Self-powered smart packaging now in development

Can friction between different material surfaces create enough energy to power smart packaging? Clemson researchers think so. And they now have $500,000 to prove the concept.

Gregory Batt, an assistant professor in the food, nutrition and packaging sciences department and director of the Clemson Transport Package Testing Laboratory, and James Gibert, a Clemson alumnus and assistant professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, will be studying how to apply triboelectric technology to energize smart packaging, especially for transportation and supply chain applications.

What is triboelectric technology? If you’ve ever gotten a shock after walking across carpet and touching something metal, you’ve experienced it for yourself. Triboelectric technology is “a cost-effective means to replace or augment batteries and power devices by converting mechanical motion into electricity,” explains Gibert.

As explained in the video above, Clemson and Purdue researchers will collaborate to develop, test and optimize triboelectric energy harvesters, which can feed devices used to power smart packages. “This has far-reaching implications in powering devices in the hyper-connected world known as the ‘internet of things’” Gibert says.

Batt and Gibert answer Packaging Digest’s questions about the technology and its applications for smart packaging.


In the video, you’ve explained how the power is generated. But how is that energy then collected and transferred in a smart packaging application?

Batt: Power is collected through the charging of a battery or super-capacitor. This is how continuous power can be delivered in a smart packaging application even when the load is not in motion.


Can this self-powered package/device be reused? If so, how many times?

Batt: We have done some preliminary “durability” testing with the energy harvester we prototyped and were successful with multiple vibration tests simulating several cross-country trips. However, much more validation of this must be done. This testing is part of the grant.


Do you have a formula yet for figuring out how much power can be generated/absorbed with a particular size package/device?

Gibert: There is no simple formula, this depends on the surface charge density of the polymer, the area of contact and even the rate at which the two surfaces come in contact. We and others have done some preliminary modeling of this behavior. We are working towards a unified model. 


In the video, you talk about one possible transportation packaging application. Do you have any primary packaging examples?

Batt: It is certainly possible to scale the device to work inside a primary package. It would have to be the smart packaging device that would drive the primary package need for power.



A triboelectric device placed between pallet layers can also mitigate damage to the load due to vibration.


In your pallet shipping example, devices between layers would absorb some of the vibration the packages inside the cases would normally experience. This absorption would help mitigate primary packaging damage. Might one benefit of this be that packaging engineers could reduce the amount of packaging materials required for product protection?

Batt: Absolutely. While our focus is energy harvesting from the device, we have already demonstrated that such a device could reduce transmitted forces and/or shift the resonant frequency of a stack of packaged products to a more desired frequency. Either of these results have the potential of reducing package material requirements. Quantifying the ability to mitigate input forces is part of the research plan. 


Your example mentions metallized film rubbing against a polymer film. What other packaging-material combinations can self-generate power either with repeated contact or through friction?

Batt: There are a variety of materials that exhibit this behavior. [See page 2 of this article for a list of materials based on their polarity.] This behavior is observed in two materials that are at opposite ends of the list. The further apart they are in polarity, the more effective they are in generating the voltage difference.

One example of a triboelectric device uses polymer film on one side and metallized film on the other to generate the charge.


Do you think consumers would appreciate a self-powered package? Why or why not?

Batt: While there are many examples of gimmick or attention-capturing packaging that require power, I believe some of the real benefits of powered packaging can be realized by enabling the package to detect the environment it goes through during distribution. Capturing the exposure history to quantities—such as temperature, moisture, acceleration and atmospheric pressure—can benefit package designers and consumers alike in assuring product safety.


Could the technology involve the consumer somehow to help the package generate the power—similar to how some emergency radios run after a person cranks a handle?

Batt: This is possible. The consumer could shake the packaged product and provide the necessary input.


Is there any risk of creating sparks or causing a fire?

Batt: While voltage can be high, current is very low, making the risk of fire no greater than you walking across your carpet in the winter time. 


How does incorporating this technology affect a package’s recyclability or sustainability?

Batt: This is a great question that will depend on the materials selected.


How much might this technology cost and how does that compare to other existing smart packaging technologies?

Batt: It is too early to make cost estimates as the current research is focused on the optimization of the device. Our current prototypes are made from common materials used in packaging.


What direction will your research go now that you have received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation?

