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
Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel
The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering