From dispensers that tell you they need refilling to tags that send product information to your phone, this 13th issue of DirectIndustry e-magazine explores some of the latest packaging innovations. Designed to improve traceability and prevent counterfeiting, smart packaging also offers a new consumer experience based on communication and interactivity.
Our journalists also give you a look at the latest laser technology, with a special tour of San Francisco’sSPIE Phononics West. And don’t miss our interview on SpaceBot, the new robot that may soon fly to Mars.
Dispensers that tell you they need refilling, electronic ink that monitors your medicine and tags that send product information to your phone – the world of packaging just gets smarter.
Andrew Manly, Communications Director at the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA) says 2015 has been...
Imagine listening to music on your laptop by touching an interactive album cover or receiving a digital reminder from your prescription medicine packaging that it’s time to take your next dose. Packaging has always been about communication, but today’s technologies are enabling the interactive communication of brand identity, company values and far more information than in the past.
The concept of interactive packaging isn’t new, says Andrew Streeter, who runs the packaging innovation company CPS International. Take the Coca Cola bottle label designed to be folded out and turned into a bow.
Interactive packaging has an established mechanical presence; salespeople are now exploring the newer printable technologies. The desire for communication is very strong and takes many forms, of which digital is potentially part of the exciting future.
UK-based Novalia is among those innovating with interactive touch technology. Founder Dr. Kate Stone talks about putting a ‘digital soul’ into packaging—about a product having value because of its interactive packaging.
Often packaging communicates the value of something that might otherwise seem too small or lightweight to communicate its true value. So in itself, packaging is a way to communicate.
The Internet and connectivity is all about communication. And print is all about communication.
Packaging is everywhere and it is the most pervasive form of high-volume manufacture and also en masse or one-to-one communication. By combining print—regular flexo or screen—with regular conventional electronics, we are creating packaging that can connect to the Internet and has become incredibly interactive.
Touch-Tech Digital Packaging
Novalia’s technology involves printing with conductive inks that respond to touch on paper, plastic or cardboard. A small circuit board is pressed onto the track of the ink using regular adhesive and the entire product is powered by a battery 1.6 mm thick. In this way, the package, book or poster can connect to a smartphone, laptop or other device via an embedded Bluetoothchip.
When you touch these pieces of print, you could effectively connect to the world. The possibilities are vast. You are talking about packaging being a portal into the digital world.
The interactive album cover is a prime example. Touch the packaging and the message goes via your phone to the Internet and unlocks some sort of immersive experience.
The computer has gone from filling a room a few decades ago to pocket size, and it’s getting smaller and smaller. Ultimately, it will disappear into the everyday things around us, so things like packaging will have touch communication and data.
And the possibilities are endless. Such packaging can, for example, embed information on the contents of a ready-to-eat meal. It can also offer recipe ideas using a product being purchased. It can even tell more about where and how it was sourced. All of that content could be downloaded via touch-sensitive interactive packaging.
Novalia worked with Becks Beer to develop interactive street posters that play music when touched. For DJ Qbert, Novalia created the world’s first interactive DJ decks in an album cover—a cross fader and an array of sound effect buttons in the form of electronics printed onto paper.
The company is pursuing a number of pilot projects using its touch technology; point-of-sale displays in stores and multipacks are of particular interest.
The challenge, unsurprisingly, is the price point. Volume delivery of this packaging technology costs between 4€ and 12€ per item; apart from high-end and luxury products, it’s point-of-sale where it really makes sense. But further development will doubtless push costs down.
Andrew Streeter says:
People traditionally spend a lot of time stripping the cost out of packaging, so when new technology comes along, price is the issue. The benefit, of course, is that packaging can be very high volume and that helps to bring the cost down.
For him, point-of-sale will drive the adoption of innovations such as touch technology or more basic features such as micro batteries and LED lighting to attract attention.
In packaging applications, it isn’t always about putting codes on the pack. It can be as simple as smartphones and other devices recognizing surface graphics as if they were QR codes. Interestingly, that requires quality precision printing and depth of color:
The industry will need to trade up; it could well see a revival of graphic design and high-quality printing.
The Revival of Graphics?
Courtesy of Novalia
Graphics which can be read by a handheld scanner or other device could deliver major benefits. For a start, if there’s no need for a barcode, more space can be devoted to the branding.
At the same time, the packaging would be able to talk to devices—for example, at checkouts, for stock control or for anti-counterfeiting measures.
Reducing cost will be key, but interactive packaging solutions could be adopted more quickly for expensive items where control is critical, such as in the pharmaceutical sector.
