Smart packaging technology is an expanding industry with immense potential. Despite the fact that only a few pioneering companies have dared to take the step today, the advantages of its application in terms of security and logistics, as well as marketing, indicate that intelligent packaging and active packaging will soon become part of the industry, and may even dominate it in a few years.


What is smart packaging?

Smart packaging is the application of technology to ensure the optimization of packaging. These systems extend the functionalities of packaging as it is known until now. As such, among its aims, the improvement in the safety of goods and the experience of the final consumer stand out.

For example, through smart packaging systems, factors such as the right temperature or humidity will be more easily controllable, so that the goods arrive at their destination in perfect condition.

Smart packaging is the combination of two types of systems:

  • On the one hand, intelligent packaging. It is in charge of monitoring and diagnosing the state of the products during the distribution cycle. In addition, it is able to communicate with the user and provide him with this information.
  • On the other hand, active packaging. Its function is to react to possible harmful changes that occur around the packaging in order to protect the goods.

Smart packaging is therefore a packaging with extended functions: it ceases to be a simple container of products and becomes an essential element in the protection during the transport of goods.

As an added function, these systems allow a greater customization of the packaging, so that it adapts to the products that it transports in its interior or to the use that the final consumer will make of them.

Some of the smart packaging technologies already in use include:

  • Package location systems. They offer information in real time, valuable both for distributors and marketers, and to allow a better response to the end customer.
  • Temperature and humidity indicators. They allow to know if the suitable values of temperature or humidity are exceeded or not reached. This system is already applied in some brands of bottled beverages, in the form of a label that varies the color depending on the conditions mentioned.
  • Packaging materials that filter out harmful light and prevent or repel moisture.
  • Other packaging materials that enable the user to heat or cool a product by touch. This is how heat-bearing packaging appears or, in the opposite direction, what is known as self-cooling cans.
  • Systems of absorption of possible harmful agents for the product (for example, of oxygen or ethylene, in cases in which they could damage the product inside the packaging).
  • Possibility of interaction with the user, through which the packaging is able to issue warnings or send messages always looking for a better experience.
  • Augmented reality insertion. The applications of this system have already been proven in the generation of 3D models that allow the user to learn more about a product during the purchase process.

Smart packaging technology is thus part of the latest trends in materials and methods that are defining the future of packaging for the coming decades.


Benefits of smart packaging

Although there is still a need for exhaustive research on the challenges that this technology will pose for packaging design, many have already been convinced by the benefits of its use.

Among other advantages of applying smart packaging systems, there are:

1. Optimization for transport and efficiency in logistics

Perhaps this advantage will become the main driver for the adoption of smart packaging systems. This technology will be able to avoid innumerable unnecessary costs for distributors and traders of products.

For example, it is possible to generate a package that provides interactive information on how it should be handled and stored to ensure product safety. In addition, this technology also makes it possible to track packages more accurately and comprehensively.

Smart packaging thus becomes a perfect complement to the most advanced transport simulation systems to move forward and ensure that products arrive safely at their destination.

2. Improved security for the user

Smart packaging will be particularly useful in ensuring the safety of perishable products belonging to the food and pharmaceutical industry.

This is the case of smart labels that warn of possible problems during the distribution cycle that compromise the product (if the cold chain is broken, for instance), or announcements regarding expiration dates.

3. Boosting differentiation and marketing

This technology will also bring branding and marketing advantages.

The truth is that the trend is towards the search for sustainability in packaging and the industry is already setting the pace to generate more minimalist packaging and generate less waste.

In this sense, smart packaging systems will allow companies to continue to surprise and make a difference.

4. Final customer satisfaction

Smart packaging technology is capable of providing more complete and comfortable experiences for the end customer, which results in greater satisfaction and loyalty.

It will go one step further than Amazon’s Frustration Free packaging, which tries to eliminate the complications of opening a package and the so-called ‘wrap rage’.


Smart packaging systems in the food and pharmaceutical industry

The application of smart packaging technology will be especially useful in those industries where products are particularly fragile to environmental factors or are directly related to the health of the final consumer.

This is the case in the food and pharmaceutical industries, where optimizing packaging means ensuring that the user receives a product that is safe for consumption.

Thus, with regard to the application of active packaging or intelligent packaging in food, some examples illustrate its usefulness:

  • Packages capable of communicating that there has been a break in the cold chain.
  • Interactive labels that provide information on the origin of the product or possible incompatibilities (with regard to allergens, for example).
  • Proposal of personalized recipes to the consumer once the package has been opened.
  • Possibility of reducing food waste through real time information on the state of the product.
  • Application of the MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) system, a packaging technology that modifies the atmosphere surrounding the product to ensure its correct conservation.

The pharmaceutical industry is a sector that could also benefit from interactivity in smart packaging. Some ideas for this sector include a technology that is able to warn the consumer about when their next intake is due, whether they are misusing the medicine or to warn the family doctor of this consumption.

In addition, it highlights the importance of applying innovative protective packaging materials, capable of keeping the product in the right condition. 

The future of packaging systems is getting closer and closer. If you are interested in knowing how to protect your goods or want to consult about the advances in testing systems for packaging please contact us. At Safe Load, we are international suppliers of packaging testing solutions for the optimization and validation of packaging.

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