The AIPIA World Congress 2023 was once again located in the iconic Beurs van Berlage building in central Amsterdam – this time running alongside the Sustainable Packaging Summit organized by Packaging Europe. Thus, it was not surprising that a strong undertone of this year’s event was Smart Packaging’s involvement and impact on the world of sustainability.
“There is so much more to Smart Packaging than a role in sustainability,” AIPIA managing director Eef de Ferrante, said in his welcome address. This was certainly evident in the innovations presented on the conference stages and the leading-edge smart technologies on show in the exhibition area. Moreover, de Ferrante asserted several times during the two days, that one can keep hoping that culture and habits will improve somehow and that someday sustainability and transparency will arrive – but the real and more realistic answer is technology. While introducing Angela Morgan of Aptar as she was making a presentation on food waste technologies, Ferrante again asserted, “The solution to food waste is technology.”
Appropriately, the Congress proceedings kicked off with a highly motivational keynote by Marcin Ratajczak of Berlin-based Inuru. The company has developed a range of labels and other devices using printed Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. With all Inuru staff sporting jackets with OLED features, lighting up patches as they moved, they were perhaps the best advertisement for this ingenious combination of hybrid and printed electronics, literally shining a light on it!
Marcin explained that the company has already worked with several major brands, including Coca-Cola and champagne house CATTIER. He announced that the technology was now at a stage where it could be mass-produced cost-effectively and would commence operations at scale in early 2024. This will open up a whole range of new possibilities, particularly as other features such as expiry-timer displays can now be added.
Connected packs are the future – playtime is over
On the Smart Insights stage, Simon Jones of Antares Vision Systems made a bold statement, ‘Playtime is Over’ – the intelligent packaging market will be worth US$ 13 billion by 2027 and the digitization of packaging is inevitable and will have a major impact on corporate revenues. He explained that his reasoning was driven by the need for data at every level and that packaging suppliers can be empowered to become major suppliers of that data.
There is a need to create ‘trustparency’ in supply chains and technologies, such as the Antares DIAMIND, to deliver end-to-end transparency. No more focus group guesswork and a clear message from 90% of packaging suppliers that connected packaging will improve their sustainability credentials. The challenge, he believes, is getting them to act more urgently on this information.
Reinforcing these messages were several companies in the Internet of Things, IoT space, with Ambient IoT being the latest buzz. Steve Statler of Wiliot led the charge. His presentation covered the latest ambient standards and how these ecosystems involving 5G and 6G bring a ‘formidable set of new vendors, functionality, and marketing dollars’ to the table. He explained that battery-free tags and the power of the cloud and AI can bring the IoT to billions of connected packages.
These messages were echoed later in the Congress by Klaus Simonmeyer of Identiv, who focused on how IoT-connected packs can benefit more sensitive sectors such as healthcare and pharma. He announced that a ‘next generation’ set of IoT Pixels is set to be launched in the second half of 2024, which use less power and have the ability to harvest power from ambient light. The company has also developed a new IoT platform, bitse.io.
Success or failure?
A relatively new feature of the Congress is panel discussions to address some more strategic topics. One of these covered Smart Packaging and Sustainability – FMCG insights into what technologies will or won’t succeed. The discussion was led by Time Sykes of Packaging Europe and featured Amy King and James Harmer of brand product and packaging design and innovation consulting group Cambridge Design Partnership. The discussion centered around whether FMCG companies are ready to implement smart packaging at scale or whether they still need convincing that there is a good ROI proposition. They asked the question – ‘Is the smart packaging sector pushing the right technologies’ and suggested some of the brand priorities have shifted.
In particular, they highlighted supply chain issues and anti-counterfeiting as key concerns and that brands were looking for better, smaller, cheaper on-pack sensors, energy harvesting features as well as new materials as well as the need to leverage smartphone devices for direct consumer contact. The sustainability element is also important, for example, Holy Grail 2.0, but that is not a consumer-facing project.
In a period of change and flux it might be hard to identify the right tech to support, especially as some enabling smart features are still under development, speculated King. But large infrastructure changes will not happen quickly, it will be smaller, incremental changes that can succeed. Consumers have a role to play, particularly in things such as food waste prevention, recycling, and reuse systems. But they have now been told ‘plastics is bad’ for so long, that a new narrative is needed. And do they always make sustainable choices at the point of purchase?
In the end, they concluded brands want one solution that covers a range of requirements (such as track and trace, authentication, tamper evidence, and condition monitoring). “You cannot put two QR codes on one pack,” said Harmer. So smart packaging providers need to collaborate to create a joined-up ecosystem – a theme that occurred throughout the Congress. Finally, they see big opportunities in healthcare where legislation and new issues such as compliance are driving packaging outcomes.
Accessible QR codes
Back on the Smart Futures stage in the main hall, another panel covered Making packaging fully accessible for the first time – courtesy of the Accessible QR code and featured Sarah Maters, digital and eCommerce director at Unilever, who was joined by Mark Powell of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, Caspar Thykier CEO of Zappar, and Mark Hewitt of Connected Experience Consulting. Masters explained that making their products accessible to everyone in society is not just an important element in Unilever’s diversity and inclusion commitments, it also makes good commercial sense. The discussion centered around the development of this QR innovation and how it has now made the Persil brand of homecare products fully accessible for the first time.
The panel shared information on the positive impact it is having on the brand and how these and other types of smart accessibility features have a bright future. As ever a stumbling block is the lack of knowledge about these – as well as other on-pack connective features and how it is the responsibility of all the stakeholders to educate those who can benefit from them. The word education featured in many presentations as a key factor in the implementation and popularisation of connected packaging.