Gibert: The grant’s goals, as funded, are to:

1. Understand the molecular scale mechanism of charge transfer due to the contact electrification process based on the hypothesis that the phenomena is due to an ion exchange between two surfaces. 

2. Understand the interplay of the macro- and micro-scale properties of the device that affect its performance—such as the effect of the elastic elements in the device on its response, the composition and surface texture of the dielectric and the effect of the real contact area of the device. 

3. Elucidate the effect of environmental conditions such as humidity and temperature on the performance of these devices. 

The understanding from these objectives will culminate in a testbed concept of a triboelectric foam composite to be used in smart packaging for concurrent energy scavenging and vibration suppression. ​

These devices can be used in many applications but their low cost and materials make smart packaging an ideal application.



Learn what it takes to innovate in the packaging space at MinnPack 2017 (Nov. 8-9; Minneapolis). Register today!

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Paleo baby food paired with pouches

Serenity Kids packages popular diet in pouches for a new market: food for babies, toddlers and kids aged 6 months to 5 years.


Solomon wrote that there’s nothing new under the sun. Baby food certainly isn’t new, nor are stand-up pouches, and its very name tells us that the trendy Paleo diet goes back millennia.

What if all three of those things were united in branded packaged form?

That would be something different, which is the distinction of Serenity Kids, a three-product line of baby foods formulated using pasture-raised meats and organic vegetables packaged 4-oz pouches.

With a low-sugar, high-fat formulation inspired by the Paleo diet and the macronutrient content of mother’s milk, the products claim to offer the highest meat content of any pouched baby food. The lineup includes Grass Fed Beef with Organic Kale and Sweet Potato, Free Range Chicken with Organic Peas and Carrots and Uncured Bacon with Organic Kale and Butternut Squash.

Co-founders Joe Carr, president, and Serenity Heegel, ceo, informed Packaging Digest that the expected 2017 summer launch of Serenity Kids was delayed until early 2018. However, with their plans and packaging set, we conducted a prelaunch interview with the entrepreneurial duo about their intriguing product.


What’s the intent of the package design?

Carr and Heegel: We wanted our packaging to have a classy and modern feel to stand out on the baby food aisle. We think our pouch graphics make it look like real, adult food rather than the cartoon style of most baby foods, which reflects our belief that children should be treated with respect and dignity.

We used images of the animals rather than pictures or drawings of meat to both show kids where their food comes from and to express reverence towards the animals. Animal rights is very important to us.

We used colors similar to the actual color of each animal because we want kids to correlate the packaging with the food inside. We chose bright, bold colors to be kid-friendly. 

We chose not to represent the vegetables because our value proposition to customers is the well-sourced animal protein.

The graphics have a premium look, and the matte finish has a premium feel, which reflects the premium product inside.


Why use a pouch rather than another type of package?

Carr and Heegel: Pouches are the most popular baby food package with a growing market share. They’re lightweight and unbreakable. They also allow the baby to feed themselves, which also promotes our value of more autonomy for babies.


What’s on the back of the pouch?

Carr and Heegel: The back is primarily text required by regulations. We do emphasize the organic vegetables on the back because the meat is featured on the front. We also stress the premium sourcing of the meat plus important claims like Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Milk-Free, and Paleo. 


Who’s your target consumer?

Carr and Heegel: We are marketing towards millennial parents, ages 18-35, and to some extent, their children aged 6 months to 5 years. These parents want to feed their kids the healthiest possible foods, but don’t have tons of time to make their kids meals from scratch. Our product combines the healthiest food with a convenient, shelf-stable pouch. Also, millennials tend to distrust larger brands, so standing out as very different makes us more trustworthy.


Can you credit the designer and the pouch supplier?

Carr and Heegel: We are happy to credit both! Trina Bentley of Make & Matter did beautifully on the design. We chose Trina because of her work with other products similar to ours, most notably Epic Provisions.

We selected Mondi Jackson for the pouches because of its experience making retorted baby food pouches and their willingness to work with a small, start up like us. 


What was the toughest decision?

Carr and Heegel: The hardest design decision was whether to go with a streamlined, adult-like design or a more kid-like version with cartoon-like animals. In the end, we went with the streamlined version that stands out on the aisle. We knew from the beginning that the pouch would be much more difficult to fill than a jar, but the growing popularity of the pouch market had us persevere.


