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Discovering Japan: day two at Tokyo Pack

With Sunday’s Typhoon Jelawat in the rear view mirror, Tokyo Pack 2012 opened October 2 to ribbon cutting and fanfare.
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Held simultaneously with Tokyo Pack within the East Hall 6 of the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition arena was the Intelligent Packaging Congress, sponsored by the newly formed Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (IAPIA). Sharing knowhow, promulgating standards, and building a more coordinated group effort behind the commercialization of active and intelligent packaging technologies—these are the goals of the AIPIA, said E.E. de Ferrante, the group’s managing director. “You can’t just make a smart tag and expect your work is done,” said Ferrante in his opening remarks. “The whole supply chain is needed. Also, there must be software support, and legislative issues must be dealt with. But think about it. With a proper implementation of active and intelligent packaging, you can know in real time which consumer bought which product where and when. This technology can not only increase efficiency, it can also increase sales, reduce waste, and advance security.”

Among the speakers at the event was Jason Tham, CEO of Nulogy Corp. He thinks active and intelligent packaging technologies of various kinds are poised to bring about a major shift in the consumer packaged goods arena. “It takes three things,” said Tham,  “to bring about a shift of this magnitude: people, technology, and economics. All three are in place where active and intelligent packaging are concerned. People and their needs are driving this development, the technologies are there to make it happen, and the economics are either right or are getting there fast.”

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Printed electronics will be among the tools that will shine brightly as this shift unfolds, said Torgrin Takle, CFO and chief strategist at Thin Film Electronics. “The technology is 100 times cheaper than conventional electronics,” Takle told attendees at the congress. His company is driving toward the commercial production of tags that can be applied to packages as stickers.    The tags can be read and written to. He expects the cost of such tags to go from the neighborhood of 30 cents each to 10 cents each in fairly short order. His firm’s recently announced agreement with Bemis, one of the largest converters of packaging materials in the world, will spur the development of active and intelligent packaging. “Bemis is using our technology for a sensor platform,” said Takle. “Think credit-card-sized stickers that can do temperature or humidity sensing.”

One active packaging technology that had congress attendees greatly intrigued comes from Kyodo Printing Co. Ltd. This firm has developed MoistCatch, a flexible film that absorbs moisture, and OxyCatch, a flexible film that absorbs oxygen. Commercial applications are said to be about six months away. Both materials are aimed at letting packaged goods companies get away from the need to add oxygen- or moisture-absorbing sachets into their packages. Pharmaceutical applications appear to be an obvious target for Kyodo. How the absorbent capabilities are delivered was not made terribly clear. But since Kyodo is a maker of printing equipment, congress attendees wondered if some printing process is used to “print” the absorbent materials onto a substrate.

Also on the program was Sony’s Koichi Tagawa, who chairs the NFC (Near Field Communication) Forum. That group has been working diligently to bring standardization and global interoperability to NFC so that it can realize its full potential. For those not familiar with NFC, here’s the gist of it: It’s a means of connecting the virtual world of the Internet with the physical world we live in. Some think it’s the technology that makes the so-called Internet of things a ubiquitous reality. Tagawa believes NFC is about to change the world. “It will soon be woven into the fabric of people’s lives,” said Tagawa.  Like other speakers at the conference, Tagawa suggested that NFC will in some cases be a better solution than QR codes.
Echoing that opinion was Jani-Mikael Kuusisto, chief business development officer of Ynvisible. “QR codes are not as popular in Japan anymore,” he observed. “Consumers were not getting enough out of them.” The great strength of active and intelligent packaging technologies, said Kuusisto, is that they bring interactivity to packaging. He put it this way: “Packaging is where brand marketing began. But the rules of engagement are changing. Color and form are not enough. Brands need more.” Interactive packaging made possible by intelligent packaging technology is the “more” that brand owners are seeking, said Kuusisto. It’s a way of differentiating products from the sea of sameness.

Away from the Intelligent Packaging Congress, these factoids surfaced in conversations with exhibitors and attendees at Tokyo Pack:
• Japanese industry has failed to shift increases in raw material costs to users. So profitability has lagged. Keys to profitability in the future include a tighter focus on the consumer, continued management of sustainable packaging, adherence to the principles of Universal Design, and a more sophisticated approach to supply chain management that has to be driven by better data capture
• Brand owners in Japan rely heavily on the converter for package innovation and development, and those converters have sizeable R&D divisions to carry the load.
• With Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities now in most new phones, a whole new era of supply chain management is dawning, one in which data can be downloaded wirelessly without any need to buy a device to do the scanning. In the track and trace arena, expect to see much lower costs on data loggers.

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