PEN:What do you see as the opportunities for smart packaging, and how does digital printing play a role in this?
Christian Menegon: Digital printing is the key to the door which opens smart packaging opportunities. The print itself has no intelligence, but if made unique, what you can do with it is endless. From tracking and authentication to supply chain management, marketing connection and even to get feedback from the consumer, the world is the limit.
What digital printing can print adds a certain level of intelligence to the package and opens the door to “smartness”. How can the print add a layer of intelligence? By comparing the working principle of conventional and digital printing, the explanation comes by itself. Any conventional printing technology repeats the same image again and again; it is a “passive” decoration process. With digital printing, while the basic process brings the aesthetics, it can also make each print unique with visible or non-visible information, alphanumeric or graphical, readable or not, color or monochrome, at the same time. That possibility gives the brand owner the possibility to track and authenticate each product one by one; it also allows a connection to the buyer of THE product, one by one, and allows a dialogue which can bring some geo-localization functions, statistics, time-to-market measures and even some kind of lottery where a specific code can be the winner.
The digital print allows all of this, as it is the link to whatever smartness the brand wants to develop.
For a well-known comparison, let’s discuss lottery tickets. There are millions of tickets, all the same except for their hidden code; only one will be the winner. These tickets are distributed and sold across the country. The consumers, when checking if they won, will access a web site which may record where they are, the code itself and whether or not it is the only time the code has been tested. The lottery website visitors may even answer a few simple demographic questions. This data is a source of intelligence, which helps the brand to better understand what the consumers do and how. The same can happen with packaging; while the product can be widely distributed, if each pack has something unique, it can offer a direct brand-to-consumer connection. Today’s technologies can make each identifier unique, whether it is an NFC code or an RFID tag, or a digital watermark that a scanner can detect.
PEN:What markets would be ideal for this kind of packaging?
Security and track and trace are the most obvious. All of our print service provider customers, can do this – at least the printing part. Hewlett Packard Enterprise has a division, Global Product Authorization Service (GPAS), which develops complete solutions including data readers, software and database management for brand owners. The key enabler of these systems is for each product package to be unique, which is where digital printing plays a role. In theory, such a possibility could be used in any market, but there must be a “value” to protect: either in commercial value (expensive goods), or in freshness or in perceived value. All products are different.
PEN:What are the challenges that need to be navigated?
The biggest challenge today is the implementation on the brand owner’s side. Brand owners love the possibility of having visibility down to the item level and knowing exactly where the item is; this has tremendous value. Adding the connection to the consumer to the same system, makes it amazing. But in reality, who has the means in house to monitor this? Who has the infrastructure, including the supply chain control system, the data readers, the right software, etc. to verify products down to the item level? The tools required will be different for brands and consumers. The closest market to adopting this mindset is the pharmaceutical industry, because they have to monitor where each batch goes, and they already have this sort of system in place.
In terms of the Internet of Things, digital printing is part of the digital world. HP offers fantastic possibilities to the market by connecting print to the Internet of Things. An object is packed; the pack is printed; if the print has the means to connect the pack to the internet, digital printing is one of the enablers. HP has labs working on these types of interactions.
PEN:Are there any examples of commercialization that you can mention?
We do have partners using HP digital printing in this arena. A known example is in the wine industry. Enabled by HP digital printing technology to make each and every label unique and HP partners who provide tracking systems and data management solutions, wineries now have an understanding of which wines are being sold and which stores are selling those wines. It allows the winemaker to know where their bottles are and eventually get feedback from the buyer. In cosmetics, some well-known brands are also using these systems. It has to be said that when the process touches “security”, the brand doesn’t want to be named, as counterfeiters could enjoy this information!
More and more things are interconnected at a certain level; not necessary yet at the product level, but we are getting there. What counts is how to access to the information and then the quality of the information. In theory, you can connect to any of the goods you are buying. As soon as you have a sensor on or in the pack that is activated, the information is there. If the consumer sees a value in “activating” the trigger, then it will happen, whether it’s via NFC or a smartphone’s camera. We pass information to the consumer from a product via the package, using what has become a standard today: a mobile phone. NFC cannot go to the item level today, but could be implemented in volume when its costs will allow. Digital printing may have a limit in volume today, even though the throughput of the printing presses has significantly increased, but it can go to the item level and allows other supply chain savings.
I think we are really at the beginning. We have a lot of technology “dots” that are scattered in the industry, and we are at the level where we can connect all of these technologies. That is where HP plays in a role in the IoT.