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At the latest Hispack fair, Color Sensing and Macsa ID demonstrated that it is possible to combine sustainability, intelligence and labelling automation. The proposals presented by the two companies form part of a new generation of environmentally-friendly marking technologies that make products smart through automated labelling, adding advanced digital layers to provide comprehensive data on their conditions of use and traceability.

Color Sensing is a technological spin-off that was set up in 2018 at the University of Barcelona. The newly-created company, founded and led by María Eugenia Martín, came into being to overcome the challenge of preserving fresh products once they leave the place where they are produced. “There’s currently no traceability of the actual freshness of packaged foods during their useful life throughout the supply chain. In global terms, 33% of the food produced is wasted, a figure equivalent to over $990,000 million,” explained Martín during one of the Hispack sessions, while she observed that, in this case, “the impact always falls on the producer or the distributor.”

The firm has developed a Smart Label which, at first glance, looks like a traditional QR. However, it is equipped with smart and sustainable inks that change colour upon reacting to different parameters (gases, temperature, pH, humidity, etc.). Thus, for example, if the number of amines in a packaged fresh product increases or the level of oxygen concentration changes (situations that may pose a risk to its conservation and the health of the population), the labels change colour. However, this variation is imperceptible to the naked eye and therefore generates no alarm. Despite the above, when the QR is read by a mobile device enabled for the Color Sensing technology, an advanced digital layer is accessed to provide information on the traceability of the product in keeping with the parameters required by each manufacturer and distributor. If the QR is read by a mobile phone, it directs the consumer to the page requested by the producer or distributor. The technology is offered as Software as a Service (SaaS) via subscription that pays for both the tags and the associated analytics.

Vegalsa Eroski has taken an active part in the validation of the Color Sensing smart label for its supermarket shelves. With its use it has been confirmed that it is possible to automatically obtain comprehensive information on the traceability of the product, the quality of the packaging and the freshness of the content and even detect potential disruptions of the cold chain. Among the technology’s benefits, it has been proven that the proportion of goods in poor condition can be reduced to below 4%, meaning the need to launch special offers to prevent product loss is practically eliminated and consumers can take on an enhanced perception of the brand.

The pilot test carried out by Vegalsa Eroski also demonstrated that the automation of the process is in no way undermined by the incorporation of intelligence into the label; it can be read on the production line itself by means of machine vision, the sampler is used during the shipment and it is performed manually, as before, on the supermarket shelf, but new ways are being studied to automate the reading.

In the case of KH Lloreda, its leadership of the cleaning products market and the large number of items that leave its plant every day (“one bottle of KH7 is sold every second of our business hours, so it accounts for 50% of the detergent segment market,” as Joan Casas Agut, Head of Engineering at KH Lloreda explained) encouraged it to seek a sustainable and automated solution to the traceability of its production by means of the smart and sustainable marking of its secondary packaging.

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Joan Casas Agut, Head of Engineering at KH Lloreda

“We wanted to retain full control over the product, but it also had to be a fully sustainable and automated proposal. We needed to continue marking the bottle, the box and the pallet,” explained Agut.

The answer was to be found in the technology of its partner, Macsa ID, as Carlos Pacha, the company’s market director, explained: “We offered KH Lloreda our laser coding solutions, sustainable and reliable “km 0” (local sourcing) technology that requires very little maintenance. Hardware, software and services as a new marking concept,” he explained.

Carlos Pacha, Macsa ID market director

The challenge that KH Lloreda proposed to Macsa ID involved installing a box printing system for the marking of its secondary packaging. This had to be integrated into the production line, allowing its customisation and an automatic change of format without the need to make adjustments for new products.

Macsa ID integrated two lasers into the production line for the side and front marking of the boxes containing the bottles of detergent. Similarly, a laser marking station was installed to print the two adjoining sides of the box. Finally, with the aim of obtaining high-quality printing, the customer was advised to perform the printing statically, and so three buffers were placed in synchronisation with the laser devices that regulate the movement of the boxes. In this case, with the equipment installed and a reserve of laser additive in the cardboard, the appropriate contrast for reading the codes properly was achieved.

In addition to the cardboard, the Macsa ID devices also mark the film that wraps the sleeves and the pallets, which are not shrink-wrapped so as to reduce the use of plastic. Instead, one of the boxes on the pallet bears an overall marking that contains all the information on the platform.

Constanza Saavedra, Hispack collaborator