Chicago — Wireless technology integrated into plastic caps is gaining momentum and now is gaining accolades.
The RFID technology, developed by eAgile Inc. allows consumers to quickly gather information from the packaging with the help of their mobile phones.
Newer iPhones and all android phones have built-in RFID readers that allow communication between RFID microchips and the phones. And it's that kind of convenience that has eAgile CEO Gary Burns convinced that his Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company is on to something.
Judges for the annual Plastics Caps & Closures Innovation Award agreed and gave eAgile the top honor for 2019.
"Everyone is carrying around a super computer that also has a connection to the internet and it has an RFID reader on it," Burns explained shortly after winning the award at the Plastics Caps & Closures 2019 conference sponsored by Plastics News in Chicago.
"What you can do with any modern cell phone ... you can communicate directly with the product," he said.
RFID, or radio frequency identification, is a microchip with an antenna that can be incorporated into a cap in a variety of ways, Burns explained. The technology can be placed on top of the cap with a pressure-sensitive label, molded into the cap and even incorporated within the seal or shrink band.
The RFID can "tell you whether the product is authentic, whether or not the product is expired, whatever the dosage instructions," he said. "You are opening up a direct communication."
RFID technology already has been deployed at pharmacies and hundreds of hospitals around the country to help keep track of their stock.
Burns said his company is looking to make the technology commonplace in the home.
The company commercialized the technology in 2017 and sold about 5 million units last year. He expects that number to reach 20 million this year.
Burns said eAgile has been successful in the nutraceutical segment and he expects wider adoption as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration creates more strict standards for drug security through the supply chain.
"There are about 2 trillion caps and closures every year, and that's from industry information. The addressable market is probably close to 1 trillion, because it will probably never be on water bottles and things like that," Burns said.
"If you just look at pharmaceuticals, it's 100 billion. And that's a big number," he said.
RFID can contain both near-range and long-range capabilities, allowing items to be tracked along the supply chain and then at home with a smart phone, he said.
Burns expects brand owners to help push adoption of RFID technology in caps and closures, but he also believes there will be some closure companies that see the value of pushing the technology to their customers as well.
Placement of RFID chips is done during packaging manufacturing and not at the filling line, which means that production does not have to be changed to accommodate the technology. "We don't make you change any production equipment," he said about the brand owners. "We want the people on the production line just to do the same thing they do."
Other finalists for the innovation award, sponsored by the Plastics Industry Association, included: Albea North America for its 100 percent post consumer overcap using a proprietary color matching process without the need for additives; Cheer Pack North America for its specialty fitments for spouted pouches that can accept stock cap options to minimize investment; and StackTeck Systems Ltd. for its tamper-evident closure with in-mold folding.