Enlightenment at the Point of Sale

With printed electronics, branded companies have completely new opportunities for product marketing and interaction with consumers.

In search of the right birthday present for her best friend, the consumer’s gaze wanders through the shelves with the noble and not quite so noble drops in the spirits department. Suddenly a box starts flashing and attracts the young woman like magic. What she probably doesn’t know is that the OLED technology that prompted her to decide to buy is revolutionizing many areas of her life – from modern flat-screen TVs to the rear lights on the new Audi TT to the beverage bottle with display.

Thin, lightweight, flexible and above all cost-effective – these are the most important advantages of printed electronics, which also includes OLED technology. Especially in the packaging industry, the potential of conductive printed structures on flexible substrates has long been recognized: Intelligent blister packaging from Schreiner MediPharm, for example, registers whether a patient is adhering to the recommended dosage and sends corresponding messages to the smartphone. E Ink, manufacturer of e-reader displays, relies in turn on „smart labels“ that can deliver updates on the expiry date of a pharmaceutical product: „If you want to integrate displays into pharmaceutical packaging, you need thin and flexible solutions that above all consume little energy,“ says Paul Apen, Chief Strategy Officer at E Ink.

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These „intelligent“ properties of printed electronics are also extremely attractive for branded consumer goods companies. Smart barcodes indicate when a product has expired or whether the cold chain has been maintained and also serve as proof of the authenticity of the product. Smart chips on individual packages can be identified and traced.

As early as 2015, Diageo, manufacturer of the whisky brand Johnnie Walker, caused a sensation with a „Smart Bottle“ that opened up completely new possibilities for interaction between product and consumer. Diageo’s project partner was Thinfilm, a Norwegian company specializing in printed electronics. A printed sensor registers whether the bottle is still sealed or already open, enabling personalized messages to be sent to consumers who can read the tags on their smartphones. All this works using NFC technology (Near Field Communication) on all common smartphones.

In 2016, the gin brand „Bombay Sapphire“ launched its first luminous packaging with printed, flexible organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), developed by packaging specialist Karl Knauer. In 2017, Knauer received the German Packaging Award for his luminous Coca-Cola bottle label: the light effect of the label, which is activated by pressing an imprinted „Play“ sign, is so strong that it is even noticeable in a bright daylight environment and is thus supposed to attract all eyes at the POS.

In the near future, the OLED light sources, which are just a few nanometers thin, self-emitting, flat and made of organic semiconductors, will become even thinner, larger and brighter. OLED technology will then be used to print entire displays on thin paper on which video content can be played. From packaging, labels, displays to advertisements in magazines or on advertising media – OLED technology can be used to impressively stage messages for numerous areas of application.