Building in temperature monitoring capabilities in labels as thin as a human hair will become a commercial reality by late 2014, a Norway-based company claims.
Stick-on “smart” labels that can record how temperature-sensitive products like fresh produce have been handled throughout the supply chain will be available to industry in 2014, according to Jennifer Ernst, director of global sales and business development activities for Thin Film Electronics ASA. That could provide important food safety safeguards, she said.
The company is based in Norway and has offices in San Francisco, Sweden and Japan.
The Thin Film smart label will be printed on polymers using special inks that conduct electricity and can be placed on packaging, according to a company news release. The labels can be built in layers that include memory, sensors and batteries on a film that is thinner than a human hair and can be applied easily to packaging, according to the release.
Having labels on fresh produce packages that record temperature would provide much more specific data than a silicon-based time/temperature recorder placed on a truck. The label could be placed on any type of package, Ernst said.
Ernst said those silicon-based time/temperature recorders cost between $11 to $25 and therefore only a couple of recorders can economically be put on a single shipment.
Thin Film isn’t trying to compete with the $25 time/temperature units, but instead adding electronic temperature sensing capability into a label with a target purchase price of about 50 cents each. That price could decline to 20 cents or 30 cents with greater production, she said.
“We would be looking to adding temperature monitoring at much closer to an object level, the individual case of produce,” Ernst said.
Whether the label needs to be applied to every fresh produce case would be up to the customer, she said. For example, one label could be applied to a master carton of raspberries.
“It could depend on the product and how it is packaged and how you would want to monitor it,” she said.
Thin Film manufactures a printed memory label and will add the temperature monitoring capability by late 2014, Ernst said.
The label can be read by a contact-based reader that then could store the data collected. In addition, the label can be constructed with a visual indicator display. The company also plans to add the capability of a RF readout signal in the label that could transmit the data over a short range wireless connection. The memory in the label won’t degrade before ten years, she said.
Ernst said the product will be marketed to the fresh produce sectors all around the world.
The size of the label is likely to be size of a business card, she said.
Other future applications for the Thin Film label are possible, including humidity indicators.
The labels are completely disposable and have no toxic compounds, she said.
Ernst said the labels could be designed to be readable by smart phones if marketers and retailers desire, she said.
“This is a totally new way of making electronics and that what makes it possible to bring this into an item-level application,” she said.