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Reimagining Smart Cities with the Arrival of Smart Connected Consumer Products

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We are fast moving towards a future where cities will feature hundreds and thousands of smart connected objects, talking to each other, exchanging and producing meaningful data and insights, basically reshaping the urban landscape into intelligent and autonomous systems. Internet of Things will be at the heart of this technological transformation, as sensors and digital tags will find their way into various physical city infrastructure, monitoring traffic, weather, crime and even rat infestations! However, it’s not just hardware IoT and sensors that will provide city planners and authorities to gain more visibility into the working and management of a city. Smart connected products or ordinary consumer products tagged with digital ID’s and digital twins can open up new dimensions in how we imagine Smart Cities to function.

For the sake of painting a picture of the role of connected products within Smart Cities, let’s consider a pharmaceutical company supplying critical drugs to a city. Enabling every drug product at batch and serial item level to have a digital twin of its physical self will allow for exchange of product related data to happen between manufacturer, the supply chain, the city authorities, end consumers and the products themselves. Read on to see how the pharmaceutical industry could look like in the not so distant future.

Smart Logistics & Traceability: Digitally tagged consumer products such as medical products will paint a clearer picture of each item’s journey from the manufacturing facility to the hands of a customer, resulting in intelligent movement of products characterized by autonomy. Each time a product moves, whether it’s from the factory to a truck, or from the truck to a warehouse, its location and movement will be logged against its digital twin in real time with the help of a scanner, RFID reader, smartphone or other connected devices.

So, when situations arise where brands or smart city authorities become aware of substandard or defective products in circulation, the process of factoring on the production source for them and a faster and leaner product recall will become easier by tracing back to the relevant point in the product’s journey.

Smarter Production & Distribution Channels: Smart connected products will help in procuring the right amount in the right place at the right time. Complete visibility at all events of the supply chain will allow brands to better predict demand in respective locations in a city. Better predictive ability will help them to create seamless intelligent systems capable of efficiently managing production and distribution channels, ultimately leading to reduction of wastage by preventing accumulation of unused medicines.

In fact, brands will be able to predict demand on a much larger scale than before. They will anticipate when a particular medicine is supposed to run out at the city-level and trigger production cycles for the particular product.

Smarter response to Public Health Crises: With IoT powered smart connected products, the engagement and the monitoring does not stop at the customer level. Even after the product leaves the shelf, customers can input valuable data through the digital twins which can be mined into to tailor smarter responses to public health emergency situations.

For example, city authorities will be aware of exactly how many medical products are in inventories across the city by keeping track of their movement across every touchpoint in the supply chain. In situations where a contagious disease breaks out, public health officials will be instantly alerted by hospitals that are also hooked onto the network. By keeping track of the quantity and location of stocks of medicines dispersed across city, public health officials will always be prepared to tackle such high priority situations as they can more efficiently assess and redirect required medicines to appropriate locations.

Even smarter, cities of the future could be prepared for seasonal illnesses by predicting their onset based on algorithms derived from a mix of data from weather forecasts, hospital reports and product supply chains.

Smarter Citizens: Digital twins will give rise to smarter citizens, who will be capable of using smartphones to digitally interact with the packaging in order to obtain accurate information pertaining to authenticity, ingredients, color-coded expiry dates, instructions for use (IFU) etc. Not only will digital twins of medical products enforce transparency, but they will help in improving health literacy by weeding out counterfeits and providing easy-to-read and user-friendly formats to dispense IFUs.

Medical products empowered by IoT will also lay the foundations for a multiway communication channel between consumers, manufacturers, and city authorities, especially aiding researchers to collect and analyze feedbacks for clinical trials and development of new cures.

Smarter ways to tackle Counterfeits: Falsified medical products take the top spot in the fraudulent products market, being worth US$163 billion to $217 billion per year. Falsified, substandard and unlicensed medicines and medical devices pose a serious threat to public health. Counterfeit medicines are on the rise and no place remains untouched by them.

However, medical products with digital twins can have vast implications in fighting the war against falsified medical products. The sophisticated digital tags on these products can act as a unique identifier, at the same time providing a user-friendly way to verify their authenticity. Both retailers and consumers just need to authenticate the product using the digital tag which will allow it to confirm the product’s genuineness by running it against an online database.

