SmartTags-enabled for monitoring of the supply chain
Recently, Nenad Gligoric, our senior researcher, together with Suparna De from the University of Winchester has published an article on SmartTags for supply chain monitoring.
Smart Tags are new types of sensors that are printable and can collect, sense, and read environmental parameters of relevance to the product. Their use was developed in one of our previous projects H2020 TagItSmart. For fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) this represents the basis for the creation of a new generation of supply chains which, in combination with GS1 Digital Link global specifications standard, makes it possible to identify each product item, track it and monitor it on an item level. These capabilities offer opportunities for informed management of assets and innovative consumer engagement by transforming consumer goods into digital assets.
About H2020 TagItSmart project
H2020 TagItSmart project has researched and piloted the use of QR-codes printed with functional inks and printed NFC (Near Field Communication) tags with sensing capabilities to create ‘SmartTags’. The project made solid ground on the research topic and development of the SmartTag technology, which is, because of its simplicity and standardized approach, adopted and used by many industry players.
Environment-reactive SmartTags with Functional Inks
With NFC and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) solutions proving expensive for consumer-packaged goods, TagItSmart has pioneered the use of dynamic QR-codes that are printed on consumer goods using environmentally reactive inks that change appearance according to selected conditions, e.g. temperature, humidity, light intensity. The growing use of smartphones equipped with cameras facilitates an off-the-shelf solution for scanning the dynamic QR-code information as well as lifecycle tracking of the item through seamless observation measurements of the generated smart tag data. This visual change on the product packaging, as well as individual product identification using the GS1 Digital Link Standard allows not only tracking of every individual item from the factory to recycling, but also enables additional information about the item to be communicated to consumers. This includes visual clues to consumers that a product is at its optimum consumption temperature, monitoring of condition-sensitive goods during transport (e.g. vaccines, meat, and dairy goods), alerts to retailers that an item is close to its best-before date, and also if an item has been properly recycled.
In a nutshell, smart tags open up exciting possibilities for consumer engagement, supply chain tracking, and product recycling.
Use case: SmartTags-enabled Ice cream
The TagItSmart technology can be showcased in numerous scenarios, with an ice cream scenario being noteworthy, due to the possibility to showcase most of the SmartTag’s technology benefits. An irreversible functional ink is used to create the SmartTag, capturing temperatures larger than −10 °C with a timestamp set to 30 minutes. The sensing capability of the SmartTag, supported by the ink, is specifically designed for the ice cream scenario to satisfy specific requirements, as shown in Fig. 1:
The SmartTags are encoded with a QR code to identify and encode the temperature-sensitive property and an image to show the user that the ice cream is good to be consumed. Next, a mobile phone with a web browser is selected as the scanner for the SmartTag. The identifiers for the designed SmartTags are created and the resulting tags are printed.
The next step is to model the objects that will be labeled with the SmartTags, i.e. the ice cream virtual entity, which is achieved through a VE-front end in the platform (Fig. 2). The front end is driven by the VE semantic model.
The user experience with the SmartTags is also an important part of the application development process. It will typically involve how the user is going to scan the SmartTag and how the information generated is going to be used and presented. This is developed as a Web application and integrates the mobile phone scanner and application workflow through the correspondent SDKs and libraries, as shown in Fig. 3.
To ensure the smooth creation of the tags, the TagItSmart project created a semantic model for describing the environment-reactive properties of the QR codes and NFC electronic tags. The model incorporates the materials’ composition of the physical products, the characteristics of the functional ink, such as what environmental conditions it reacts to (e.g. temperature, humidity, time-lapse, etc.), the accompanying relevant state changes (e.g. color and visibility changes), as well as observation measurements together with their spatial description.
Nenad Gligoric is one of the pioneers of the IoT scene in Serbia, working as a software engineer in Ericsson and as a project manager in DunavNET on more than 10 EU, FP7 and H2020 projects. He was one of the technical managers of the H2020 TagItSmart project.