Digital technologies are changing how logistics companies operate. In order to compete, existing companies need to innovate to survive as new entrants are providing enhanced solutions through digital technologies.
Smart packaging, for example, is replacing conventional packaging because it monitors and communicates the condition of the products without having to resort to estimated expiration dates. It is very practical in the case of food, drugs, and hazardous goods.
Here, we explore smart packaging and how it works, in addition to the ways in which the supply chain can benefit from having real-time information on the status of the goods.
What is Smart Packaging?
Smart packaging can be divided into two categories: active packaging and intelligent packaging. Active packaging adjusts the environment inside the packaging by controlling factors such as temperature and moisture, while intelligent packaging adds features that provide information such as the status of the product, including expiration and freshness, recipes, coupons, and more. It allows both retailers and consumers to better judge the shelf life and quality of the product, creates marketing opportunities, and adds functionality after purchase.
Why Smart Packaging Is Important
The global supply chain is under enormous pressure these days. On one hand, consumers demand accountability and traceability for all the products. On the other hand, there is the industry pressure. Competition is at an all-times high level and the winners are those who can deliver more, faster and cheaper. Last but not least, there are international regulations that put pressure on manufacturers, and distributors. They must comply with various quality and safety standards.
According to the FAO, the UN organization dedicated to food and agriculture, the global volume of food waste is estimated at 1.75 billion tons a year, equivalent to a third of global food production. This is primarily the result of inefficient packaging.
Smart packaging (also known as intelligent packaging) incorporates sensors that detect bacterial growth, temperature changes, and gas composition that affect the condition of the foodstuff. It allows the recipients to control the condition and quality of products during storage and transportation. Smart packaging is an evolution of traditional packaging that detects and records changes in a product’s environment and is also capable of communicating these changes through visual indicators. This would result in fewer cases of food poisoning and less food waste.
Smart Packaging Devices
This type of packaging supplies information must be equipped with technology that controls the condition of the foodstuffs as well as with indicators that inform consumers such as humidity, pH, and the presence of microbes in food.
Let’s examine the devices these packages incorporate to carry out these functions:
- Sensors. Affixed to the package, they serve to control the temperature, product conservation time, humidity, and freshness. There are different types of sensors that capture parameters such as pH and the presence of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This is reflected, for example, in sensors that register the ethylene given off by fruit in order to know how ripe it is.
- Data Indicators. Smart packaging can provide visual information on the condition of food. This is usually done by means of a transducer that converts the chemical signal into an optical one. An example of smart packaging that implements this system would be a package with a label that turns red to let the consumer know that the food has gone bad and shouldn’t be eaten.
- Data Carriers. Just like traditional packages, smart packaging should also facilitate management of the goods throughout the supply chain. Recipients are usually labeled with barcodes, QR codes, or RFID tags that supply basic information on the product type, SKU, price, and packaging and expiration dates. These labels — which are especially useful for controlling product traceability — also provide data on the proper way to store and distribute the products.
Smart Packaging Indicators
Smart packaging is expressly designed to facilitate the management of food products. In their warehouses, companies in this industry strictly monitor the goods to prevent food spoilage and the associated consumer risks.
Time/temperature. Accurately monitor cold chain shipments down to an individual package level. Log when temperature excursions occurred. These indicators control the temperature and shelf life of packaged food. Consequently, it is possible to know whether a food product has been exposed to inadequate storage conditions.
Humidity Sensing. Accurately monitor sensitive shipments down to an individual package level. Ability to log when/or where humidity excursions occurred. Reduce supply chain wastage and improve efficiency through deeper understanding and control of humidity sensitive logistics.
Shock. Accurately monitor vibration and shock sensitive shipments down to an individual package level. Ability to log when/or where shock occurred. Reduce supply chain wastage and improve efficiency through deeper understanding and control of vibration sensitive logistics.
GPS/Location. For sensitive shipments where exact location is to be known in real time, GPS components can be added/enabled to give location data that can be logged or communicated wirelessly to data management systems, enabling seamless supply chain integration.
Advantages of Smart Packaging
Based on our experience, we can identify the following benefits:
1. Reduced Order Picking and Customs Inspection Times
Smart packaging can be programmed to store a variety of important information, including the type and quantity of products packed in a plastic stackable container or on a plastic pallet. By pointing a reading device to the packaging materials, warehouse workers can quickly identify the products they need for order picking.
2. Real Time Monitoring of Merchandize in Transit
With smart packaging, both the purchaser and the seller can monitor the journey of the merchandize and receive real time readings from various checkpoints along the route.
3. Ensure Proper Transport and Storage Conditions for Sensitive Merchandize
Smart packaging can be used to monitor temperature, humidity, tilt and other critical factors for the safety of special products, such as food and pharmaceuticals in real time and en-route. This allows the purchaser to check whether the specified shipping conditions were met.
4. Reduce the Risk of Packaging Theft
Smart packaging will be at a premium price – at least until the market reaches a certain adoption rate. Thus, companies would want to make sure their packaging materials are returned to them after each shipment. The simplest solution is to permanently record ownership details in the smart packaging: name and contact details of the company.
The FLEX Logistics Team is Here to Help!
The packaging experts at FLEX Logistics are constantly learning and researching for the most advanced technologies that help us create better products. While smart packaging will take some time before they become widely available, we can offer you the most modern and professional packaging materials for your products.
Contact FLEX Logistics to learn more about our 3PL warehousing solutions and value-added services. Our team understands the importance of getting your products to the market. That is why we aim to understand your business and build lasting relationships with you and your team. Whether you are looking to add a new warehouse to your existing operations, growing and need to increase your distribution efforts, or starting a new company, FLEX has the solutions to meet your supply chain needs.
Contact us today to discuss your current and future warehousing and logistics needs. We will work together with you to understand your requirements and develop a solution that will set you up for future success.