2013
04.03

Some say printing is a dying industry due to technology. I say printing could be given new life because of technology, in particular M2M.

No doubt, we live in a digital world, and we tend to consume content on a screen more often than we have in the past. But this trend doesn’t mean paper materials are going to disappear altogether. Rather I foresee a world where technology is embedded into printed items, allowing us to interact with labels, product boxes, and other intelligent packaging that has the smarts to communicate back.

Analysts even suggest the smart-packaging market is currently at a tipping point and will grow rapidly through 2023, with electronic packaging remaining primarily in consumer packaged goods.

Case in point: Last month Insignia Technologies introduced a smart food label. When the package is ripped out, a timer is triggered that changes the color of the label as food loses freshness. The goal is to ensure quality of food while reducing the amount of food that is wasted. The smart label has interest from major supermarket chains in the U.K., France, and the U.S., and will begin rolling out this year.

But that’s just one example. Smart packaging can also simply be a catchy way to grab a shoppers’ attention, winking at you as you walk by! However, it is the connected capabilities—and the data available from tech—that will provide the most value. RFID (radio-frequency identification) embedded in labels can enable, for example, an elderly individual to track how much medication has been consumed.

Looking beyond consumer packaging, smart labels can also provide big value in the manufacturing industry. Labels with RFID allow enterprises to enhance process efficiencies by tracking location without the need for a barcode. Printing companies offer clients RFID smart labels as an option to improve inventory and asset management.

Just yesterday, R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co., announced a new line of printed electronics. The company plans to provide customers with printed NFC (near field communication) and RFID tags that can be embedded into retail displays, product packaging, shipping labels, direct mail pieces, catalogs, magazines, and more.

So ultimately the question becomes why now and what makes connected labels so appealing to manufacturers, marketers, and ultimately consumers? Convenience is the natural answer. The younger generation expects this type of connectivity in everything, causing marketers to seek new ways to make packaging more attractive to consumers.

Still, there are a number of challenges standing in the way for smart packaging to really take off. Chiefly, cost is higher than traditional packaging, although the cost is coming down. With companies such as R.R. Donnelley offering a line of printed electronics, deployment will become easier and more common.

In order for smart packaging to find roots, businesses will need to understand the value, recognizing consumers are demanding more connectivity—which could soon include everything from pizza boxes to allergy medicine containers.

I envision a world where everyday objects are connected, providing valuable information about what the object contains and how the object should be used. This world can only be created with the help of M2M.

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