Smart Labels: Intelligent and interactive technology is changing the labels and packaging landscape.

Author:Hrinya, Greg
 
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Fifty years ago, computers seemed incomprehensible. Today, however, most consumers hold a virtual computer in the palm of their hand--one that can make phone calls, send emails and purchase goods. Often, a phone might be used to compare prices or perform other product research.

The "smartphone" is not the only innovation growing at a rapid pace. A product's packaging is also evolving. In fact, labels boast capabilities that never before seemed possible. Consumers can now interact with labels and packaging--and vice versa.

Thinfilm, a global provider of printed electronics, defines a smart label as a near field communication (NFC) tag that is integrated with consumer products, thereby making them "smart." The labels, which do not contain batteries, rely on smartphones to facilitate an interaction, pull content from the cloud and deliver unique digital experiences to consumers.

"We see growing interest among consumer brands of all sizes - from smaller niche players to global enterprises," explains Bill Cummings, senior vice president of corporate communications at Thinfilm. "Companies have been exploring solutions in this area tor the past 2-3 years, and many are now taking action. Today, we have more than two dozen customers in-market with our solution, and we anticipate that the number will grow in the coming weeks and months."

Smart labels and tags can affect the retail experience in a multitude of ways. Substrates and self-adhesive materials supplier Avery Dennison operates a facility in Miamisburg, OH, USA, that is dedicated to smart solutions. With RFID technology, companies enjoy track-and-trace capabilities that can be useful in a variety ot end-use applications, including apparel. RFID tags can dramatically change the way stores track inventory and deal with loss prevention.

"Consumers today--certainly the millennials--won't go into a store if they don't know they have the item they're looking for," says Francisco Melo, vice president and general manager, Global RFID for Avery Dennison. "They check the availability on their phone, and it the store has it, then the customer is probably going to go there to check the fit, and touch and feel the product. Creating seamless consumer experiences is the fundamental goal and how to achieve that through technology is the process we improve upon with our customers, as well as how to build up the KOI."

According to Melo. intelligent labels are normally comprised of pressure sensitive substrates. In terms of printing, the most common form is thermal printing, with Inkjet also emerging. "We also have companies that are using offset and flexo," he says. "We could do it in nearly any way, but thermal is the most common...

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