The biggest trend within packaging is undoubtedly sustainability, as the pressure grows on brand owners and packaging firms to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. Governments and regulators are enforcing stricter standards for packaging and, generally, we’re still seeing increasing hostility towards plastic waste.
To meet this new demand, companies are turning to digital solutions, including the internet of things (IoT) and data analytics, which firms can use to make better decisions about packaging and energy consumption, and make more of their operations paperless. Although there are huge benefits to this, an increasing reliance on digital technology and an eagerness to be seen to embrace the latest tech also creates new security threats.
This kind of digitalization is being exploited by increasingly sophisticated hackers, and as security systems get smarter to meet their threat, so to do the counterfeiters and thieves. The packaging market is adopting new technologies and strategies for keeping products safe. And new regulations mean the food and pharmaceutical markets are driving the demand for tamper-proofing and better item tracking.
Track and trace.
As a result, track-and-trace technology is becoming commonplace, and indeed mandated, as a critical part of the supply chain. COVID–19 has even led to its adoption to monitor the spread of the disease among communities in countries like South Korea.
Companies are adopting methods such as radio frequency identification (RFID), quick-response (QR) codes, and IoT to monitor their inventories in seconds, detecting any anomalies, and seamlessly keeping track of any misplaced or stolen goods. Some are pushing the envelope by embedding the packaging itself with smart technology to deliver real-time information.
For firms like major fashion labels that face the enormous challenge of counterfeiting, smart technology is also a useful method for authenticating their products using embedded microchips.
NFC and BLW.
Near-field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLW) are innovative methods for tracking and tracing items. These technologies are so simple, they can be used by consumers on their mobile phones, allowing them to quickly access information about their packages and keep track of them while they’re out for delivery, as well as letting companies seamlessly integrate promotional campaigns and the like.
NFC is also a useful security tool. Each NFC chip has a unique serial number assigned by the manufacturer, so customers can be assured they’re seeing information about the correct product and making it easier for the company to track a specific item should it be stolen.
RFID tags are also playing a major role. This innovative technology, based around a printed antenna with a microscopic chip that transmits a radio frequency signal, can be used to track and trace products while they’re on the move, monitor inventories, and improve security.
RFID tags can be used to send alerts to a customer’s mobile phone to let them know when their delivery is due but can also track a package’s location in a warehouse and when it has been loaded onto a delivery truck. They turn delivery into a seamless process from start to finish, reducing the risk of theft along the way.
In addition, RFID tags can be used to detect tampering. Once an RFID tag has been tampered with, the signal cuts out completely. And while this makes it difficult to locate a stolen or damaged package, it does immediately alert the company that an item has been tampered with.
The benefits to firms and consumers of RFID tags are huge, and investment is set to boom in the coming years. According to IDTechEx, by the year 2022 the total RFID market will be worth around $13 billion.
To eliminate security threats entirely, packaging must become smarter and tied to more intelligent systems. Using data analytics, firms can examine their entire supply chain and find inefficiencies and potential dangers that need ironing out, from raw materials to delivery.
These new systems are set to be adopted by the food and drinks, industrial and pharmaceuticals sectors, and many more are sure to follow as the benefits become clear. And as the world becomes ever more globalized, cross-border and cross-platform solutions will become necessary.
Olaf Jensen is the copywriter for IFSEC Global. A graduate of the University of York, he has been writing about security issues for almost two years. [Editor’s note: IFSEC Global is owned by Informa, the parent company of Packaging Digest.]