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Using Sustainable Printed Electronics For Smart Packaging

September 6, 2021

Smart technology is changing the landscape of the packaging industry. The global market for smart packaging is expected to reach over 48 billion USD in 2024 and printed electronics will have a significant contribution to this growth. 

No longer does packaging just protect goods as they move from production to consumer, now the technology exists for packages to be equipped with small electronic components like RFID chips and displays to add functionalities that enhance the customer experience and/or improve business outcomes. These components can track items during shipping, monitor environmental conditions and even help authenticate real from counterfeit goods. In this article, we will discuss smart packaging and how printed electronic technology can be used by businesses to innovate and improve upon their existing packaging.

What Is Smart Packaging & Why Does It Matter?

Smart packages and smart labels on packages are part of the IoT trend to monitor packages and create new user experiences for consumers. Smart packaging can give businesses and customers real-time information by linking the physical world with the digital world. In essence, it forms a digital bridge between producers, retailers and customers as items flow from production to distribution and sale.

According to the vice president of product development and innovation at ProAmpac, Hesam Tabatabaei, "Smart packaging is a fast-growing packaging innovation, which can promote both food safety and food shelf life; and, within the food segment, seeks to protect food from harmful bacteria and virus contamination to prolong product freshness."

Although it’s good to note that smart packaging isn’t just used for tracking food across the supply chain, there are also other exciting applications it can be used for, which we discuss below.

How Can Smart Packaging Be Used?

The scope of the ways smart packaging can be used is vast. Here are just a few of the ways smart packaging can be used to improve consumer and business outcomes.

Medical packaging

When it comes to medication, smart packaging can provide patients with an overall better experience. One issue it can help to solve is medication adherence - helping patients to take prescribed medication correctly. Smart packaging can be used to help patients take the correct dosages at correct intervals and remind them when refills are needed. For example, smart packaging solutions can be linked to apps, which help patients to monitor their habits and prompt them to take their medication at the right time. They’ll no longer have to wonder if they took their medication as the smart packaging will track this for them.

Smart packaging can also be used to make tracking packages easier. It prevents stock loss by tracking serial numbers and helps crackdown on missing shipments to ensure that medication doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Companies can also create labels that notify the proper storage temperature of medicines during shipping and storage, and showing if that has been breached to ensure medicine efficacy.

flexible labeling for medical packaging

Logistics monitoring

Smart packaging solutions can significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of supply chains, especially in the pharmaceutical and food industries, where items are perishable and need to be kept in optimal conditions. 

Smart packaging uses sensors to monitor product quality, detect any damage to the product, any adverse storage or external conditions. In addition, considering the temperature sensitivity of the goods, packaging materials that can detect temperature changes during transit help optimize product safety.

SpotSee, an IoT solution provider, in collaboration with Ynvisible has created TempSafe Electrocard - a temperature indicator solution. It is a low-power, calibrated temperature indication label for temperature-controlled storage and shipment of different types of temperature-sensitive goods like premium foods, medications and blood bags.

TempSafe Electrocard for logistics monitoring

Food safety

Smart packaging can be used to ensure food safety, enhance food shelf life and meet customer expectations. Sensors can be incorporated in packaging to detect changes in temperature, bacterial growth and gas composition that affect the food's condition. It communicates these changes through visual indicators to reduce food poisoning and food waste cases.

One such example of this is Innoscentia's smart expiry date label. At present, a lot of food wastage happens because of static expiry dates. Innoscentia, a Swedish developer, uses Ynvisible's displays for dynamic expiry date labels on food packages to monitor the real-time quality of the food. The main aim of the smart expiry date label is to significantly reduce food wastage and identify ruined food.

smart expiry date label for food safety

Authenticity & brand protection

Many high-value products like pharmaceuticals and consumer goods are counterfeit targets, which have bad consequences for both the manufacturers and consumers. Smart packaging helps buyers check the authenticity of the product, whether it is genuine or not. This is particularly important for high-end items such as premium alcohol and designer clothing. A smart label could be applied to a product which the end-user could then authenticate before purchasing - offering certainty that they are not purchasing counterfeit items.

Authenticity & brand protection

Why Printed & Sustainable Electronics Are The Only Scalable Solution For Smart Packaging

While the limits are endless when it comes to developing smart packaging, creating scalable smart packaging solutions need to be cost-effective to be viable. This is where printed and sustainable electronics come into focus. Here’s why:

  • Printed electronics are thin, flexible, and lightweight. As a result, they are easily incorporated into packaging during the manufacturing process or as affixed e-label, without compromising the item weight or packaging design.

