The Future of Packaging: Three Technologies to Watch

May 4, 2011

The Future of Packaging: Three Technologies to Watch

by Kristine Lickstein, Product Ventures Technologies and Commercialization Engineer

As a Packaging Technologist involved daily in the design and development of cutting edge packaging, it’s important for me to stay current on technologies that directly impact the packaging industry today. Yet in order to continually innovate within packaging and product design, it’s also essential to keep an eye on advancements in technology outside of packaging. Many of these new technologies may eventually impact the packaging industry but more importantly, they will influence consumer and product interaction. The following are three technologies to watch.

Inductive Power Transmission

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Fulton Innovation showcased their advancements in inductive power transmission and charging. The process of transferring electrical energy between objects has been in development for years. It is now just beginning to make headway in the consumer goods industry. The wireless power transmission that Fulton Innovation has developed, allows for electronics that could someday be integrated into packages to be inductively coupled to power sources located in shelving or other counter systems. A potential use of this technology on display was a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup that cooked itself through an inductively charged countertop.

The same charged surface has the potential to be integrated into kitchens across the country. This eliminates all the fuss and mess of cooking a meal, simply use the package for cooking.

More visually striking was the lit up, flashing box of Cheerios also on display. Charged through the same wireless inductive source, the possibilities for electric displays on packaging in retail environments are endless. Forget corrugated billboards, the next best end cap promo may include a streaming digital banner singing the brand’s latest jingle.

Next Best Biomaterial

There is no lack of news around sustainability and ways to lessen the harmful effects packaging can have on the environment. One development, which is unquestionably not just a ‘trend’, is the movement away from finite petrochemical-based plastics towards renewable bio-based materials.

Cereplast, Inc., a leader in alternative bio-plastics, is making huge progress in ensuring that their plastics can be manufactured by traditional molding techniques while providing comparable physical properties to petrochemical- based plastic. While Cereplast currently concentrates on producing resins from starch derived from food source products like corn, wheat and tapioca, they are also working to create plastic from more unusual products, like algae. Although the current production of algae based plastic is time intensive and expensive, the potential for it to increase sustainability within packaging should be recognized. With the possibility to replace 50% or more of petroleum content used in standard resins, algae exhibits significant promise in moving our dependency away from oil.

Nano Influenced Packaging

Although it sounds futuristic, nanotechnology may not be too far off in influencing packaging substrates and materials. By modifying these substrates on a microscopic level, companies can achieve physical properties that otherwise might be impossible. The ability to alter moisture, light and gas barriers, would allow food and beverage products to have considerably longer shelf lives as well as improved flavor, color and texture properties. A longer shelf life could mean less food waste going to landfills, but this is not the only benefit that nano materials offer.

Nano printed inks on paper and plastic substrates could also allow for full color electronic displays and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to be integrated directly onto the package. Ntera, a company specializing in nanochromatic inks, is working quickly to make these smart displays a reality. Ntera’s inks are also being developed to improve printed security and anti-counterfeiting features, as with microtext and hidden images, with the aim to not only dazzle consumers but protect them as well. 


Kristine Lickstein is the Packaging Technologies & Commercialization Engineer for Product Ventures.


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