What is Smart Packaging?
Smart packaging is the spectrum of technologies that aim to improve business and customer utilities alike; all the while improving the ease of product access and product information tracking.
By improving the ease of information tracking/sharing granted to the user, smart packaging can increase utility. It also creates better opportunities for customers to know more about the company they’re dealing with, buying from, and products they’re using.
From the business perspective, smart packaging entails easier and larger data collection that can be used towards learning more about consumers and target markets.
Smart Packaging has two types –
- Active – Active packaging mainly deals in the physical features that pertain to offering protection and enhancing package functioning. Using flexible products packaging for delicate item will help to protect and provide safety to the products.
- Intelligent – Intelligent packaging has largely to do with utility, communication, and information tracking. It aims to capture information like where the product came from, manufacturer details, customer details, quality of packaging during transportation and storage, etc.
How Can Smart Packaging Control the Quality of Pharmaceuticals?
Smart labels can greatly streamline the supply chain management in hospitals. One way to achieve that is via printed memory on smart packages. This supports intelligence on the product as the print is made of thin circuitry on a substrate.
The memory is nonvolatile and can carry 36 bits of rewritable memory. Things like serial numbers, lot codes, to geographic codes and expiration dates can be stored on this tiny chip. To read the label, a custom reader can be designed which can either be external like a memory reader on the package. Or, it can be integrated with a dispensing unit in ‘Smart Consumables’.
One good thing about this system is that the information can be read offline. No need to connect to the Wi-Fi or the internet. It’s also good for when you want to avoid network invasion. Using sensor technology could further help with detecting changes in the product or its environment and make changes accordingly.
How Smart Packaging Can Extend the Product Shelf-Life in Healthcare/Pharmaceutical?
Experts believe that in the future, smart labels and packaging could offer an interface to allow remote data collection for healthcare professionals. This could be great for ascertaining possible product side-effects from patients.
Furthermore, these digital technologies could also house information without any space constraints. The information can be made accessible via a smartphone app. The type of information stored can be – instructions on how to use the product/service and clinician’s advice.
Another technological advancement in smart packaging is the thermochromic inks. This ink reacts to changes in temperature. Thermochornic ink could be used for printing changes in temperature right on the package.
Another technology, as we already mentioned, is the smart sensor placements. These sensors could track and identify items without any physical contact or line of sight.
Smart sensors can detect changes in light, temperature, and humidity.
How Smart Packaging Can Help Patients
One exciting part of intelligence packaging is the provision of a secure two-way communication between healthcare providers and patients. The technology is already underway. It’s being increasingly deployed in clinical trials; particularly during the pandemic to decentralize them.
There are wearable devices for the patients, which is just one approach to use smart labeling. It allows clinicians to analyse and track any health information such as vitals, heart rate, temperature, pulse rate, stress levels, blood oxygen levels, breathing, and even various brain activities; all in real-time.
You can think of the device (typically a bracelet) as a personal assistant. It monitors the health status of the patient and alerts them upon sensing any abnormal conditions. The bracelet could also alert the patients when it’s time for medication. As you can see, the possibilities for improving patient monitoring are pretty limitless with these new and promising technologies.
What are the Latest Developments in Smart Packaging Design?
The integration of intelligent technology within the existing medical packaging and devices is underway. There’s a wireless electronic component chipped within the product. It allows tracking drug usage the moment it comes out of the blister. It also tracks information any time a device is issued.
The contact materials remain unaffected. There’s the added child resistance option with digital enablement that offers an additional security layer demanding no regulatory approval.
The label sends a signal whenever a medical device is activated/used or a tablet is removed from the package. The bracelet would further collect and send this information via smartphone or directly to the cloud over to the host.
Other advancements that we’re seeing is a movement towards mass-adoption of QR-enabled packages. This goal is to encourage patient compliance and health literacy. The technology is getting smarter by the day with an incorporation of near-field communications. An NFC chip can be built onto the package. All a recipient has to do is wave a smartphone over to access the content. Inspired by QR codes, this technology is a step up with more refinement.
What Current Challenges Does the Healthcare Industry Face?
The development teams behind smart label technologies must be familiar with all regulations that affect the product applications. The thing is, smart packaging applications are quite dissimilar; just like the myriad regulations that control them.
It might take time to get familiar with rules and regulations that affect a given product and its application. Other challenges that need contemplating are ‘the factor of sustainability’. Do we have the required infrastructure that could recycle or compost the smart packaging and labels when it’s time to process the waste?
Some technical issues can be tricky. For instance, RFID tags don’t work well as a barcode replacement at item level.
Let’s not forget the ever-prevailing privacy concerns. It is possible that the smart tags could be read without consumer consent. Another prohibitive problem is the relatively higher costs of smart labels/packaging.
All these factors need thinking-through and also pose a few challenges in the packaging industry.
There’s no doubt that smart labels for advanced packaging are underway. And, surely they would have a lot to offer. But, as with anything – it remains to be seen how things will pan out.
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