Any packaging challenge related to the products’ high meat content vs. typical fruit puree baby food?

Carr and Heegel: One unexpected challenge was a last-minute switch from a foil lined pouch to an all-plastic pouch suitable for x-ray inspection quality control purposes. Another challenge we’ve faced is that the high-fat content of our food makes the pouches more difficult to fill than lower-fat fruit purees.


Knowing that the products will be available at Amazon in multipacks: Is there anything special about the secondary packaging?

Carr and Heegel: We decided to stick with an industry standard 6-pack carton. It works both for Amazon single-case sales and for retail shelves with the tops torn off. Our favorite carton is the variety pack, which was designed for online sales only. 


What was a packaging lesson learned?

Carr and Heegel: The package is so small that every square centimeter really counts. It was hard to squeeze in everything the regulations required and also include our mission to help heal the planet by supporting regenerative agriculture. You probably can’t get everything you want in a design. We learned you have to choose what the most important feeling you want to evoke and let the rest go.


Did you receive any usable feedback during development to fine-tune the packaging?

Carr and Heegel: We did several prototypes to get feedback. The first prototype was a vinyl label that we manually applied to about 100 pouches. We used these prototypes at a few small tradeshows such as Paleo f(x), Mommycon Austin, and Mommycon Orange County. Then we had our co-packer run prototype batches with the printed pouches. We shared those at Expo East and with some retailers. We haven’t made any changes to the pouch or graphics as a result of that feedback, though we’re considering a few changes for the next iteration.


What’s been the preliminary reception?

Carr and Heegel: Parents love it, kids love it, brokers, grocery buyers love it, reporters love it, our moms love it. Everyone loves it! We haven’t had any negative feedback. Some say it doesn’t look like baby food and then ask if adults can eat it, too. Health-conscious adults who don’t like cooking are our secret secondary market. All they have to do is twist the cap and drink their meat and veggies. No chewing required!


Serenity Kids is accepting customer pre-orders through its website and will launch on Amazon in 6-count multipacks of 4-oz pouches for $26.95. For more information, visit Serenity Kids.


Hungry for fresh ideas in packaging? Join the packaging experience during MinnPack in Minneapolis November 8-9 that’s part of a comprehensive all-in-one 6-event plastics and advanced manufacturing exhibition. For more information, visit MinnPack.


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McCormick’s recipe for packaging that’s more sustainable

Mike Okoroafor, vp, global sustainability & packaging innovation, discusses the key ingredients of McCormick & Company’s sustainable packaging projects.


Spice and food flavoring giant McCormick & Company, Hunt Valley, MD, announced new 2025 corporate goals that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and focus on reducing the company’s global environmental impact. These objectives include the company’s commitment to create packaging innovations that reduce packaging weight and overall carbon footprint, among other important environment goals such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water reduction.

In developing an integrated approach to meeting these commitments through its 4R framework of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Renew, the company reported progress that includes:

  • Redesigning its iconic OLD BAY and Black Pepper cans with a fully recyclable PET container, which equated to a 16% reduction in associated carbon emissions;
  • 10% reduction in material for all European glass jars, resulting in reduced weight and associated carbon emissions from production and transport;
  • Achieving 43% carbon footprint reduction by improving logistics and using fewer trucks for transport at its location in Hunt Valley, MD.

Packaging Digest connected with Mike Okoroafor, the company’s vp, global sustainability & packaging innovation, to discuss further details about McCormick’s sustainable packaging efforts.

How crucial is packaging’s role in the company’s overall sustainability initiatives?

Okoroafor: Packaging is a key priority for McCormick. It plays a crucial role in helping us prevent food waste, guaranteeing our high-quality standards and informing our consumers. It also helps us curb our resource and carbon footprint and contributes to other important objectives on our sustainability agenda, such as the elimination of BPA (bisphenol-A) from all of our packaging by the end of 2018.


What’s the timing of the aforementioned projects?


  • Redesigning our iconic OLD BAY and Black Pepper cans with a fully recyclable PET container, which equated to a 16% reduction in associated carbon emissions, has new cans scheduled to be released in 2018;
  • Completed in 2017 is a 10% reduction in material for all European glass jars, resulting in reduced weight and associated carbon emissions from production and transport;
  • Also completing this year is a 43% carbon footprint reduction by improving logistics and using fewer trucks for transport at our location in Haddenham, England.