Going one step further by taking advantage of a highly connected ecosystem, fraudulent products can instantly be reported by consumers directly to manufacturers and city authorities. City authorities can thus keep track of regions in the city reporting counterfeits and crack down on the sources for such illegal operations.

The goal of smart cities is to create intelligent urban spaces and infrastructures to improve the lives of their citizens. But the first step towards this goal is to set up digital twins for products to bring them onto the Internet of Things platform. For these automated and intelligent systems would be impossible without various products generating and transmitting data about themselves. At this point, we have barely scratched the surface with IoT’s potential to create smarter cities, and smart connected products will lead the way in laying the foundation for the cities of the future.

posted Nov 26 by Aarti Sharma

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Approximately 1.3 billion tonnes or one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets wasted every year, amounting to a loss of roughly $680 billion in industrialized countries. More than 40% of this waste and loss occurs at the retail and consumer level.

There are a multitude of ways to tackle this problem.  On analyzing where food wastage occurs at the retail level, one of the factors that comes up is overstocking. Overstocking generally occurs as a result of inaccurate demand forecasting resulting in the accumulation of unused stocks. Under the aegis of the Industry 4.0 movement, we are seeing a revolution in big data and analytics as more and more brands and manufacturers are employing IoT powered demand sensing technology to better anticipate demand and streamline production and supply chains. But what if we take this one step further?

The industry 4.0 espouses a connected and automated ecosystem which was first undertaken in the manufacturing sector. Going by the term Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it involves incorporating sensors and AI into the physical assets on the manufacturing floor, collecting, storing and transmitting a wide range of data. Level sensors are being used for management of liquid asset inventories, the working condition of a machine being monitored with sensors analyzing its temperature and vibrations as well as sensors instantly tracking and alerting to a breakdown or malfunction. Sensor technology has reshaped industrial manufacturing by creating seamless and automated intelligent systems.

However, applications of IoT and sensor technology need not be bound to the confines of the manufacturing sector. For the Retail sector and CPG industry, IoT suggests possibilities beyond just an enriched shopping experience at a brick and mortar store. IoT powered technology possesses enormous potential to solve inventory management issues, especially overstocking and waste reduction.  

Currently, a lot of brands are using predictive analytics on the basis of demand sensing which involves collecting and combining data from multiple sources in real time throughout the supply chain to better assess the demand for certain products. Smart shelves equipped with sensors to detect the addition and removal of items placed on them are also gaining momentum with retailers to monitor and update their inventory in real time. These smart shelves are also capable of recognizing cases of low stock and alerting management, thus freeing up store employees to engage with customers. But what if the data collection does not stop at the shelf? What if brands could have access to real time data on the consumption habits of its consumers?

A crossover of level sensors from industrial plants to food packaging could provide a  solution for this purpose where smart food packaging can play a major role in providing the interface to gather more information of such nature. A liquid level sensor implanted into the packaging of a juice bottle could detect when the bottle is empty and store that information against a digital twin or instance of the bottle stored online. The particular brand can access all this information in real time through the digital twin. Data of this nature opens up new perspectives into understanding consumer behavior and consumption patterns. It can then be used to more accurately predict demand and pinpoint locations where this demand will occur. Having a clearer picture of when a particular product will be in demand, manufacturers will be able to better plan production cycles as well as manage distribution channels. Stores will be able to have the right product, in the right amount, at the right time, avoiding overstocking and thereby reducing wastage due to spoilage.

However, the main barrier to adopting connected products on such a large magnitude is the lack of cheap and small sensors in the market. For an operation of this nature to be successful, we would require sensors that could be embedded into packaging without altering or affecting the properties and appearance of the product in any manner. These sensors would also need to be very affordable to be mass produced for millions of everyday consumer products.

Nonetheless, current research in sensor development looks promising. Rvmagnetics has already come up with what they claim to be the world’s smallest sensor. Based on microwire technology and magnetic fields, the thin as hair sensor is capable of sending accurate and real time data regarding physical quantities like temperature, pressure, torsion, position etc. Even though these sensors have been developed for the industrial sector, it is an encouraging start towards the idea of adapting IIoT sensor technology for the retail atmosphere.

