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Augmented reality in printed packaging

24 May, 2021 - 10:59 -- tbrunner

A few years ago there was a bit of a buzz around intelligent packaging. The excitement was based on the fact that with the addition of printed electronics and an online connection, packaging and food processing would be revolutionised. Smart packaging would use near-field communications to be more efficient and more engaging. The package would warn you if the food was going off, or it would tell the retailer the rate of sales, or the most popular time of day for sales. There was even an argument that claimed such packaging was more environmentally friendly, because it could cut food waste. In fact it might discourage shoppers to know that according to an electronic sensor a piece of beef was on the turn, rather than being well hung.

The recycling of such packaging is obviously a murky topic, which is perhaps why relatively little has been heard about smart packaging applications of late. That is until now. A company called CCL, based in Germany has rethought the matter and claims that Connected Packaging is “amongst [the] top packaging trends in 2021”. So now you know. The claim is based on a development by one of CCL’s partners of a technology to connect brands to customers via packaging. The partner, Arylin, has come up with a new technology, otherwise known as augmented reality. Arilyn links customers to whatever messages a brand owner wants them to hear or experiences to have via their browser without needing an app. This means your phone can deliver to you additional information and brand experiences, without you needing to download an app.

It’s great that companies keep on coming up with amazing implementations of digital technology. It’s gratifying to have been part of some incredible digital advances, in prepress especially but in publishing too. However memories of the many innovations that drowned in the wake of the prepress revolution are a reminder that there’s always a risk of technological overreach. The temptation to believe that an application can upturn an industry as desktop publishing did is hard to resist. But when it comes to augmented reality applications in the printing industry, it is hard to be convinced, despite a natural enthusiasm for technology.

Augmented reality in packaging might indeed be the next big thing, a major trend for 2021. But there is just so much competition for peoples’ attention and the idea of a virtual tour around a factory to see how cheese is made, is hardly enticing. For it to work, brand owners must be able justify the level of investment required to develop compelling and original content that captures and keeps their customers’ attention. Until the economics justify it, intelligence and augmented reality in packaging, with or without an app, is fanciful. For most brand owners it’s a step too far from ordinary reality, but for innovators perhaps that’s the point.

– Laurel Brunner

This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, Fujifilm, HP, Kodak, Miraclon, Ricoh, Spindrift, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.

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