The trend of Smart Labels refers to the use of printed paper, plastic, or fabric labels upgraded with special intelligent inlay technology that can digitally capture and communicate more information than is printed on the physical label. Technologies generally integrated in these labels include radio frequency identification (RFID), near-field communication (NFC), time-temperature indicators (TTIs), and quick response (QR) codes.
The need to label products spans all stages of a product’s life cycle, from supply chain procedures during and after manufacture to the provision of product information to the end user and disposal instructions (specific to products containing hazardous materials such as batteries). The type of information therefore ranges from tracking and condition instructions to date of production and material data – everything that traditionally was printed on a physical label.
Barcodes – the most commonly used form of product identification coding – first facilitated inventory management but, with a maximum storage capacity of only 20 characters, cannot convey detailed information. Compare this with QR codes which store over 7,000 characters. Their introduction gave us a new way of leveraging labels to provide product data. As all smartphones can now read QR codes, it is easy for consumers to scan these codes to reach digital platforms displaying all the product information they are looking for. Today, there are significant advances in labeling digitalization including the use of embedded sensors, printed batteries, and devices that enable person-to-product communication.
With a global market value of 9.5 billion USD in 2022, year-on-year growth of 9.6%, and a projected CAGR of 11.2%, the value of the global smart labels market is expected to reach24.8 billion USD by 2030.
Within logistics and the supply chain, smart label usage has significant impact. Here at DHL we see an increase in the adoption of these technologies to address various aspects of the customer experience and operational efficiency. From the availability of product information through the simple scanning of a QR code to being able to track a parcel or package along its journey to its delivery address, this trend appears on the Logistics Trend Radar with a relatively high impact and realization within 5 years. Although we are seeing current applications and use cases, we believe further development is required before smart labels become truly commonplace.