Using your smart phone camera, you could learn what factory made the ingredients in your heart medication, what country grew the corn in your breakfast cereal, or even how to recycle the phone. You could follow the whole life cycle of a product and everyone who handled it along the way to ensure that the medicine you’re taking isn’t counterfeit and the food you’re eating is safe.
This reality is on the horizon, said University of Illinois food science and human nutrition professor Scott Morris, an expert on the history and evolution of packaging and the author of “Food and Package Engineering,” a new textbook published by Wiley Blackwell. Barcodes, the familiar black-and-white labels on packages that began as a means to scan prices or track inventory, are evolving into a broader class of identifiers in new and startling ways, said Morris, who also is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering.
As the technology advances, these electronic identifiers allow access to more information about the contents and history of products and are opening new channels of communication between buyers and sellers.
The QR code, a new species of two-dimensional barcode that can be scanned with a cell phone, increasingly supplies a direct link between the shopper in the store and information about the scanned product online.
“Customers’ experience and interaction with packaging are undergoing radical and unprecedented changes,” Morris wrote in an article in Packaging World Magazine early this year. “Emerging now is a more complex system that includes an entire peer group of customers giving continuous, real-time analysis of the product.”
Manufacturers and retailers are trying to take advantage of this new technology-driven interaction, but they are also struggling to cope, Morris said. The shopper has unprecedented power to identify the best products at the best prices he or she can find. And those who are unhappy with their purchases can let the world know about it in real time.
Companies have a lot at stake – and a lot to gain from more sophisticated barcodes, Morris said. Those who embrace the changes can quickly enlist the online crowd to help develop their products and packaging. Identifiers that capture the life history of each package and its contents can dramatically enhance the security, accountability and traceability of the items people purchase and use every day, he said.Most people are surprised to learn, for example, that pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. rarely track their inventory once it leaves the manufacturing plant, Morris said. This has resulted in a gray market of drugs that are stolen and redistributed. (In one famous case in March, 2010, thieves cut a hole in the roof of a warehouse owned by Eli Lilly & Co. and made off with $75 million in prescription drugs.) Some of these items go to other countries and some end up on pharmacy shelves in the U.S. via unscrupulous distributors, Morris said.
A more sophisticated system could help identify and isolate contaminated drugs, foods or other dangerous products anywhere in the supply chain, Morris said, limiting harm to customers and reducing liability for producers.
If used properly, a global identification system would increase efficiency and profits, expanding the “just-in-time” delivery of goods to retailers. It also would allow companies to get a more detailed picture of the locations, preferences and buying habits of customers, Morris said.
Even though barcodes, QR codes and even RFID tags (which are read by radio waves rather than scanners) are available, Morris said, the structure of the actual identifier is a work in progress. Several organizations, in particular GS1, the global consortium that allocates barcodes, are developing new standards for these identifiers.
“The format is not the issue here,” Morris said. “The issue is, what information can be carried with a physical object, and what use do we make of it? That’s where it really gets interesting. Because then you’re not just dealing with a can of soup, a bottle of pills or an aircraft part. You’re dealing with the whole global economy all at once.”Editor’s notes: To reach Scott Morris, call 217-333-9330;
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
21.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.08.2017 | Medical Engineering
21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
21.08.2017 | Life Sciences