Plastics packaging powerhouse Bemis Company Inc. and Thinfilm Electronics have partnered to create a flexible sensing platform for the packaging market. This new category of packaging will collect and wirelessly communicate sensor information, for use by food, consumer product and healthcare companies.
Thinfilm CEO Davor Sutija told PlasticsToday that the initial introduction between Bemis and Oslo-based Thinfilm happened at the LOPE-C conference in 2011. After this, the companies began exploring how their roadmaps could intersect, and discovered interesting strategic overlap, both short and long term.
Thinfilm has previously announced technology partnerships to develop what the company calls "an inexpensive, integrated time-temperature" sensor for use in monitoring perishable goods and pharmaceuticals. Under the agreement with Bemis, Thinfilm will extend this work to create a customizable sensor platform that Bemis will subsequently tailor to its customers' individual requirements.
Bemis' packaging is used for a wide range of products from meat and cheese to medical devices and personal care items. Its customers include food and consumer products companies around the world.
"Intelligent packaging is an emerging technology with many potential intersections with Bemis' flexible packaging and pressure sensitive materials business segments," said Henry Theisen, Bemis president and CEO. "Our agreement with Thinfilm represents an investment in a technology that could eventually make printed electronics a component of every package we manufacture."
The flexible packaging market for North America alone is estimated by PCI Films Consulting Ltd. to be $18.3 billion.
Sutija said these low cost sensor tags bring several benefits to brand owners, manufacturers and consumers. The sensor tags are able to monitor and store physical and environmental data of the products, and wirelessly communicate this information.
"This enables more informed decisions in every step of the lifecycle, from manufacturing to the point when the product is consumed," Sutija said. "A 'use by' or 'best before' date is a general guideline, but what if there are troubles in cold chain management? Intelligent packaging helps make better informed decisions."
The sensor tag will measure the output of the component sensor on a regular basis and store a summary of that information in the printed Thinfilm rewritable memory. When a reader is placed in proximity to the tag, the tag will read out the values stored in the memory highlighting, for example, whether a threshold has been exceeded.
"Bemis has stated the Thinfilm technology could eventually be a component of every package they manufacture," Sutija said. "The majority of Bemis packages are used by the food industry, which means the Internet of Things, objects that talk to you, is soon part of your every day life."
The Bemis intelligent packaging platform is expected to be commercially available in 2014.
The first to commercialize printed rewritable memory, Thinfilm is creating printed system products that will include memory, sensing, display and wireless communication. Thinfilm is working together with PARC, a Xerox company, on developing a printed temperature sensor.