When you consider IoT solutions in the market today, it’s easy to overlook Smart Packaging. After all, the box your food comes in isn’t all the exciting compared to having it delivered by a drone. But the increasing need for safe, fast and reliable ways of getting products to market has influenced a new trend that pairs the concepts of IoT and cloud computing with traditional supply chain to allow Smart Packaging to become one of the fastest growing markets with a projected growth rate estimated by many telecom experts of between 4% and 5.4% by the year 2025. As the technology of the IoT and the cloud continues to improve, there will be a steady increase in how the supply chain management of product lifecycle and pick/pack/ship interfaces with telecom management. Current technology for Smart Packaging generally falls into 2 categories: active packaging and intelligent packaging, with sub-categories for each area depending on market vertical and business need. Smart packaging, in a general sense, includes the use of advanced technology to improve the quality and efficiency of product packaging, storing and shipping. Some examples of how smart packaging is being used: To improve the safety of a product by using anti-microbial coating on food packages or smart sensors that indicate biological changes to the productTo increase or monitor a product’s shelf life by using technology, e.g. IoT date indicatorsTo track a product’s progress through the shipping process, e.g. RFID scanners Using RFID to Improve Shipping and Security While some of these technologies are still being developed, the use of radio frequency identification, RFID has been commonplace in the supply chain for years and is being refined for extrapolated use beyond simple pick/pack/ship application. Passive RFID, an inexpensive non-battery solution where a radio signal is sent from a reader to an encoded tag that relays basic information, is used routinely for tracking the movement of packages while in. On the other hand, Active RFID uses a small battery and can transmit radio signals to a reader in its vicinity; this solution is common to retail environments where inventory is tagged with RFID information that can be deactivated upon purchase or will set off RFID readers located at the door of the store to alert that the inventory is being taken from the store. The continued growth of RFID is directly proportional to its low-cost and easy application, and recent improvements in security and reliability have made it possible to use RFID in more ways than ever before: smart homes, healthcare management, food safety, and more.Using the Cloud – Active PackagingBy leveraging the power of the Cloud and IoT sensors with active packaging, this allows the manufacturer to better control the quality and lifecycle of their products. While this form of packaging can improve the customer’s experience, it is intended for the manufacturer. Active packaging is about the inclusion of something in the packaging that will enhance it or improve its shelf-life. In the food industry specifically, there has been exponential growth in the use of sensors and connected monitoring technology: ethylene absorbers, time-temperature indicators, and flavor releasing sensors, to name just a few. The sensors embedded within the product packaging are coded to respond to pre-determined stimuli or relayed information from remote systems that give better control of the product to its maker. In turn, this can improve the quality of the relationship between the retailer and the customer or it can increase market share by having better quality product available. Improving Customer Experience with IoT – Intelligent PackagingBy contrast, intelligent packaging seeks to improve the customer’s experience during the purchasing phase. Whether the goal is to give the customer better insight into what the product offers, like using a chip that can be activated with a phone app to give additional information to the buyer; or, to allow the customer peace of mind about how the product has been maintained prior to purchase. For instance, a temperature indicator that will show a buyer if the proper temperature for the product has been maintained during shipping/storage. Intelligent packaging attempts to use advancements in technology to give the buyer the best possible information about the product so that they can make informed buying decisions. The move toward interactive sensors that will interface in near real-time with phone apps or smartwatches to capture true customer input about the products they are inspecting will impact cloud server space, information security and data transfer rates. What companies will choose to do with all the incoming data and how they manage the glut of excess information will prove to be a differentiator. Due to the cost associated and level of effort involved with these solutions, it would make sense that any company utilizing intelligent packaging have a clear plan for mining the data for useful and marketable information that might guide a manufacturers business strategy. Many of the more advanced smart packaging solutions are still being explored because some of the component technology is still in its infancy and will need to be refined to have wide-scale adoption. The high cost of non-recoverable sensors coupled with the lack of long-term analysis of the impact of smart packaging will continue to be a challenge in this market for the near future. But, potentially these smart packaging solutions could be used to increase productivity by relaying real-time information on the movement of products, improve product design by better understanding consumer buying patterns and provide additional safety measures for consumers through improved toxin or bacterial indicators in food storage. There are very few limits for the applications of smart packaging; technology and innovation in this space are rapidly expanding as quickly as the imagination can dream up solutions for consumer concerns. Happily, for those of us in telecom, we will see the ever-growing use of the IoT improve supply chain management while it continues to influence consumer behavior and expectations. 

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