The gradual commercialization of Near Field Communication products show how companies like Thin Film Electronics (Thinfilm) are pushing the integration of electronic intelligence into everyday products such as packaging labels.

Matt Bright, director of technical marketing at Thinfilm, says he believes the flexible packaging industry is the next wave emerging on the horizon of NFC-enabled technology. “I think this has to be a very exciting technology for the flexible packaging industry in general, because it’s an opportunity for the industry to realize that they have the capability to participate in the Internet of Things,” says Bright. “And that’s probably a position that flexible packaging companies have not been in previously – where they have a big role to play in the next generation of the network world.”

The ‘Internet of Things’ involves the integration of electronic intelligence into everyday items, enabling them to become interactive in a way that improves the consumer experience, as well as the ability of brands and retailers to interact directly with consumers. That’s where Thinfilm’s NFC products come into play. 
NFC smart labels are designed with the ability to monitor and report temperatures in real time, and can therefore be used for temperature-sensitive shipments of products like vaccines or perishables. 

“By having access to an NFC barcode or an NFC smart label that’s integrated into the product packaging, not only do flexible packaging manufacturers enable business-to-business-use cases – like tracking and logistics, freshness monitoring for vaccines and other pharmaceuticals, and perishables – but they also enable business-to-consumer-use cases,” adds Bright. 

NFC barcodes and smart labels are built onto flexible substrates, which are then integrated into a flexible, pressure-sensitive adhesive label. This label can then be applied to flexible packages as they move along the production process. Whether it is actually applied to the rollstock or the actual package is left to the discretion of the manufacturer; it simply depends on the package type and how it’s manufactured.

Bright explains how the flexible packaging industry has the opportunity to become a part of the next phase of NFC technology.

“There are examples of NFCs being deployed into applications such as retail point-of-sale displays, but NFC moving into the individual package level is something that’s the next wave (and) that’s essentially  emerging on the horizon,” says Bright. “So that’s where the industry is in the process of shifting from the mode where NFC tags were used maybe one per shelf display, for example, within a retail environment, and a consumer could touch their NFC phone and get access to interactive content at the shelf level, in-store. But having access to actually bring that NFC tag home with them as part of the package, that’s what is the next wave that’s coming just over the horizon. And that’s where the flexible packaging industry really has the opportunity to participate.”  

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