Daylight at the End of the RFID Hype Cycle Tunnel? The Carrot, the Stick and the Future of Smart Reusables

When I talked recently with Kevin Payne, Senior Director of Marketing for Intelleflex, I wanted to know why, if smart reusables can add so much value, has industry been seemingly so slow with their uptake. (Translation: where are all the case study success stories I can post at PackagingRevolution.net?)

It has to do, Kevin explains, with the Hype Cycle, that roller coaster ride of enthusiasm, despair and then eventual pragmatism that enthusiasts of new technologies experience. (See the Hype Cycle chart below). For smart packaging, the drivers needed to accelerate wider adoption just weren’t in place. True to the Hype Cycle, there had been a lot of excitement around the potential for RFID tagged or smart packaging, and then the trough of disillusionment in ensuing years with the lack of apparent progress. Now, there are drivers coming into play that are stimulating interest in smart packaging, pushing it in the direction of mainstream adoption.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle. RFID has moved past the Peak of Heightened Expectations and the Trough of Disillusionment towards the Slope of Enlightenment and the Plateau of Productivity.

“I’m seeing much more interest in the last six to nine months,” Kevin emphasizes. “People are starting to see the aggregate advantage of intelligent packaging.” Pallet rental company iGPS is one company that is incorporating Intelleflex RFID tags with temperature monitoring capability. Temperature monitoring is extremely important to market segments such as restaurant and retail grocery trade. Intelleflex is focusing on products such as produce, meats, seafood, and poultry.

Not only does effective temperature tracking provide the promise of less product loss while providing safer food products and pharmaceuticals, but it helps address legislative requirements, namely the Food Safety Modernization Act and California’s impending ePedigree requirement for the pharmaceutical industry. With the clock ticking towards a 2015 effective date, many pharmaceutical suppliers seem to still be taking a “wait and see” stance, Kevin observed.

Citing a significant variation of temperature between pallets on a trailer load, Kevin believes that the need for temperature tracking at the pallet level is clear. When temperature is monitored at the trailer level, it is only typically accurate for about 75 percent of the load, with the other pallets showing variation. And more accurate monitoring is revealing other glaring cold chain deficiencies even before product leaves the grower. In one study, Intelleflex identified that 30 percent of product had negative temperature impact between the field and the pack shed.

Brand protection is another important consideration in looking at temperature monitoring at the container or pallet level. “Companies are realizing, in order to ensure delivered freshness and minimize food safety risks that can be linked to their brand, that they need to have both visibility of travel history as well as condition,” Kevin adds. In the age of viral social media, bad news can travel fast and be devastating to a brand.

Getting back to the Hype Cycle, and the positioning of RFID on it, Intelleflex is currently involved in several projects, and is bullish about the future. Kevin anticipates solid growth for smart reusables through 2013-2014 as smart packaging moves towards the “Plateau of Productivity.” Those case studies will be coming sooner than later, he says.

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