Technology bolstered by the IoT platform can not only improve business practices, but positively impact the lives of everyday people, reduction of food wastage being a part of it. Within the broader context of the Industry 4.0, sensor driven technology is just part of the journey towards the digital transformation of the physical world, but a part that holds limitless potential and scope for waste reduction and streamlining demand-supply chains in the retail sector. But it is the manufacturing sector where the ideals of the industry 4.0 have flourished the most. Retailers could take a leaf out of their book and bring sensors used in factories into the brick and mortar stores for smarter inventory management solutions. For this to become a reality, we need to see a bigger shift in existing beliefs and ideology in order to prioritize research into industrial level sensors that can be applied to the packaging on food products sitting on the shelves in retail stores.

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Growing at a CAGR of 5.7%, the global clinical trials industry is set to be worth $65.2 billion by 2025 as per Grand View Research, Inc. Under the constant stress of a myriad of challenges like complex research designs, stringent and ever-changing regulations, greater demands for consumer transparency, packaging and printing as well as R&D in a highly competitive environment to test and launch authentic and effective drugs, Life science companies need to look for solutions to refine clinical trials management. With millions of people connected through their smartphones to the internet and consuming digital information in vast quantities, they may already have a readily available platform to capitalize on.

Technology could serve as the answer to rein in the rising costs incurred due to the various challenges as well as trim and polish up the supply chain. Digital labels enabled drugs with smart packaging is one upcoming technology which could help improve efficiencies with clinical trials management.

Enabling Clinical Trials Drugs as Smart Products

Smartening up drug products involves enabling them to be connected to the internet through Data matrix codes and an assigned IoT / internet ID and creating a digital twin for each product which can be used to send or receive information about the drug to patients or healthcare professionals. Accessible through any internet-enabled device, these codes on scanning trigger a digital interaction which takes the patient or participant to a product specific page often referred to as a digital label or electronic label. With a digital identity in place, a vast number of digital interactions are made possible.

So what kind of digital interactions are we talking about and how will they help streamline clinical trials management?

Improved Health Literacy and safer consumption practices

The sea of tiny text containing complex instructions and medical jargon on drug packaging can be baffling for many to comprehend. Lack of proficiency in one language could also prevent many from accessing correct medical information, leading to miscommunication and life-threatening risks. Clear and concise information is the key to improved health literacy and making better health decisions, and digitizing label content could provide a massive boost in this direction.

Designing attractive and easy to understand formats to convey relevant information, like expiry dates and dosage instructions using colour codes without worrying about lack of physical space on packaging, becomes a possibility through digital labels. Digital labeling provides a faster and smarter alternative to leafing through pages and pages of a booklet. Simple animations can also be incorporated to deliver relevant instructions, eliminating the language barrier factor.

Richer and more meaningful research data

Smart packaging enabled drug products can help researchers maintain and keep track of research variables in a more meaningful manner. These products can form a two-way channel between participants and researchers, allowing more rapid and easier collection and transfer of responses and modification of variables if needed.

Digital Consent forms

Smart drug products can facilitate the collection of consent forms digitally, making it a smoother and simpler process for participants in clinical trials. Participants will have the opportunity to go through all information, which would be available digitally through the product’s smart packaging, before providing their consent electronically against that specific dose with the help of a smartphone.

Manage changes in regulations and study protocols

Life science companies are required to navigate through and comply with strict and intricate regulations which are constantly liable to changes. They also need to deal with changes in study protocols like expiry dates and IFUs or the addition of another country for testing during clinical trials on a regular basis.

Giving an IoT based digital identity to their products empowers them to easily make updates and changes to desired products on batch and serial levels, reducing the need for reprinting and repackaging.

Smart packaging is Green!

Not only will digital labeling facilitate the distribution of large quantities of information in easy-to-read formats, they will also drastically reduce the volume of materials that go into producing packaging. By being able to electronically and remotely update label content, companies will also be able to cut down on waste as well as huge costs otherwise incurred due to repackaging and reprinting.

Customer engagement

Smart drug products can forge the bridge that brings Life science companies closer to their customers. By digitizing and simplifying label content for easier consumption by lay people, they are demonstrating their desire to empower patients to make better and informed choices regarding their health. Better informed customers are more likely to support research, resulting in better recruitment and retention of participants for clinical trials.

