In the fall of 2013 Supply Chain Matters called reader attention to new technology advances in smart labeling technology that could be applied to item-level tracking and monitoring. Specifically we highlighted the announcement by Norway based Thin Film Electronics ASA that this Thin Film Electronics Printed Memory labeltechnology developer had successfully demonstrated a fully functional, stand-alone, integrated printed electronic temperature tracking Smart Sensor Label. This proof-of-concept smart label was described as being built from printed and organic electronics with low power demands with potential applications to item-level tracking where certain broader state or product condition information would be required.

In April of last year, we updated Supply Chain Matters readers with the news from Thin Film that it had entered into alliances with two strategic partners. One was with Temptime Corporation, a significant provider of cold-chain related, time-temperature indicators to the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. focused supply chains. That partnership was directed at both companies collaborating to develop the health care industry’s first temperature indicators featuring that would alert people through digital display if medical products have been exposed to potentially damaging temperatures. Another partnership alliance was with PakSense, Inc. a developer of intelligent sensing products specifically designed to monitor perishable goods. PakSense provides numerous major food retailers and suppliers with solutions to help monitor the condition of perishable goods. Terms of that agreement authorized PakSense to distribute Thinfilm Smart Labels™ to food suppliers and retailers of produce, meat and seafood in North and South America.

In December of 2014, Thinfilm announced a strategic partnership with CymMetrik, described as the largest professional packaging and label converter in Greater China. Through that agreement, CymMetrik was empowered to promote and extend sales of Thinfilm products, including Thinfilm Memory, throughout China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and ASEAN – collectively, Greater China and ASEAN.

Last week, Thinfilm announced yet another strategic milestone directed at more wide-scale deployment of its proprietary smart labeling technology that being a strategic partnership with global business services and digital printing provider Xerox. This agreement calls for Xerox to license Thinfilm’s technology for the manufacturing of printed, rewritable smart labels in volume. According to the announcement, Xerox will modify an existing production line in Webster New York to produce the memory labels.

This author took the opportunity of the latest announcement concerning Xerox to check-in with Thinfilm executives. We learned that the Xerox agreement involves proprietary memory label technology developed in 2013 that supports the ability of labels to include information about the products that are affixed to, through re-writable memory technology embedded within the label itself.  Applications for such information include brand protection of a replacement part, namely whether the replacement part was produced by the original equipment manufacturer.  Consider replacement parts installations where the label communicates information about where and when it was produced or how many interim information states it has encountered. This opens the door for smarter consumables. Other application of smart memory labels can relate to the object itself, for instance how many times it was been moved, how-long the product has been utilized, electronic-based handshakes and other applications. Once more the label can be addressed by a business application and the memory requirements can be re-written along the value-chain process.

Of greater significance is that the Xerox agreement allows label production volumes that are described as extremely high, thus implying that high volume production of smarter item-label labeling is now within reach.

The leveraging of Internet-of-Things (IoT) technologies has the potential bring industry supply chains closer to abilities for real-time integration of physical items and digital aspects of information.  Smarter labels will play a fundamental enabling role in such capabilities.  Readers can anticipate further announcements of emerging technologies related to IoT in the coming months.

The good news is the above evidence that advanced technology is getting closer to providing the means and the economics for both product-focused and services-focused supply chains to be able to leverage this technology.

Bob Ferrari

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