Packaging is important for safely transporting goods all the way through the supply chain. With the development of technology and businesses becoming more sophisticated, we have more accurate and efficient systems in place to deal with large volumes of products. One of the most emerging practices is smart packaging, to allow businesses to monitor their products more accurately and provide a better logistic solution. RFID for Smart Packaging is an excellent way to do this, which is gaining a lot of traction these days.
What is Smart Packaging?
Smart Packaging is an umbrella term. It refers to the integration of different types of technologies and substances into the packaging process. Such that it enables it to perform additional functions, other than just providing a boundary holding layer for an item.
The functions that encompass smart packaging could be divided into three basic classes, namely – Active, Intelligent, and Connected. So, let’s discuss them, in brief, to see what they are.
Packaging is usually passive in function, meaning, that they only act as a protective layer against kinetic impacts and vibrations. In short, a passive system refers to devices/objects whose structure and design in itself serve a function while there is no activity going on inside them. On the other hand, active packaging refers to the type of packaging that actively performs a function. For example, moisture control packets actively work to maintain the moisture levels inside a package using a chemical reaction.
Usually, once a product/item is packaged, it is pretty much impossible to inspect the contents of the box without opening it up and ruining the packaging. Therefore, a lack of monitoring has always been a big blind spot in the supply chain of items/products. However, with the intervention of modern intelligent packaging, this problem can be easily resolved.
These refer to the integration of devices that can monitor and collect data within the packaging like telemetry sensors, biosensors, gas sensors, etc. These allow the users to have an accurate image of the environment through which the item has gone through.
As the name suggests, connected packaging refers to technology implementation that allows consumers to connect and interact with the packaging. For example, packages often have QR codes that redirect your devices to online manuals, discount offers, warranty extension forms, etc. However, these types of packaging usually require IoT integration to work, as a connected system does require some basic networking infrastructure.
A Brief Introduction to RFID
It is a type of AIDC technology that provides asset tracking and management capabilities to businesses. RFID utilizes radio signals to communicate data from one end to the other. These systems consist of RF Tags, RF Readers, and Antennas. So, let’s talk in brief about these components and their functions, separately-
(A). RFID Tags
There are different types of tags available in the market, based on their working principle, applications, operating frequencies, etc. The two primary distinctions between the types of tags is their power source. On this basis, there are two types of tags – passive tags, and active tags. Passive tags as the name suggests lack any internal power source, thus, they have to use incoming radio signals to power up and transmit data. Active tags have a small internal battery that allows them to broadcast signals of their own.
A reader’s job is to generate interrogation signals and convert the signals coming from the tags into readable format. A reader works in tandem with antennas to communicate with the tags.
Antennas act as an extension of the RF reader, in that, they take the digital signals coming from the reader and convert them into radio signals. They broadcast these signals and create a field of influence (known as the interrogation zone) around them. Any tag within this field can send data back to the antenna, which receives these signals and converts them into digital signals, and send them to the reader.
How to Use RFID for Smart Packaging?
There are many ways through which users can use RFID in packaging and for different applications. RFID is an excellent method of creating smart packaging solutions. So, let’s check out the applications of RFID in smart packaging.
(A). Product Tampering
Tampering is a huge problem when it comes to maintaining the integrity and purity of products. That is why businesses keep coming up with innovative solutions to prevent their packaging from being tampered with, or at least, inform the receiver that the package has been tampered with when they handle the package. RFID works as a tamper-evident technology, meaning, it makes the users aware that a product has been tampered with.
There are three types of tamper-evident functions that these systems can perform, these are-
(A.1). Authentication – The RF tags are designed carefully to go on the openings of the packaging, such that they cannot be put back together once opened. These tags consist of authentication information within them. In case someone tampers with the packaging and replaces the packaging seal, the new seal will now have an authentication factor/system. Meaning that the receiver will be unable to authenticate the item and know that it has been tampered with.
(A.2). Accounting/Identification Information – This refers to the cases wherein the tags contain information used to conduct transactions, like at toll booths, private parking establishments, etc. These tags are usually put on windshields and can be stolen by others in hopes of stealing someone’s parking service, toll account, or user information. However, in practical applications, that is next to impossible. Manufacturers of these tags apply a strong layer of adhesive on the substrate layer. These tags are designed in a manner, where they can only be applied once. Meaning, that when removing the tag, the adhesive either completely destroys or severely deforms the inlay A destroyed tag becomes useless, and a deformed inlay will not be able to communicate in the same frequency range.
(A.3). Tamper Alarm – There are specific tags that are designed to alter their behavior/response in the event of being tampered with. Some of these tags are made in a way, that if they are opened, they break and cannot communicate data, making them unreadable. In other types of tags, once the tags are opened, their response changes. So, whenever they are read, they alert the reader that they have been tampered with.
(B). Telemetry Monitoring
Tags that belong to Class 3 or above also have integrated telemetry sensors on them. These sensors allow the tags to record environmental conditions like moisture, temperature, etc. Putting these tags on packages allow the users to check the environmental conditions that the product has been in, throughout the supply chain. This can come in handy for perishable goods like medicines, food items, etc.
Many businesses, especially textile/clothing manufacturers implement their products with encrypted RFID labels. These labels allow the retail outfits to authenticate the product and prevent getting cheated by first copies. As the data stored within the label is encrypted, it can only be read by the parties that have the decryption key in their system. Therefore, it is very difficult to create fake authentication labels.
Another function of RF technology in smart packaging is to provide personalization services. These are generally post-sales services that allow the consumer to interact with the brand and create a personalized functional suite like – Registration, Coupons, Rewards, Gift Cards, etc. These are generally hidden inside the packages and can be accessed via any NFC-enabled smartphone.
(E). Add-Ons or Re-ordering
Nowadays, activities like reordering or interacting with a brand in the context of your purchases are performed digitally. Meaning, most customers can communicate with the brand and access post-purchase services via the Internet. Services like re-ordering or browsing accessories for your products can be easily accessed using an RFID label on the product.
The most fundamental application of RF systems is their ability to provide tracking capability to users. RF labels on packages can be used to track the movement of the item throughout the supply chain.
Benefits of RFID Based Smart Packaging
There are numerous benefits of integrating RFID for the purpose of smart packaging., like-
• RFID tagging allows automated data collection of the movement of items throughout the supply chain.
• With the integration of telemetry sensors and moisture-sealed packs, suppliers can ensure the freshness and quality of products.
• An added benefit of improving and monitoring the shelf life of items is that it reduces the chances of recalls, thus, maintaining their reputation.
• Tracking and management automation helps in the reduction of wastage and added costs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What is the use of RFID in packaging?
RFID can have many uses in packaging operations like providing identification & tracking abilities, telemetry sensing, data collection, anti-tempering systems, etc.
Q2. What is the purpose of an RFID sensor?
Sensors in an RF tag can perform various functions like transmitting the identification information of an item. They can also collect and communicate data like temperature, moisture, and location, based on the type of tag.
Q3. What are RFID and its advantages?
It is a type of AIDC technology that uses radio propagation to communicate information wirelessly. These systems are generally used in logistic operations to automate tracking and monitoring. The biggest advantages of RFID are: