In principal packaging serves product protection (conservation) and promotion. Organic and printed electronics could help manufacturers upgrade packaging plastics to active early warning systems or cardboard boxes to multi-media information carriers. Current trends and the latest developments in this area were on display last June at the LOPE-C, the Organic & Printed Electronics Convention, in Frankfurt, Germany.
During this convention researchers at the Centre for Printed Intelligence (CPI) of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland showed an electronic spoilage sensor concept for poultry. The core of the concept is a resistance sensor which can be inkjet printed onto the packaging material. The sensor’s resistivity changes, when it is exposed to the fermentation of gas hydrogen sulphide (H2S). The resistivity variance can be measured, using a wireless reading device that detects even the slightest change in H2S concentration. With this new system retailers can remove damaged packages from shelves before the merchandise spoils and customers take them home.
Organic and printed electronics are opening a whole new spectrum of applications to complement conventional silicon technology as they enable the production of thin, light-weight and flexible electronic components which can play an important role in the realization of additional functions in packaging. They enable the printing of electronic components such as RFID transponders, photovoltaic cells or light-emitting diodes embedded in so-called “polymers” onto a light, flexible substrate. Polymers are liquid-soluble enabling inexpensive, layer-by-layer production of electronic components. Depending upon their chemical composition, featuring insulating, semi-conductive or conductive properties, they are ideal for a cost-effective production of electronic components in continuous printing processes.
As a result packaging, in the (near) future, will hit the store shelves with many more functions, derived from the possibilities of:
* Printed transistors that can be used as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags,
* Organic light emitting diodes (OLED),
* Organic photovoltaic cells that absorb light and transform it into electric energy,
* Printed sensors to measure environmental parameters such as pressure, temperature or humidity and signals when the expiration date of a food product is reached or the cold chain has been interrupted,
* Organic memories for the storage of digital information,
* Power for all electronic components through solar cells and batteries printed directly onto the package,
* Product authenticity through integration of fraud resistant electronic codes.
With printed electronics it will be possible to apply the electronic product code (EPC) to almost all merchandise in a supermarket, which would enable the monitoring of each individual item, its condition, authenticity, origin etc throughout the complete supply chain.
Besides all these serious additions to a packaging, organic and printed electronics can also be employed for some ‘fun’. Take a look at my Excellence in Packaging blog at Packaging Digest, describing the optical phenomenon of electroluminescence printed on a “simple” cardboard box, shining in different colours and depicting logos, images and texts, allowing for multi-coloured light effects and animations.