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Retail display revolution saving supermarkets millions


Paper labels in supermarkets could become a thing of the past, thanks to a revolutionary digital display system that could also give mobile phones a much longer life.

The new type of electronic display could save retailers millions by allowing product information on the supermarket shelves to be changed globally, at the touch of a button. Labour costs linked to price changes in stores could plummet and supermarkets will be doing their bit for the environment by scrapping the paper system. Shoppers will also benefit from clearer and more accurate signs on the shelves.

ZBD Displays Ltd is behind a revolutionary device being developed with help from Sheffield Hallam University scientists. The concept has attracted £1/2million funding from the Department of Trade and Industry for a joint project with Sheffield Hallam University.

The system is based on a liquid crystal cell which, once written to, needs no power source. Scientists Professor Chris Care and Dr Tim Spencer from the University’s Materials and Engineering Research Institute (MERI) are helping develop detailed computer models of liquid crystal in the display. The models will be used to improve the technology further, by lowering the voltage the system takes to operate. It paves the way for use in smart cards and mobiles, where the technology could boost a phone’s battery life by minimising the power needed to operate its display.

The concept has already been picked up by two of the UK’s top retailers. John Lewis store Peter Jones is using it in its audiovisual and TV department and Tesco has chosen its South Wigston store in Leicester to trial the labels on the delicatessen counter.

Dr Cliff Jones, Chief Technology Officer at ZBD, said: “The feedback from our customers such as Tesco and John Lewis has been very positive. The work we are doing with Professor Care’s group at MERI will help us improve device performance and extend the use of ZBD for new applications.”

Dr Tim Spencer of MERI said: “Paper labels are used by all retailers, but they’re actually an outdated, labour-intensive and inefficient way of reflecting the ever-changing product information customers need. When you consider that with this system a supermarket chain could drop the price of a tin of beans in 1,000 stores worldwide simultaneously, the benefits are immense.”

Professor Chris Care added: “But price changes are just the start. The technology has enormous potential to embed displays into a wide range of objects, for example smart cards, since a power supply is only needed when the information in the display needs to be changed.”

Kelly Hill | alfa
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