Which of these was the most complex or challenging project?

Okoroafor: The new PET container for Black Pepper and Old Bay was the most challenging project.  It involved not only a completely new package design for the container and the closure, but also a new production line in our manufacturing facility along with a new manufacturing line for the containers at our container supplier.


How do you prioritize McCormick’s packaging initiatives?

Okoroafor: Sustainable packaging design criteria are a part of our overall package design process. Our packaging designers and engineers are always on the lookout for ways to capture more environmental benefits. We prioritize packaging initiatives based upon those where we feel that we can make the greatest impact.


What options are there to addressing Reuse and Renew initiatives?

Okoroafor: The investigation into the use of renewable packaging materials for our packaging is an ongoing process where we are continuously exploring the possible use and application of these materials in our primary and secondary packages.


Is there any venue or incentives for managers or employees to offer ideas?

Okoroafor: Our new product/packaging projects are conducted using a highly collaborative, team-based approach that affords maximum opportunity for input and discussion. 


Can the company point to any partnerships related to these programs?

Okoroafor: We partnered with key packaging component suppliers and packaging machinery manufacturers in the development of our PET container for Old Bay and Black Pepper.


Does McCormick message these improvements to consumers?

Okoroafor: McCormick messages its Purpose-led Performance efforts, including its packaging improvements, via its consumer web site:


What’s been your biggest lesson learned in sustainable packaging?

Okoroafor: There is a common belief that sustainable packaging is more costly, but this is not always the case. One important and significant learning from our sustainable packaging initiatives is that sustainable packaging often provides the best financial choice. 


Have all the packaging projects represented cost savings as well?

Okoroafor: Yes, reducing raw materials and packaging waste has resulted in more than $2 million in savings in our location in Hunt Valley, MD, alone.


What’s next over the short term? And then what?

Okoroafor: In our 2017 Purpose-Led Performance Report we laid out a series of 2025 goals, which includes a 25% reduction in carbon footprint from packaging. We will achieve this by…

  • Continued focused on reducing the quantity of packaging used in our products.
  • Increasing the use of recycled content in our packaging.
  • Partnering with our suppliers on sustainability initiatives.
  • Leveraging our supply chain to reduce the impact of transportation in the sourcing of our packaging. 


Final thoughts?

Okoroafor: We consider our sustainability program for packaging to be more of a journey than a destination.  Through this program, we are seeking to make a meaningful and measurable impact on our environment and to do what is best for the company, our consumers and our communities. 



Explore packaging, plastics and more in Minneapolis November 8-9 during the 15th anniversary of MinnPack that’s co-located with 5 other exhibitions including PLASTEC. For more information, visit MinnPack.


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Take our Packaging Innovation Tour in Minneapolis

Looking for new testing or conveying solutions? Case sealing or thermoforming innovations? Join us November 8 at MinnPack/MD&M Minneapolis 2017 for our Packaging Innovation Tour. We’ll walk through the show floor to meet innovators in medical packaging, case sealing, package conveying, and testing. To get a spot on the tour, please meet me at Booth #1953 where you’ll be given a headset and tour map. Be advised that you should arrive at least 5 minutes before the tour starts.

You will see demonstrations from the following companies:

  • Bosch Rexroth Corp., Booth #847
  • Box Latch Products, Booth #843
  • Placon, Booth #1119
  • PTI – Packaging Technologies & Inspection, Booth #1313

Click through below for previews of each technology. We hope to see you November 8!

Package Conveying from Bosch Rexroth Corp. (shown above)

Bosch Rexroth will be showcasing VarioFlow plus, a flexible, modular plastic chain conveyor system used for moving high-volume packaged goods and other consumer goods, such as packaged foods, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare products. It can be used to move products horizontally, vertically, on incline or decline, overhead, sub-floor, around obstacles, and over long distances, the company reports. Workpiece pallets can be used to convey products in applications where positioning or higher precision is needed. Bosch Rexroth also reports that VarioFlow plus is quiet, flexible, energy efficient, and easy to assemble. It ships fast, too, and is now part of Rexroth’s award-winning GoTo focused delivery program.

Please visit Booth #847 to learn more.

NEXT: Case Sealing from Box Latch Products



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