Printed Electronics in Supermarkets

Last week, Dr Peter Harrop of IDTechEx gave a video interview and animations, concerning the future use of printed electronics in supermarkets. It was carried out by Eyewitness News in Los Angeles at their request.

IDTechEx sees a huge potential in this area, from printed RFID reducing stockouts and permitting 100% product recalls and printed electronics giving us electronically programmable posters that have a cost of ownership less than paper. Remotely reprogrammable printed price labels on merchandise will make even minor price adjustment cost effective, including incentives for customers to take the nearest-to-expired food first thus saving them – and the store – money and being more environmental. Then there are valuable electronic gifts with products becoming cost effective for the first time, logos that wink and talk when you approach and a cornucopia of merchandising opportunities that will make the old brands not adopting such technology look very tired indeed.

Retailers, brand owners and consumers share a similar set of priorities. All of them wish to see:

• greater availability of products
• better management of costs and prices
• increased product safety
• enhanced product security
• better shopping experiences

As printed RFID makes it affordable for mass use, it can provide all of this and other forms of printed electronics will be complementary in serving these ends.

Food safety
Intelligent interactions by RFID will have a significant impact on food safety. For example one type of RFID tag for food is a label containing a chip and a sensor which records the time-temperature history of the product in transit and in storage. These Time Temperature Indicators (TTI) indicate if and when a product has been exposed to damaging environmental conditions. Some packaging even has a label with an electronic display that says “expired”. In time, we will have self-adjusting labels where use-by or sell-by dates change as the product experiences different temperatures.

Furthermore, RFID warns if products, such as ready meals, have been inadequately cooked. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has demonstrated a microwave that can read RFID-tagged food and set itself to the correct power level and cooking time, ensuring food is properly cooked.

These “intelligent interactions” also extend to fridges and freezers. Electrolux in Germany has demonstrated appliances for restaurants that monitor tagged, packaged stock. They enable the operation of a Nearest Expiry First Out (NEFO) system, rather than the more risky traditional First in First out (FIFO) process. This RFID-enabled NEFO system protects the consumer more effectively.

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