Expert's Opinion

Opportunities abound for 'connected' labels and packaging

By James Bevan | February 7, 2017

A new Vandagraf International report details present and future opportunities in a complex and evolving market sector.

In an ideal world, one may envisage the widespread use of a single "radio-electronic" device embedded in item level packaging and/or labels that can perform a broad range of functions to provide multiple benefits offering up several value streams for the brand owner. By factoring in "multiple" benefits, the business case (i.e. ROI) for adopting such devices can be made very much more robust and compelling for brand owners. Together these factors will create a "virtuous circle" of benefits leading to greatly increasing sales volumes of such devices.

This combination of factors is evolving to become the cornerstone for a game-changing opportunity for:
  • Solution providers (RFID inlay makers, as well as hardware & software developers)
  • Label and packaging manufacturers
  • Brand owners
  • Others
Increasingly, this is looking like an achievable goal – provided that sufficient capital investment is made by the device providers in the next few years. We believe it is primarily a matter of commitment and investment by the industry. There are no fundamental barriers due to the "physics" as such.

Widespread adoption of radio-electronic devices embedded in packaging or labels will offer such enormous benefits further on down the road that this technology will be embraced by brand owners, thus enabling them to offer premium and safety-critical products. And over time this is set to generate very substantial savings & revenues and ROI for brand owners and device providers alike.

A Significant Challenge
Explaining the breadth of the opportunity to brand owners is a significant challenge toward further adoption of this technology. The key now will be the full recognition by brand owners of the breadth of benefits that can be offered by all this new and enhanced multi-functionality. 

For a number of years, the relatively high unit cost of radio-electronic devices has been a major barrier to wider roll-out of such radio-electronic devices, such NFC and UHF products, for item level packaging / label type applications. This is set to change.

While much lower cost printed solutions such as bar codes, QR codes, digital watermarks can also serve as interesting "gateway" devices in providing access to the Internet, the potential benefits offered with radio-electronic devices will continue to be more far reaching. In fact, the gap will open up even further while the cost differential will decline (although will not disappear entirely).

Multi-functionality is the Key – IoT Sensor Platforms
Having been directly involved in these industries for over a decade, consultancy Vandagraf International set out to make sense of this complex and shifting matrix of a marketplace. To quantify the market opportunities & challenges, we have dedicated the past few months to a program of intensive interviews, research and analysis to create an in-depth report.The primary focus of this new Vandagraf Report is how the Retail Internet of Things (IoT) is driving interactivity at various levels – and the valuable applications that are (or soon will be) available in relation to connected packaging / labels, including the following functionalities:
  • Consumer Engagement & Mobile Marketing
  • Track & Trace / Mass Serialisation
  • Retail Inventory Management (UHF)
  • Brand Protection & Brand Protection
  • Tamper Evidence
  • EAS - Anti-theft
  • Location Based Data / GPS
  • Product Quality – Sensors (Detecting changes that take place to or around the packaged product – e.g.: Time / temperature, moisture content, gas ingress / egress)
  • Other type of function (e.g.: Pharmaceuticals clinical trials, tax stamps)

The Tipping Point: Convergence of Major Technological Advancements
Recent technology developments have been resulting in a marked uplift in the industry’s prospects of radio / electronic "gateway" devices. Although the concept is not entirely new, cost effectiveness is now set to become a realistic prospect and a major "tipping point" in the overall viability of this concept is fast approaching, driven by:
  • The growth of the |Internet of Things (IoT) enabled item level packaging & labels that open direct gateways to the Internet is gathering momentum. And this is opening up a whole raft of interactive possibilities that are set to become readily available to brand owners and consumers
  • The reality & prospects of substantially lower unit cost ‘radio-electronic’ devices thanks to the imminent commercialisation of printed electronics is set to bring huge changes across the industry (some estimates see an 80% reduction in cost per device)
  • New generation dual frequency ‘combi’ inlays (NFC + UHF) which enable ‘radio-electronic’ devices to be read  at both short and long range, will dramatically increase the number of functionalities that can be achieved with a single on-label radio-electronic device
  • Such inlays will be smart phone readable as well as by dedicated mobile readers and static readers (e.g.: tunnel readers). This is fast becoming a commercial reality with several major device providers launching such 'combi' dual frequency devices. The viability of NFC enabled smart phones to read NFC tags is already well established today. And current development work will soon make viable UHF enabled smart phones.
Aim of the Report
This new report, titled "Connected Packaging & Labels and The Internet of Things (IoT)" sets out to:
  • Make sense of this multi-facetted complex and shifting matrix of a marketplace
  • Provide a roadmap for the industry
  • Quantify the market opportunities & challenges.
The report's co-authors are Brian Weeks, Phd, and James Bevan, MBA. An abstract of the report as well as the table of contents is available upon request at info@vandagraf.com


About the author: James Bevan (M. I. Mech. E, MBA) founded the consulting group Vandagraf International Ltd in 2002. Areas of special competence of the group include: brand protection / counterfeit and piracy deterrence, tamper evidence, anti-theft, supply chains / logistics / RFID, security printing technology, packaging / labels. James has more than 30 years experience based around the packaging and labelling branded products, of which some 20 years involved being actively engaged in international consulting projects.