(Almost) Magical Active Packaging

Posted on 5/18/2015 10:01:53 AM By Hallie Forcinio

It’s now possible to watch a video on your carton of aspirin. It’s one of the latest innovations in active packaging, or what is sometimes dubbed “smart packaging.” With the development of technology like near field communication (NFC), SmartPhone-scannable quick response (QR) codes, thermochromic inks and plastics, in-pack heating elements and thin-film displays, today’s packaging can do far more than simply protect and transport product.

The video screen-equipped carton is being used by Bayer to launch a faster acting formulation of the well-established painkiller/fever reducer, according to a report in the German packaging magazine, Neue Verpackung. The video carton is supplied by Carl Edelmann GmbH. With the addition of the video screen, the carton becomes an integral part of the consumer experience, rather than something to be thrown in the recycling bin or wastebasket.

Similar technology is available on cartons from Rondo-Pak. Rondo-Pak’s HD video screen is very thin and lightweight. There’s also a switch, speaker and micro USB port. The memory can hold up to six hours of content and can be repurposed like a thumb drive. Battery life is four hours. Recharging occurs via the micro USB port and takes 30 minutes.

Although there are no commercial applications yet, Rondo-Pak reports several pharmaceutical manufacturers are considering the concept for applications such as product launches, patient education kits, physician training kits, clinical trials and sales demonstrations. The video can be uploaded with information such as instructions for use, details about complementary therapies and customer support options, and answers to frequency asked questions. Alternate languages are another possibility.

Rondo-Pak’s multimedia offerings include digital watermarks, which can be activated by a SmartPhone. Used in conjunction with the video display or alone, the digital watermarks can help authenticate product and discourage counterfeiting. Digital watermarking also helps patients take their medication on time by supporting online adherence and compliance tracking. Other functions include showcasing in-store promotions, enabling real-time online consumer preference testing and delivering point-of-use self-help tools.

QR codes also can deliver promotional, educational or product information to consumers via their smart phones. QR codes on some agricultural products can tell the consumer about the farm that harvested the poultry or produce. In another application, a prominent QR code on cartons and wrappers of allergen-free bars from Zego links to the allergen test for the batch so that the allergen-sensitive consumer can review the data and be assured the product is safe to eat.

Near field communication (NFC), a short-range wireless technology, is another way consumers can use their smart phones to interact with a brand/product. DirectLink™ NFC tags embedded under pressure-sensitive labels from Avery Dennison transform the package into a dynamic, interactive product demonstrator. Any NFC-enabled phone can scan the tag and deliver branding and educational content such as recipes or promotional materials like coupons. Diageo is working with Thin Film Electronics to create a “smart bottle” based on Thin Film’s OpenSense NFC tag. The printed tag, which can be supplied in a pressure-sensitive construction, can authenticate product, indicate if the bottle has been opened and allows Diageo to send personalized communications to the consumer’s smart phone.

Onboard heating elements have existed for at least a couple decades, but have never enjoyed widespread use. That could change with a deal between HeatGenie and WANHO Manufacturing, LLC. Under the agreement, WANHO receives exclusive manufacturing rights and plans to automate assembly of the lightweight 1.33-oz. heating unit. High-speed, automated production is essential for adoption of the self-heating system by a national food or beverage brand. The easy-to-use self-heating system starts the two-minute warming process with a push of a button, relies on food-safe solid fuel and is recyclable with the metal container housing it and the product.

Graphics printed with thermochromic ink could show a HeatGenie unit has warmed the product to the specified temperature. Temperature-sensitive inks also can show proper chilling has occurred. Anheuser Busch InBev recently selected a pressure-sensitive, thermochromic back label from Constantia Flexibles Labels Division to introduce tequila-flavored Oculto beer. At room temperature, the label features blue agave leaves and when chilled to optimum drinking temperature, eyes are revealed. The pressure-sensitive front label, also from Constantia, is unusual too. It’s printed with tactile inks as well as ultraviolet-sensitive inks.

Thermochromic additives also are available for plastics used in packaging. A Smart Lid closure for hot cups, for example, turns red to warn the beverage is hot. Although color choices have been limited for thermochromic polypropylene, high-density polyethylene or polystyrene packaging, Chromatic Technologies has expanded its PowerCapsules™ line of thermochromic color concentrate pellets so any Pantone® color can be reproduced.

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