Millions to be made in smart pharma packaging

By Kirsty Barnes

- Last updated on GMT

The global smart packaging market will grow to $4.8bn (€3.8bn) in
2011 and reach $14.1bn in 2013, presenting big opportunities in the
pharma sector - the second largest growth market behind food and
beverage, according to a new report.

This global demand is being driven by changes in consumer demographics and the need for more convenient and anti-counterfeit solutions in pharma packaging, to ensure product quality and usability, and improve supply chain efficiency and security, said the report by research firm NanoMarkets.

The market for smart pharma packaging, using technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), is predicted to grow to $1.7bn in 2013 from the current $21m, with compliance applications in drug trials fuelling the fire.

"This segment may actually turn out to be considerably larger than predicted if low-cost compliance packaging can be developed for use outside of drug trials. The growing population of middle aged to elderly people is also a huge demand side incentive to developing this kind of packaging,"​ the report found.

At present the penetration of smart packaging in the pharma industry is very low due to the prohibitive costs involved, however, a world of opportunities exists for equipment suppliers, material suppliers, technology providers, converters and printers who can come up with cost-friendly smart packaging solutions.

For equipment suppliers, opportunities include creating new kinds of equipment for printable electronics and in-line plants for creating and printing smart packaging, in addition to equipment to print RFIDs directly onto packaging.

"Although smart packaging involves a very broad range of new technologies, printable electronics seems to be of special interest, since by its very nature it is well suited to bring novel technologies that can be used in smart packaging,"​ said the report.

NanoMarkets believes that three aspects of printable electronics are likely to have a critical impact on the smart packaging market over the next decade, the most important of these being in the RFID sector, which is tipped to grow from $41m to $3.9bn over the next seven years.

"It is probably impossible to bring implementation of RFIDs down to the level of the individual package without RFIDs being printed,"​ the report concludes.

"As printable RFIDs become a reality in the next few years, we would expect them to gradually overtake chip type RFIDs and eventually come to dominate the market. However, we would expect chip type RFIDs to reassert themselves somewhat as active RFIDs grow in importance."

Currently RFID antennas are being printed, but the circuitry, which is mainly created using low-end silicon semiconductor technology, is not. Several small Asian firms dominate the circuitry market, however many other firms are now pursuing fully printable RFIDs using organic materials (e.g. PolyIC and OrganicID) or silver inks, according to the report.

Materials providers in the pharma biz have the chance to make their money in smart packaging by developing novel raw materials, including novel smart materials, although companies attempting to do so may face cost issues and the problem of limited substrates for certain smart components (e.g. printed electronics).

The opportunities for technology providers in smart packaging are numerous and include developing new low-cost electronics, biological devices and mechanical devices to add 'smarts' to packaging.

By far the largest market for 'component' products is in RFID technologies, particularly memory solutions.

RFIDs already contain some low-level memory capabilities, which are certain to grow over the next few years, and many smart packaging solutions will require additional low-cost memory solutions, some of which will be fulfilled with printable (probably organic) memory, although this is not a highly commercialised area at the present time, said the report.

As a result, NanoMarkets expects the global memory market to reach $423m in 2013, up from the $8m at present.

One further RFID component area tipped to grow is sensors, although not until 2010, where they will achieve $4m, jumping to $137m in 2013.

This is because, while sophisticated sensors would find a ready market in the smart packaging sector, they are currently too expensive, because the focus of sensor research is at present more on making sensors more sensitive to a wider range of substances, rather than reducing the costs considerably.

Time-temperature indicators (TTIs), which indicate, through a chemical reaction, when a product undergoes heat abuse in the cold supply chain, are already being used on medicines packs, mainly on vaccine vials, but are not accurate long-term solutions, said the report.

RFID-based indicators, currently produced in low volumes for trials and evaluations, have proved accurate and have indicated freezing damage. Future innovation lies in using the sensor technology through printable electronics.

Another particular area where technology providers can make major contributions in smart packaging is in novel power sources. Many smart packaging implementations would currently have to rely on standard batteries, but the future of printable electronics will involve the use of new printable batteries and printable thin film photovoltaic cells.

Although this global market is predicted to grow to $354m in 2013, up from the $2m currently, there are very few companies focusing their attention on this technology in packaging applications, said NanoMarkets.

Another growth area with very little current focus in packaging is printable displays, such as organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) and E-paper technologies, tipped to rise from $2m in 2007 to $320m in 2013.

Riding the smart packaging wave, converters and printers also have the unique chance to create non-commodity products and services in a business that is "overwhelmingly commoditised,"​ said the report.

They have the chance to "put the smarts in smart packaging,"​ however, they will be faced with in-line implementation issues to first overcome.

NanoMarkets believes that when smart packaging technology eventually matures, it will take the food, beverage and pharmaceutical sectors by storm, creating a tremendous opportunity for companies who lead the way.

Related topics: Processing equipment, QA/QC, Drug Delivery

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