"When I was a child, I always wanted to be a doctor. I never thought of engineering, but look at me now", laughs Juha Maijala, Project Manager at Stora Enso, as he carefully opens a box of macarons and points to a tiny metal chip on the inside.
Maybe it is an exaggeration to call a cardboard box ‘intelligent’. A box is a box is a box, right? Well, that may be true for the moment but, according to Stora Enso’s team in intelligent packaging, we will see some dramatic changes in the next few years.
"Connectivity is the key," Juha says. "Thanks to the incorporated digital chips, the package itself can be loaded with information. Just hold your smartphone next to the box and you will get information on origin, ingredients, history or whatever else the producer wants to put there. It is also possible to incorporate a measuring device that will keep track of how the package is handled. For example, if it is dropped, there will be data on when and where it was dropped. This will enable greater control in the delivery chain which will help ensure quality.”
In late May, Stora Enso and Dutch NXP Semiconductors announced they will collaborate in developing intelligent packaging solutions. Later this year, Stora Enso is looking to inaugurate a new Innovation Centre in Helsinki. "We want our customers to come and see for themselves how our solutions can enhance their products," says Juha.
He emphasises that Stora Enso is on the frontlines in the field of intelligent packaging, that no other company has tried such a comprehensive approach. "We are playing the first-comer role. It is risky, but the rewards can be quite high if we succeed," he says.
No stranger to starting new things or venturing into the unknown, Juha was, according to himself, a hyper-active child, always trying out new ideas or plotting new courses, be it in sailing or playing guitar and piano. "As an adult I have built two houses. I am not sure what it is, but I just love creating, always have, always will," he laughs.
Marko Hakovirta is Senior Vice President Innovation at Stora Enso. His first encounter with intelligent packaging was with another company back in 2002 when he was working on a label that would indicate if a food was at a risk of being spoiled. "The idea never took off, mainly because at that time there was no eco-system that supported this kind of product. The chips were not so advanced and there were no smartphones," Marko says.
Now in 2015, the situation is very different. The ‘internet for humans’ has been around for some two decades. The new buzz phrase is the ‘internet of things’ whereby most of the world and everything in it will be online and connected. "There are many interesting ideas out there – printing circuitry directly on paper, embedding silicone chips and antennas in the package and so on", says Marko, adding that Stora Enso likes to keep all doors open.
"We do not want to conquer the world at this point, but rather create real solutions and brand enhancements for our customers," he says.