When we talk about electronics in packaging, in general, the consumer thinks, we, the professionals are talking about QR-codes and the applications with a smartphone. Although the smartphone is an electronic device, the QR-code and its many possibilities for packaging, has nothing to do with electronics in packaging. The QR-code just is a printed image on a packaging. Nothing special, except that it can be read/scanned by a smartphone and then start some interactive contacts. But that’s all and no electronics are built-in in the packaging to achieve this action.
About QR- and similar codes and its usefulness or idiocy in packaging another time. Today I want to talk about (real) electronics, built-in a packaging.
Although printed electronics are getting affordable, using electronics in packaging still is a costly affair and consequently restricted to the high-end luxury market and incidental promotional application. That is to say, except there where electronics in packaging really have something to add to packaging technology, in cases such as monitoring the supply chain, counterfeiting and similar useful activities.
But what the consumer generally sees, is the charming uselessness of the application of electronics in packaging, namely for marketing and promotional goals.
The marketing boys and girls of the big multinational brands might be going crazy about the possibilities of the, so called, interactive packaging, the big question is whether consumers really are hankering for this technology. Oh, they will like the occasional lighting of a bottle in a bar or disco, but I doubt they are willing to pay one penny extra for this extravagance. Nothing more than a marketing hype.
But whatever the fancy ideas are at this moment, be well aware that we are standing at the eve of a massive implementation of electronics in packaging, and not in terms of promotion, but in terms of real packaging technology. Self-heating, pasteurisation, preservation, freshness, counterfeiting, anti-theft actions, even enhancement of shelf-life and actively interacting with the consumer. Printed-electronics and thin-film will offer these possibilities for affordable prices in the near future.
For the time being, however, we have to stay with the fancy ideas of the marketing boys and girls. Let’s have a look at some and end with a serious application, foreboding what can be expected.
The Ignite beer bottle
Lighting a bottle in the dark isn’t new, but still it’s a rare occurrence. Years ago I wrote about the triangular Sake bottle with a battery light built in the bottom. A simple version as it starting lighting when lifted. Last year Heineken at Milanese ‘Lounge of the Future’ introduced the first ever interactive beer bottle, baptised “Ignite”.
The bottle incorporates micro sensors and wireless networking to detect when drinkers say ‘Cheers’ and activates 8 LED lights, it sparks when they take a sip, and the lights ‘dance’ in response to a DJ’s musical cues. The bottle is able to interact with other Ignite bottles, its environment and people, “bringing together interaction, data and networking thinking”.
Heineken explains that the bottle can detect various motion types such as cheering, drinking and sitting idle on the top of the bar. The motions trigger certain light effects, lighting up the complete bottle, enhanced by the swirls of beer, carbon dioxide and oxygen.
The bottle can also activated remotely, so that each bottle becomes an active light source controlled by specially developed VJ (video jockey) software, allowing its synchronization with a specific music beat.
To make this possible the bottle features eight bright LEDs, an 8-bit microprocessor, an accelerometer to detect various motion types and a wireless transceiver, all built-in a housing under each bottle. The custom-designed circuit board is based on an open-source Arduino hardware and software platform, while, according to Heineken, the two-part 3D-printed housing (designed and developed by design and marketing agency C10) can be reused on multiple bottles of beer.
Belvedere Silver Sabre
This year we saw a much simpler design from Belvedere Vodka for its Silver Sabre. The Belvedere Silver Sabre is an extra large silver metallic finished bottle with an LED illuminator in the base. The branding elements have been laser cut on the bottle, which introduces a new decoration technique for the wine and spirits sector.
The 175cl illuminated bottle was unveiled at the Warner Music Group and Belvedere BRITS after-party in February this year, where the artists in attendance each received a personalised bottle.
The Silver Sabre follows on from Belvedere’s success with the Night Sabre launched in 2012.
Without explaining why (and I honestly can’t see why), Belvedere Vodka claims that the Silver Sabre is the next step in LED bottle technology and thinks the new illuminated large format bottle will be a very exciting proposition for on trade customers and another great way to generate sales.
And now to the serious part of electronics in packaging. Not quite new, as it is already done in various applications, but monitoring the supply chain and avoiding counterfeiting is a hot-topic.
Intelligent wine cases
Overheating, undercooling or even freezing clearly damages wine and ergo the consumer can’t see what has happened with the bottle when he decides to buy a fine wine. Wines are too often shipped around the world with less care than cartons of lettuce. Some input of technology has to help remedy this industry-wide problem.
With the introduction of ‘intelligent’ wine cases a new chapter might have begun in the world wine transportation and storage.
Designed by Laurent Ponsot, winemaker in Morey-Saint-Denis, the process was developed by Franco-American enterprise e-Provenance. eProvenance technology monitors the temperature of wines during transit and storage, from producer to consumer.
Each case of wine contains a sensor which records the temperature and humidity every four hours. Using a smartphone app, the client can, at any moment, view a history of the wine’s transportation and storage conditions from the moment it left the estate. The sensors have a guaranteed lifespan of 15 years.
The system calculates the impact of the temperature conditions on the wine and provides a score, which takes into account any potential degradation.
As I mentioned QR- and similar codes and its usefulness or idiocy in packaging in the beginning of this article, I will come back to this topic in a next article.