Life science companies need to turn to technology in order to tackle the various challenges faced by the clinical trials industry. Smart packaging and IoT enabled Smart Products can facilitate the way into the future of clinical trials by transforming it into a more efficient system with reduced human-errors while establishing an enriched and more meaningful relationship between industry and patients.

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There has been visible development with regards to sustainable trends across the CPG retail industry. While individuals are becoming mindful of their lifestyles and their environmental footprints, brands are starting to take end-to-end accountability of their production habits.

The concept of zero-waste circular economy is also gaining momentum, where the focus is on refining the entire supply-chain for products. This is especially true for the CPG industry. Plastic from packaged goods, that end up in the oceans and seas, is rising at an alarming rate. As per UNEP, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic leaks into the ocean each year – equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute.

Awareness about these practices has been building for quite some time now, along with the efforts of international organizations to bring to the forefront many adversaries caused due to single-use plastic.  UN’s Clean Seas campaign and National Geographic’s multi-year campaign “Planet or Plastic” have seen worldwide participation so far including efforts from celebrities and zero waste community influencers.  

Although there has been considerable talk and awareness, we are increasingly witnessing some actionable developments in the CPG industry. With advocates, stakeholders and policymakers focusing on banning plastic alternates need to be innovated. Many organizations have tapped into this gap. Brands are innovating interesting ways to market products and their subsequent information to consumers.

Let’s take a look at the evolving face of the CPG industry.

Ditching Plastic, One Packageless Product at a Time

The Zero-Waste Shampoo Bar

Zero Waste Shampoo Bars by Lush Cosmetics (Image Source)

With an aim to serve consumers as well as the planet, Lush cosmetics has innovated package fewer shampoo bars. According to ATTN, these shampoo bars could replace the 552 million shampoo bottles we throw out annually. Each bar is the equivalent of three medium-sized shampoo bottles and serves over 80 washes.

While Lush already has an established brand presence as it caters to both online as well as brick and mortar stores, it is relatively easier for them to connect with their customers and target groups. Information about these packageless shampoo bars available on their website as well as other social media channels including Facebook.

Packageless Water – The Edible Blob

‘Ooho’ Edible Water by Skipping Rocks Labs (Image Source)

The packageless water edible blob is another great example of the growing industry of packageless products. With a goal to create a waste-free alternative to plastic bottles and cups, London based startup Skipping Rocks Labs developed the edible water bottle, Ooho which is 100% degradable and zero-waste.

There has been an interesting shift where more and more brands are ditching the plastic. But this also comes with challenges. The biggest one being, “How do you inform customers about the packageless products they are purchasing”? What about communicating our brand? What about packaging label information?

These are some of the key concerns worrying brands and manufacturers right now but all shifts need out of the box thinking and the concept of packageless and zero waste products is no different. If you can’t put your brand on the actual physical products and can’t use a printed paper-based label to communicate product content to the end consumer, the answer may lie in communicating your brand and product content digitally alongside the packageless product at the point of consideration.

Picture a consumer walking up to a shelf stacked with shampoo bars or edible water blobs at a modern-day high-tech supermarket. They pick up the product and motion sensors detect what they have picked up and pop-ups the brand along with detailed product information on a display screen in front of them before they make their purchase decision and put it in their shopping cart. Alternatively, they pull out their smartphone and scan a QR code on the shelf or tap their NFC enabled smartphones to a shelf NFC tag and consume all that the brand communicates through a digital interaction delivered to their phones.  

Everything that goes on the product’s packaging, including certifications, ingredient information, warnings, manufacturing and expiry details, etc. needs to be effectively communicated as do the manufacturer’s identity and branding. The most important task to enabling these user experiences for packageless products is, first by creating “digital twins” for these packageless products which are accessible over the internet and secondly, by extending their product related information to consumers through these digital identities.

Once that’s done, using their smartphones, customers can activate the information using triggers and devices placed in the aisles inside stores where these products are displayed, which contain the serial number or SKU details of that particular product.  For packageless products, manufacturers can deploy aisle based digital labels and QR codes. This can be made even more interesting with interactive screens to engage customers further inside stores. Once consumers scan these digital labels, it will pull up all the relevant information about the product that’s in front of them without the need for paper labels or plastic packaging.

With brands following a zero-footprint approach, even for packaging and labelling, virtual product information and activating connect smart products becomes imperative for the packageless goods industry.

