Smart packages – with built-in freshness watchdogs

Critics now argue that the extra chemicals in active packaging impair the product’s “naturalness”. “Only harmless odour- and flavour-neutral substances are employed for food protection,” Sängerlaub counters. Furthermore, antimicrobial substances like sorbic acid are capable of rendering preservatives in the product superfluous. “This in fact promotes a healthy life-style.” The scientist sees a bigger problem in the high cost of launching new packaging solutions on the market. Industry would have to modernise its packaging lines and exhaustively test its new packages. “This hampers the step from the laboratory to mass production,” says Sängerlaub.

Packaging specialists and their suppliers are nevertheless speculating on powerful growth in industry demand for “smart packs” – and are investing in the extension of their product portfolios. “Although new products and campaigns call for high investment, growing consumer demand for goods with added value promise companies economic benefits in the long term,” says OE-A Chairman Mildner.

The Hamburg plastics specialist Albis Plastic, for instance, is offering packaging material producers what it claims to be a “highly efficient” iron-based oxygen absorber by the name of “Shelfplus O2” that is added to the natural polymer in quantities suitable for the food and type of package. The Austrian can manufacturer Pirlo, on the other hand, conceals a silica gel pad in a perforated plastic insert in the lid of its new steel “DryCan” for coffee and tea. “By regulating humidity, this new packaging element prevents the formation of lumps in powdered products,” explains Pirlo Managing Director Julius Lüthi.

Innovation in smart packages is also proceeding apace. The German Bosch Group's “Smart Wallet” is a secondary package for capsule or tablet type medicines that can be additionally equipped with a microchip. The Bosch wallet gains its name not only from the possibility of integrating intelligence, but also because production is said to be particularly easy and inexpensive.

“The plant for producing Smart Wallets has a smaller footprint and requires less capital expenditure than conventional wallet packaging machines,” explains Bosch Product Manager Helmut Deichert. The key to the efficiency of the Smart Wallet can be found in its pre-glued outer which is placed upright on a conventional cartoning machine and filled with a transparent blisterpack for tablets. Depending on the machine type, up to 300 wallets can be produced per minute, according to Deichert.

Producing complex packages swiftly – this is something that machines from Körber in Germany, IMA in Italy and Pago in Switzerland are also capable of. The latter manufactures RFID-compatible labelling machines that attach microchips to the products not flat but as projecting flags. This way, there is no interference of the radio signal where liquids and metal packages are involved. The companies’ innovations demonstrate that smart and active packages have long ceased to be just a bold vision. At interpack in Düsseldorf from 12 to 18 May, packaging specialists and product manufacturers can gain their own impressions live.