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Why reusable packaging should be smart

At their first encounter with the MIWA system, many customers are surprised by the fact that the system is equipped with smart technologies. "Why is it all electronic? Wouldn't the ordinary gravity dispensers be enough?” In fact, there is a number of very good reasons to shift away from the classical model of bulk, as we will try to illustrate.

“The current bulk systems require manual refilling of gravity dispensers, which makes them very demanding and raises hygienic concerns,” says Mirek Lizec, our executive director. “Another core problem is the lack of information they provide. For shop owners and retailers, it is hard to control the stock movements, or to guarantee the brand and origin of the product,” Mirek explains.

A young woman shopping using MIWA smart cup at the MIWA modular stand

That's why MIWA has developed a circular system of capsules, which are filled and sealed by the supplier, and the store puts them directly into a smart modular stand. There is no need to open the capsules, thus risking contamination or shortening the expiration. The capsules are equipped with smart labels, which, when the capsule gets placed into the modular stand, automatically transfer detailed product information into the stock system.

MIWA smart reusable capsule

MIWA smart capsule

What is a smart label

Let's briefly explain what a smart label actually is. In most cases, it is a small sticker with a microchip inside. Unlike a classic barcode, a smart label is able to provide significantly more information. In terms of technology, there are various types of smart labels, while MIWA uses two types of technology: RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), which can communicate over a distance of several meters, and NFC (Near Field Communication), which transmits data within a few centimeters.

Smart labels consist of three parts: a microchip, an antenna and a plastic carrier (sticker).

NFC tagcombined RFID/NFC tag

examples of smart labels

The microchip inside the label doesn’t contain much data itself. It is basically just an identifier that refers to the information in the cloud. There, comprehensive information on the goods is stored, including the manufacturer, the origin, allergens and expiration dates.

Effective logistics and transparency

Smart technologies significantly help in logistics. For example, an RFID chip allows all capsules on a pallet to be automatically detected while entering a warehouse reading gate. This greatly speeds up the processes, as it is not necessary to check each package or pallet with a manual reader.

The main advantage of smart technologies from the retailer's point of view is the perfect overview they bring into the sales and stocks. From the modular stand, in which the capsules are installed, real-time information about the sales is transmitted to the retailers’ fingertips.

MIWA smart modular stand with integrated scales and touchscreens

MIWA modulad stand with smart capsules, integrated scales and smart valves

No more reading of tiny letters on plastic packaging

End customers also benefit from smart technologies. Their package-free shopping process got partially automatized and soon, it will speed up even more. MIWA will launch its smart shopping cup equipped with an NFC chip, which will reduce the shopping experience to a few simple steps. For example, customers won’t need to tare their containers before filling, and they will be able to pay immediately with a mobile application (see video on homepage). The app also provides them with the origin of food, allergens, expiration date and other information. In the future, the application may even report them that the expiration of a certain product in their cupboard is nearing.

MIWA smart cups

MIWA cups with NFC labels

Guarantee of safety and hygiene

Thanks to the smart labels, also batch data of the products are available. In the context of the current coronavirus crisis, this could be seen as a crucial benefit. If a product was handled by an infected worker during the packaging process, MIWA would be able to react immediately after discovering this and remotely stop the goods from dispensing. This would be very complicated for the conventionally packed goods, as they are spread across the market in thousands of small packages and their barcodes usually don't contain batch data.

More effective waste prevention

“There is a lot of packaging on the market that is circular in nature - for example, returnable beer boxes,” says our IT specialist Václav Čapek. “However, it is a problem to guarantee that they will be returned to the manufacturer in the event of mechanical damage. Thanks to smart labels, MIWA can trace the packaging and motivate clients to return it to us,” Václav adds. Thanks to smart labels, companies can take responsibility for their packaging more easily, keep them in loops or take care over their effective recycling.

The future of circularity

Smart labels based on RFID and NFC are one of the already existing technologies that can help us to turn the circular economy of plastics in practice. Firstly, because they allow effective traceability of packaging and keeping them in cycles. Secondly, thanks to their potential in recycling. In addition to information about the goods, smart labels can also provide data about the packaging itself and thus facilitate the recycling process. What we need to ensure is that the labels and tags are processed correctly at the moment their carrier – the packaging – finishes its lifespan. (For more information about RFID recycling, see for example this study released by Aachen University.)

The transparency that smart technologies bring to the entire supply chain brings customers not only the guarantee of quality, but also ensures an informed and convenient way of shopping. As a result, modern reuse systems can effectively compete with the general convenience of disposable packaging.

Author: Lucie Jandová


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