What does 2017 hold in the world of labels and packaging? We believe it is going to be an exciting year, with brands looking to provide added value to their customers and convertors looking to provide greater efficiencies to the brands through innovation, primarily in the form of “Smart Labeling”.
Smart Labeling? Good question. Smart labeling is simply a catch phrase that defines any attribute of a label that gives it intelligence. One could say that colour print itself initiated the advent of making a label smarter (colour can define brand), and then of course the barcode took it up another notch (providing distinct identification). Now with the invention of NFC enabled smartphones and hi res imaging systems, technology is enabling smart labeling to go beyond just colour and simple barcode. Brands can embrace new techniques to track and trace, ensure authentication and engage with consumers. The following is short list of some of the current technologies in play, to take your brand to the next level.
RFID – Radio Frequency Identification
RFID has been around since the 1940’s but it was really Wal-Mart in the early 2000’s that demanded placing RFID technology in supplier’s product labeling. The idea was to automatically track the product running through their supply chain. Although it didn’t take off initially and had some supplier backlash due to cost, RFID is now being fully embraced by retailers (Macys, American Apparel, Nordstrom, etc) to fully enable an omni channel retail system to ensure that the correct product is available to their customers, as soon as they want it and in the many ways they can get it. At the branding level, RFID is being used by beverage and high end retail to ensure authentication and theft prevention. RFID is also being embedded within the manufacturing process, for tracking of tools and parts related to the kitting, and production of end products, to ensure no wasted downtime. Labelink is well aware of the requirements for you RFID Labeling needs, as we are Canada’s only true convertor and encoder of custom RFID labels and tags.
NFC – Near Field Communication
NFC is simply another subset of RFID, but specifically geared towards NFC enabled smartphones. The idea here is to create a branding experience for the user through the tap technology of an NFC tag, which will automatically get the user to view additional product information, downloadable coupons, contest entries, or some other form of digital experience in order to link the user closer to the brand. The opportunities are vast, but it’s really all about imagination and creative content on the back end.
Augmented reality in the labeling world is the linking of the physical world (the label or package) to the digital world. A good example of augmented reality in action is the Pokemon Go app where digital treasures are linked to physical locations through GPS technology. With labels and packaging, this could also happen where the user could simply use an application created by a brand to view the product, which could then take them to another world or contest, further creating a need for the user to purchase their product. Check out https://zap.works/ to learn more about how this is being utilized in packaging. Labelink works closely with many branding agencies to ensure that your print is 100% compatible with your digital applications.
Overt and Covert Codes
The future of product barcodes may in the not so distant future have packaging with no barcode at all. Images themselves, when printed correctly, will soon be the new barcode, eliminating the need to have space dedicated to the UPC code. This will become more important in the coming years, particularly in the pharmaceutical, neutriceutical and chemical industries as product information further takes up more packaging footprint due to government regulations. Labelink works closely with graphics companies like SGS to ensure our print is fully compliant with these new and innovative print techniques. Check out https://www.digimarc.com/ to learn more about these innovative packaging ideas.
There are many ways printed ink itself can have smart attributes, and Labelink utilizes all current methods to create exceptional branding experiences for our customers. From Thermochromatic (colour change with temperature – see Coors Light beer cans) to NanoParticles (customer specific microscopic particles embedded in the ink for brand authentication), these are just a couple of ways ink can extend usability of your printed package. Labelink works with all ink suppliers of these special inks and has a vast range of experience in using them.
The concept of printed memory for the convertor is intriguing as it can certainly streamline the supply chain in terms of cutting out the chip manufacturers. But in practicality, it’s not quite there yet. Xerox though is on the forefront of this, and is now marketing a printed memory chip that would in fact allow an authentication strategy for branding to be implemented without the need for traditional RFID. There are pros and cons to the technology, and Labelink would be more than happy to talk further on the subject, being a convertor fully capable of adapting this technology. More information on this technology as well as other ideas from Xerox can be found at https://www.xerox.com/en-us/insights/digital-labels
For more information on Smart Labeling and RFID at Labelink please contact Norm McGlaughlin at Norm@Labelink.ca – Director RFID Products, Labelink.