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Temperature-tracking with ThinFilm’s Smart Sensor Label

By Steve Katz, Editor | December 10, 2013

The printed electronics device is the start of a series of low-cost electronic label systems that will enable the ‘Internet of Everything’.

The temperature monitoring market is growing and is predicted to reach over $3.2 billion by 2020. With an annual 9% growth rate, the market is driven by the global need to reduce waste and improve consumer safety with regard to perishable goods. To serve this market, Norway-based Thin Film Electronics ASA (ThinFilm) has developed and successfully demonstrated its standalone Smart Sensor Label – a temperature-tracking label – designed for monitoring of perishable goods. The Smart Sensor Label is a complete closed system built from printed and organic electronics

There are several application possibilities for this new product. For example, Thinfilm’s Smart Sensor Label will help pharmaceutical companies keep temperature-sensitive products safe and effective, while preventing the unnecessary destruction of usable products. Retailers using temperature-monitoring labels during shipment of produce and other food products will have immediate insight with regards to both shelf life and food safety.

Davor Sutija, Thinfilm CEO, emphasizes temperature monitoring is just the beginning. “The integration of memory and logic creates an extensible platform, on which we will be able to create a wide variety of low-cost electronics in a label format. Printing provides scale and cost advantages that cannot be matched by any other electronic technology. With our customers, we are delivering the ubiquitous intelligence necessary to turn the Internet of Things into the Internet of Everything.”

The Internet of Things that Sutija refers to is considered a “megatrend” driven by embedded intelligence. The “Internet of Everything” takes this concept a little further to include every small object, even perishable ones, Sutija says. “It’s about creating a world filled with smart, interactive objects, each capable of providing actionable information about itself, its users, or its environment. According to Cisco, Internet of Everything is a 14.4 trillion dollar market today. The challenge is that the cost of electronics has limited its reach.”

Printed Electronics is the key to the label device's temperature-tracking.
The Internet of Everything is accelerating, and with cheap, disposable electronics, the applications are numerous. Sutija explains, “Temperature-sensing devices able to electronically record and communicate min/max temperatures at 1/10th the price of silicon alternatives; sensors that can record exposure to light, humidity, and even toxic gases; dynamic pricing displays that automatically discount a product after a certain period of time, or electronic pricing labels that are lightweight, flexible, and disposable; one-time-use medical devices such as a blood oxygen sensor for use in home care; and memory devices that allow authentication of a branded refill in consumer packaged goods.”

The Thinfilm Smart Label System is the first demonstration of a standalone, integrated printed electronics system powered solely by batteries. According to Christer Karlsson, Thinfilm CTO, “A key breakthrough for this demo was the low-voltage complementary logic we announced in June. Polyera and our other materials partners have played an essential role in helping us move products forward.”

With the system, organic logic detects that a critical temperature threshold has been exceeded and signals the display driver to turn on a segmented display.

Prior important technical milestones include:
  • Low-voltage display driver based on complementary organic logic (June 2013)
  • Memory write based on detection of temperature thresholds (December 2012)
  • Full addressing logic for multi-bit read-write of printed memory (October 2011)
Thinfilm has now demonstrated all components necessary to produce its first system products by the end of 2014, and is making progress on several partnerships with companies in a variety of sectors. Sutija says that production is the next hurdle for the Smart Sensor Label to overcome. “The components that build up the system need to be manufactured with production techniques that meet the cost targets,”  Sutija notes. “We are driving the development of these components and techniques together with our partners. Also, the integration and assembly needs to be done using high throughput manufacturing.”

Printed electronics offers numerous advantages for smart labels, particularly size, flexibility and cost, as the performance of the Smart Sensor Label provides numerous benefits for the brand owner and the end user. Not surprisingly, Thinfilm is involved in talks with numerous brand owners.

“We have announced relationships with the Bemis Company, Hasbro, a confidential global fast-moving consumer goods company, and a confidential partner in high value labeling and auto-id. We are very excited about the potential that partnering with companies of this scale could offer. Recently, we secured a commercial order for the brand protection solution from an international luxury goods company who will begin using our Brand Protection Solution with rewritable memory in Q1 2014 as part of its next major product release,” says Sutija, adding that the customer is a maker of high-end apparel and accessories and the Thinfilm solution will be used to provide both product authentication and assist in tracing grey market activity.

“In addition to making the labels small and flexible, which is important for packaged goods, printed electronics allows the labels to be mass produced, which pushes the price down,” Sutija adds. “This makes individual labeling, and therefore individual monitoring, possible for packaged goods and pharmaceuticals, where we often deal with extremely high quantities of disposable objects.

“We are building an ecosystem of partners in different markets and would welcome collaborations with label converters who want to bring new offerings to their customers,” Sutija concludes.

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