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AIP looks at smart packaging

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When the AIP Victorian Branch held a recent joint meeting with APPITA with the theme of smart packaging they needed good quality speakers to attract an audience, and after the evening ended no one left disappointed. 

First speaker for the evening Dr Warwick Raverty readily admitted to being a stand in for Dr Richard Helmer. 

Warwick, who is currently working with Ensis as Senior Principle Research Scientist, was keen to acknowledge the contributors that participated in setting up CRC Smartprint in 2002 at Monash University as, Australian Paper, Norske Skog, SCA [Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget of Sweden], Note Printing Australia, Amcor, Monash University, The Australian National University and CSIRO. 

Ensis is CSIRO’s entity for its core forestry and forest products sector research, science and technology delivery. This includes corrugated boxboard and other forms of paper-based packaging. Ensis is a 50/50 unincorporated joint venture between CSIRO and the New Zealand Crown Research Institute for forestry and forest products, Scion. 

Warwick rapidly took the audience through the definitions of “smart packaging” and listed examples of packs that:
Use barrier materials to improve shelf life
Include moisture absorbent sachets
Utilise oxygen scavengers
Can detect transport shocks,
Are able to monitor time and temperature to detect excessive temperature i.e. for thawed frozen goods
Use thermochromic inks to can show that a product is in the correct temperature range. 
Provide tamper evidence
Include antimicrobial coatings to prevent spoilage 

Warwick explained that human beings have progressed from wooden fruit boxes to waxed cartons to styrene foam boxes and now returnable crates because of the improvement in strength to weight ratios of modern packaging. Modern packaging materials are enabling the actual pack to monitor and record more and more information for use by all members of the supply chain to the consumer. 

Conducting polymers (artificial metals) is a big area of new research because these materials will potentially allow the printing of transistors and semi-conducting devices right onto the pack. Team this up with a printed power supply and presto the consumers will have a pack that can literally communicate with the consumer. Thermochromic, electro-chromic and chemo-chromic inks are able to sense and communicate, and other printing techniques provide optical patterns (holograms and other optical variable devices (OVD) that would have been impossible 10 years ago. 

Smart packaging can be overt to improve consumer knowledge or covert to prevent counterfeiting. After the customers determine who needs to know what and why, the value of this information to the customer, retailer, distributor and manufacturer needs to be determined as all of this technology does come at a cost. 

Wary of invading the Richard Brearley’s topic, Warwick touched on RFID and compared today’s barcodes (described as mentally handicapped) to RFID as the smart, but more expensive product code of the future. 

Warwick provided the audiences with information regarding the importance of ink selection for various substrates, how modern materials require clean rooms and advised that KSW Microtech have invested 30 million Euros for a manufacturing facility that makes active and passive RF and flip chip assemblies. Warwick then discussed a case study based on CRC Smartprint's active bar code technology that is currently being commercialised. This technology enables barcodes to register different numbers in response to changes in properties of the product, such as temperature, age, microbial contamination, or tampering. In the retail trial discussed, chilled bottles of wine were scanned automatically and charged at a premium over the same product at ambient temperature. 

Flexible screens and wearable textiles with embedded electronics seemed far fetched until Warwick closed with the example of an elderly man at home alone when his wife was out shopping. The man suffers a heart attack and because his clothing was able to detect that he wasn’t breathing correctly it dialled 000 for an ambulance. It really was a case of watch this space as technology creates more and more applications from research being conducted world wide. 

Richard Brearley is responsible for the product management of pressure sensitive label and integrated software solutions for Matthews Australasia. Richard was invited along to provide the audience with an update on the state of play with respect to RFID 

In discussions over dinner one person explained his RFID fantasy as the day when one can bypass cash register queues, roll a shopping trolley through a detector of some sort and feel the twitch in the wallet as payment is automatically extracted. Unfortunately after Richard's presentation the audience determined that this is still some time off. 

Richard explained that RFID is really coming into its own in the field of traceability as they are still evolving,  whereas today’s barcode has pretty much reached it’s limit of development. Serial Shipping Container Code [SSCC] labels can certainly advise the customers where stock is, when it was sent and when it arrives but RFID has the potential to improve the level of traceability. 

Traceability means the ability to trace and follow a food, feed, food producing animal or substance intended to be or expected to be incorporated into a food or feed, through all stages of production, processing or distribution. 

One only needs to think of the spread of mad cow disease to understand the necessity for traceability. Fully integrated identification systems can cover all aspects of information flow during processing, filling packing and distribution. If an integrated ERP system is already in existence and it provides an Integrated Product Identification Network Solution then the cost of implementation of full traceability using RFID via integration and monitoring equipment is reduced. It is important to consider this when selecting future hardware and software. 

RFID Smart Labels consist of a printable face stock, an adhesive and the RFID inlay (chip and antennae) this is then glued to the liner, which is ultimately glued to the pack. Active RFID labels carry their own power source whereas the more common passive RFID label is activated by a transceiver and can respond to this activation. Orientation of the antennae is critical to scan ability and Richard used the example of us having to orientate early transistor radios to enable the AM radio signal to be maximised. 

The basic code format in an Electronic Product Code [EPC] tag consists of: -
A header - identifies the length type structure version and generation of the EPC
EC Manager number – entity responsible for maintaining the subsequent partitions
Object Class – identifies the class of objects and
Serial number – identifies the instance 

Richard spelled out the differences between barcodes and RFID tags and listed the benefits of RFID tags as non line of sight reading, less operator involvement, enhanced quality of information, the capture of non planned movements and real time visibility of the information. He also advised that the line of sight cannot be obstructed by metal or moisture because metal can shield or detune the tag and moisture can change the characteristics of the tag permanently.

Dead and quiet tags can cause issues. Depending on the manufacturer tags can range from 0% dead and quiet up to 19% dead and quiet. Richard did advise that these dead and quiet tags can be detected during application and the easiest way to monitor levels is to include them on the rewind roll so a record can be kept for discussions with the label manufacturer.

Efficiency gains from RFID tags will require IT infrastructure and middleware to support the volume of data from the shop floor to ERP system. RFID middle ware will take large amounts of unfiltered tag data from many RFID readers and direct it to the appropriate information systems and finally update validated data to the Object Naming Service via the internet.

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