  • Printed electronics are low cost and have a flexible form factor meaning they can easily be used to manufacture displays, RFID tags and solar cells for various applications.

  • Printed electronics help minimize electronic waste (e-waste) caused by disposable electronic devices as it offers biodegradable and recyclable solutions. Additive Manufacturing (AM) of these devices reduces the impact on the environment and allows manufacturing without etching and masking. Printed electronics are manufactured on a low-cost substrate that can be recycled.

  • Printed electronics are scalable in roll-to-roll production, which means they can be easily integrated with the current packaging manufacturing process, which is very cost-effective.
Printed & Sustainable Electronics For Smart Packaging

Technologies We Can Use with Printed Electronics

There are many novel and sustainable powering technologies that we can use with printed electronics. Some of these technologies are:

Bioenzymatic Fuel Cells

BeFC produces an eco-friendly solution for energy generation to minimize the impact on the environment. They have developed paper-based, ultra-thin, eco-friendly, and flexible bio-enzymatic fuel cells for sustainable energy generation. It uses biological catalysts to convert natural substrates into electricity and presents a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way of generating energy. It provides extra possibilities for low-power, ultra-thin health monitoring, logistics monitoring, and IoT applications.

Printed batteries

Evonik, world leaders in specialty chemicals, and Ynvisible joined hands to develop printed rechargeable batteries including a printed electronic display. The unique rechargeable battery technology uses Evonik’s printable battery materials and can be paired with Ynvisible's electrochromic displays. As a result, it consumes minimum electricity, is ultra low-weight, and is highly flexible and robust.

Printed light-harvesting cells

Evonik, Epishine, and Ynvisible have collaborated to develop a self-powered smart signage solution that is effective in retail, supply chain, and in-home devices. It uses Evonik's printed battery, Epishine's solar cells, and Ynvisible's electrochromic display. All three technologies are printable, and by assembling them, they create self-powered signage. The main advantages of this system are energy independence, scale-able production, and freedom of design.

Disposable Micro-batteries

ITEN is a world leader in solid-state rechargeable micro-batteries. ITEN micro-batteries are rechargeable 3D solid-state batteries having a lifespan from 10-20 years. These micro-batteries are secure, not flammable, recyclable, and ideal for applications with small footprints.

ITEN Disposable micro-batteries

How Smart Technology Can Be Used For Different Packaging Types

Smart packaging can be used at each stage of the product lifecycle to help businesses ensure quality, efficiency and customer satisfaction. Let's see how smart technology can be used for these packaging types.

Primary Packaging

For primary packaging, there is direct contact between packaging and the product itself. The main aim is to store and protect the product from contamination. Common examples of primary packaging are a wine bottle, blister packs and plastic pouches containing cereal.

In primary packaging, smart packaging can help the consumers know the ingredients or components of the product and how to store and use the product. Smart tags can be added to packaging to communicate with the consumer directly by providing visual information. For example, to help the customer distinguish that a product is authentic.

Secondary Packaging

Secondary packaging is used outside the primary packaging to group products. It provides additional protection to primary packaging and serves as a shipping box for small shipments. Common examples of secondary packaging include cardboard/plastic crates and trays.

Smart technology for secondary packaging uses sensors to monitor changes in temperature, humidity, pressure, and other environmental changes for the safe storage and shipping of products. For example, the TempSafe Electrocard - a temperature indicator solution - helps ensure that items are kept at a controlled temperature while in storage and during shipment.

Tertiary Packaging

Tertiary packaging is known as bulk or transit packaging used for the protection and shipping of a product. It protects not only the product but also the primary and secondary packaging. Some examples of tertiary packaging are wood pallets and shrink wrap. 

During the distribution cycle, different factors can affect the integrity and safety of products. Smart packaging uses RFID tags to identify and locate the products preventing theft and loss of products. In addition, it guarantees traceability, automatization, and counterfeit protection. For example, an RFID tag could be affixed to a pallet giving a manufacturer real-time location information as the shipment moves through the supply chain.

Talk To Us About Your Smart Packaging Needs

At Ynvisible, we’re experts in creating innovative smart printed solutions to help businesses improve every step of their businesses - ensuring a smooth transition from production to end-user. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you.

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