Imagine expensive drugs where the interactive packaging can play a role, sending a signal to take the drug via your smartphone. Where you have drugs in units of several grams, the cost of smart packaging could be justified. A lot of effort in prescription medicine is under way.
When the laser was patented in 1960, it was famously described as “a solution looking for a problem.” Since then, the laser (an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) has found myriad uses in diverse industries, and new applications are being developed all the time.
The market for flat...
At this year’s edition of SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco, the focus was on green laser-assisted manufacturing and micro/nano fabrication. No less than16 presentations and an online symposium were devoted to this area of green photonics, where lasers are used to manufacture products with a more sustainable design.
Green photonics can aid in environmental monitoring, reductions in power consumption and newer, cleaner manufacturing and energy generation. Laser R&D advances, in turn, allow fabrication of micro/nano-scaled features while at the same time providing a potential energy source.
Optoelectronics technologist Stephen J. Eglash, executive director of the Stanford University Data Science Initiative and chair of the online Green Photonics symposium:
Green lasers allow you to initiate chemical reactions and produce new kinds of materials and compounds. They can not only cut holes in steel, but assist in the creation of designer drugs and enable semiconductor processes, drive renewable energy in solar cells, save energy in solid-state LED lighting and provide more cost-efficient storage in lithium batteries.”
This opens a multiplicity of applications. DirectIndustry e-magazine is highlighting 3 areas of industrial usage.
1. Super-Fast Laser Light Boosts Fuel Efficiency
Amplitude Systèmes designed a new generation of diode-pumped ultrafast lasers for micromachining that can improve automobile fuel efficiency. While conventional lasers focus energy for great spatial accuracy, ultrashort pulse lasers add temporal focus—in the picosecond to femtosecond range—changing the light-matter interaction. The cutting benefits are huge: lack of heat diffusion eliminates defects and orifices smaller than 100 μm offer extreme precision. Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) spray nozzles drilled with high-speed lasers enhance fuel flow and fuel distribution accuracy in vehicle engines, improving performance.
2. Laser Scribing Speeds Solar Cell Production
Laser scribing is a key technology for the cost-competitive production of thin-film solar modules based on chalcopyrite Cu(In,Ga)Se2 (CIGS), explained Andreas Burn, from Switzerland’s Berner Fachhochschule Technik und Informatik. This ultrashort pulsed laser process removes layers between deposition processes, creating monolithic cell-to-cell interconnections and resulting in only a small loss of productive area.
His team demonstrated that high-throughput laser scribing could produce CIGS mini-modules with efficiency of around 16%. The team also achieved low dead-zone interconnects of <70 µm width and a high-performance/high-throughput P3 lift-off process, reaching scribing process speeds in excess of 1m/s.
3. Laser Writing: the Future of Solar Cells
Metallic contact fingers are needed on the sun-facing side of solar cells in order to reduce ohmic losses (joule heating). For Martin F. Schumann, from Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (Germany), the loss of heating can be reduced thanks to graded-index metamaterials and free-form surfaces designed by one-dimensional coordinate transformations. Further, he demonstrated how direct laser writing of polymer structures on silicon wafers with opaque metal contacts can significantly reduce fabrication times for “masters”. This could lead to future mass fabrication via imprinting.
A new coding technology might mean an end to unattractive registration marks and dark background areas, and the rise of an aesthetic option for packaging designers. 3C! Packaging released Clear Code, a coating solution that changes color when exposed to an industrial CO2 laser beam. This opens the door to markings in harmony with packaging design. The technology avoids the need to laser etch information on a dark background. It creates a permanent high-contrast code and offers better visual quality for enhanced clarity. Clear Code is compatible with a variety of inked and varnished substrates, such as cartons and labels. The process doesn’t require ink, making it cost-effective and eco-friendly.
A team of German scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Institute of Electrical Engineering has developed a carbon-based material obtained from apple residue for the manufacture of sodium-ion batteries. This could be a sustainable alternative to lithium-ion technology for stationary energy storage. Extracted from apple waste, the material consists of sodium oxide layers and has excellent electrochemical properties. Cobalt-free, the material is efficient and non-polluting. Sodium-ion batteries represent a promising technology, since the raw materials are easily accessible and inexpensive.
Camille Rustici is a Video Journalist and the Editor-in-Chief for DirectIndustry e-magazine. She has years of experience in business issues for various media including France 24, Associated Press, Radio France…
Felicity Landon is a freelance journalist with a knowledge in the packaging, manufacturing and business sectors. She has been honored in the Seahorse Club Journalism Awards as runner-up in the Journalist of the Year category.