Active and smart labels open up new opportunities
Functional label adds functionality to form, connecting packaging, users and the environment in different ways. Technological progress has brought a number of opportunities for developing smart labels.
A smart label can, for example, indicate whether the cold chain has been interrupted, i.e. whether the package has been exposed to high temperatures during the transportation and storage. This may lead to unusable products or shortened shelf life. Smart labels play a key role in food and medical product transportation and storage.
E-commerce has added to the prevalence of smart labels due to the fact that they simplify and improve the efficiency of logistics. One of the most commonly used type is the RFID label, which stores unique identifiers for each product. RFID labels use radio frequencies. These solutions contribute to traceability and material flow monitoring. RFID labels are typically used for tracking the exact location of products in the delivery chain.
Nanotechnology has also developed rapidly in the recent years. This has made possible to create various active materials that can be used as sensors and indicators. Nanocolours react to various signals and can act as indicators on labels by changing colour.
Active smart labels can be divided into the following categories.
- Printed electronics: Conductors, sensors, indicators, switches and batteries can be printed onto the labels. The labels are often equipped with chips for processing and metrics calculations. Printed electronics is used, for example, for temperature, humidity and duration monitoring. The benefit of the technology is that it is fairly easy to adapt to various application. The disadvantage is the energy requirement, which may in some cases be a restricting factor.
- Physical/mechanical: The labels feature physical or mechanical solutions for indicating and measuring various processes. The technique is used typically in security solutions for indicating whether a seal has been broken or how much time has passed since the seal was broken.
- Chemical: Labels based on chemical processes are often used for indicating whether transported goods have been subjected to chemicals. The label can, for example, indicate a possible disintegration of a food product or the presence of certain chemicals.
The new technologies are also raising the standards that manufacturers have to comply with. Many printing companies are struggling to keep up with manufacturing quality smart and active labels with the right functionalities and according to cleanliness, tolerances, quality and expertise-related requirements.