The movement towards zero-waste packageless products is going to require consumers, manufacturers, brands and the packaging & labelling industry to think creatively out of the box and work together to make the shift towards the future of CPG.

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Think back to the last product you consumed!

Maybe it was a pack of orange juice or a loaf of bread. What did you do when it reached its shelf life? You probably read some of the information it was able to hold and then tossed it into the bin.

Traditional packaging for products have had a limited role until this point but with the emergence of IoT, there’s an opportunity for products and packaging to play a larger role and do more.

Smart Packaging or Smart Products which are assigned internet ID’s can play a much bigger role in how consumers engage with their everyday products and how brands make this happen. Once digitally activated, these smart products then start communicating with the consumers.

Here are some of the features that can be activated on Smart Products or Smart Packaging :

1. Authentication: A winning characteristic of smart packaging starts with authenticating the product. Prior to purchasing, consumers need to make sure the product is genuine.

A lot of apparel brands, like, MK, Channel, Louis Vuitton and Levi’s are already capitalizing on this opportunity to fight counterfeiting. Other companies are enabling these brands to do so by integrating their microchips in apparels. Hovering a smartphone in front of microchips-embedded clothes can verify their authenticity.  The same can be done via QR codes and scannable data matrix.

2. Open Sensors: This is an important packaging characteristic to identify whether a product has previously been tampered with. Like, using ‘connected’ NFC bottles featuring Thinfilm, Johnnie Walker established their originality and usability readiness. Via NFC connected sensors, consumers can scan the labels with their phones, which instantly signals if the product is ‘open’ or ‘closed’. A great example of deepening customer’s product experience while ensuring the originality of the product’s seal.

(Image Source: ThinFilm)

3. Track and Trace: Since Smart Products maintain a digital record of themselves on the internet, each product SKU or serial level item can also maintain a log of the different locations and entities it has changed hands at as well as a log of activities carried out on the journey to the end consumer. These track and trace logs can be activated off of the packaging by anyone who wants to trace back that journey through the lifecycle of the product.

4. Temperature Sensors: Easily perishable products, especially certain CPGs, require being stored at specific temperatures. Specially developed NFC stickers with temperature sensors are now available for packaging. Consumers can tap the product packaging with their NFC enabled phones to identify whether the optimum temperature is maintained. It also helps them to identify situations which are deterrent to maintaining a product’s ideal temperature and subsequently act on it.

5. Best Before Warnings: Smart packaging can significantly improve the date label instructions by providing a clear picture to customers. To curb food waste and make consumption more transparent, date labels must communicate trigger warnings to customers in a concise manner. The FMI-GMA food label initiative is an example of how packaging information connects with the end consumer. Streamlining and standardizing the wording accompanying the date labels on packages offers greater clarity regarding the quality and safety of products. Including ‘Best if Used By’ and ‘Use By’ on smart packaging labels and further allowing products to communicate this information directly to the customer will make sure the product is consumed in its due time.

(Image Source: FMI)

6. Reordering Action:  Smart products must be able to reorder themselves or help customers do so by connecting with shelf stock data or providing triggers on the packaging the customer can use to scan and instantly re-order a product. By identifying the quantity levels, smart products can either trigger reorders or to help consumers quickly place the next lot of orders for the same product they are running out of.

7. Digital E-Labels:  Smart packaging empowers customers to pull any information on the digital E-labels, which can be accessed anywhere at any given point in time. These include all the content and information about the product, which may exist in the form of documents, certificates, videos or images. Building interactive packaging labels for products can trigger these experiences. For instance, scanning the digital E-Label for a pasta brand can prompt customizable interactive videos and pasta recipes on its app.

8. Real-Time Offers: Smart Packaging gives consumers the flexibility to edit information or dynamically change content delivered in real-time. It allows manufacturers, brands, and retailers to update and upsell relevant offers on the particular product. Say, for instance, a wine brand wants to inform its customer about the 1+1 promo offer on one of its products, which is only valid for 24 hours.  With smart packaging, brands can proposition variable pricing and offers in real time by letting smart products communicate this to the consumer.

Such smart packaging solutions make the customer experience more interactive with the ‘connected’ and smart packaging. Smart products and labelling is a wide-open field with a plethora of applications aimed to refine the customer experience as well as a brand’s presence around its products.

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