Intelligence in packaging

Published 16 October 2014
​For most people it might seem unlikely that the word “intelligence” and “cardboard box” will appear in the same sentence. But, actually intelligence in packaging is the latest buzz. It is not so much about thinking outside of the box as a thinking box. This year the prestigious Marcus Wallenberg prize was awarded to the research behind printing electronics on paper and cardboard, which is a key component in adding intelligence. So far we have only seen the beginning of intelligent packaging.

As our environment is becoming more networked, so is packaging. Packaging does not only contain and protect, it now also can take a more active role for instance using surface treatments, sensors, indicators and tracking technologies.

"One good example is how you can use a surface coating that keeps fruit and other food stuff fresh longer by absorbing unwanted oxygen and ethylene. The use of different labels and tags, like radio frequency ID-tags (RFID) and sensor labels can also be integrated into the packaging. In the future we will be able to actually print RFID-labels directly onto the board," says Petri Sirviö, Manager Customer Solutions, Stora Enso's Renewable Packaging Innovation and R&D.

With such a tag on a box it is easily traceable through the supply chain. With printed sensors you can also ensure that, for instance, frozen food has been kept at a correct temperature. You can also use sensors that can detect biological processes and indicate when food is no longer suitable to eat. This would be much better than a printed best-before-date.

"Even if it will take some time before many of these ideas become reality in our everyday life, the technology exists and is already in use for certain applications. Over time it will become more affordable and can be used for a wider variety of products. Stora Enso has been working hands-on with these applications for several years; both internally and together with our partners at universities, suppliers and with customers," says Marko Hakovirta, head of Innovation within Stora Enso Renewable Packaging.

One concrete example is intelligent pharma packaging, a solution for compliance control in the medical sector, which was developed by Stora Enso and spun off from the Chalmers University's incubator programme, and now within Mevia AB. With the help of printed electronics and the GSM network it is possible to keep track of when a pill is taken out of the medicine package. You can also set alarms to let you know if you have forgotten to take your medicine.

"In the retail sector, Stora Enso is already offering packages with RFID, enabling many logistics benefits in the customer value chain. We have also done various solutions for temperature logging packages. One customer, for example, asked why the paints did not work properly. The answer was that the jars had been stored over the weekend in -25C," says Petri Sirviö.

There is a strong demand for these solutions. In the most recent Viewpoint Report from Stora Enso Packaging Solutions on packaging trends in the grocery retail sector, intelligent packaging is identified as one of five major trends in the coming years.

"Looking further into the future we can see the possibility of enabling moving images and solar panel functionality on paper and packaging. We are already experimenting with this", says Petri Sirviö.

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