variety of passive and active RFID solutions, as well as mobile printers and coders based on the needs of its customer. According to the company, RFID needs are trending toward an increase in item level tagging rather than box or carton tagging, allowing retailers a deeper understanding of data such as inventory levels.

“Retailers are after item level serialization, assigning unique serial numbers to every item for more detailed tracking information,” says Marty Johnson, product marketing manager, Zebra Technologies. “RFID can also create an ‘e-pedigree’. That e-pedigree concept could be used to help ensure the safety of [products].” For example, the ingredients in beauty products items could be tracked and traced all the way to the field they originated from and when that crop was picked.

Another company that offers RFID technology solutions is WS Packaging Group, Inc. Its specialty product, RFID & inTag, features an ‘intelligent tag’ that can be used for unique applications and can be applied to pallets, cases or individual products to help companies combat challenges such as counterfeiting.

Stay Smart

Continued advancements in smart packaging solutions are designed to improve the manufacturing supply chain, and event such as Pack Expo Las Vegas are providing the resources necessary to stay on the cutting-edge of these technologies.

Tom Egan is the vice president of industry services with PMMI, the association for packaging and processing technologies.

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