By Maynard H. Benjamin
Envelopes are trusted carriers of lifes most important messages, whether its a wedding invitation, college application, mortgage payment, sales offer or greeting card. As technology progresses, the envelope manufacturing industry continues to adopt new production methods and processes to efficiently produce a product that millions of Americans value and use daily. Technological advancements, though, extend beyond the manufacturing plant and offer the potential to use envelopes and packaging in new and exciting ways.
The convergence of paper-based transactions and online technologies has already added value to the envelope. For example, a consumer can rent a movie online, which is shipped to them in an envelope that also serves as the return package.
Luis Jimenez, senior vice president and chief industry policy officer at Pitney Bowes, referred to this convergence in a presentation at the Global Envelope Alliance meeting in June in
New and developing technologies will provide greater opportunities to integrate envelopes and information so that the delivery package becomes part of a coordinated message. This will become easier as printing moves toward digitally-integrated technologies. Colors will be easier to replicate, and more space on the envelope will be available for a message or image.
Those images may one day move beyond static pictures, further enhancing envelopes or packages. Companies such as Fujitsu are developing electronic paper that can store an image on flexible material. The material can display an image, even without access to electricity. These technologies could also be used to convey changing information or images, providing many interesting possible uses, such as a newspaper that updates itself.
Technologies such as electronic paper also are more resilient than a typical printed bar code. Because they are less susceptible to damage, they can increase security, privacy, and reliability the attributes of mail that consumers value most, according to research conducted by the Envelope Manufacturers Association Foundation and others.
Fluorescent ink, which is used on currency to help prevent counterfeiting, also could be applied to mail pieces or packages to enhance security. Xerox Corporation recently announced that its researchers have developed a process to print fluorescent marks on white paper without using fluorescent ink.
This technology could also improve mail processing. Although it currently is being used to validate stamps, some companies are working on encoding technologies that use fluorescent technology to improve barcode readability, which could make processing more efficient and reliable.
Advances in Barcode Technologies
Advances in printing and barcode technologies will allow more data storage on mail pieces and parcels, using less space, which creates more opportunities for senders and recipients.
The U.S. Postal Services Intelligent Mail barcode system allows more information to be stored on a single barcode. It is a simple, customer-friendly system, easily accommodated on an envelope that allows for better tracking of individual pieces of mail.
With high-density barcodes, mail pieces and parcels could communicate more information to recipients, perhaps one-day through a barcode reader at home, making it easier for a consumer to call up a products website or take advantage of a special online offer available only to those who open the mail piece.
Wireless Technology: The Next Generation
Next-generation wireless technology also is an exciting area of research and development that could one day improve package tracking and facilitate more secure transactions.
HP announced in July 2006 that the companys researchers have developed a memory spot that could be used to interface with other devices. This type of wireless device technology offers many interesting possible uses. For example, a photograph of a product could transmit a description and specifications to a consumer.
Another exciting area of research and development involves embedding Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips into materials. A mail piece or package embedded with RFID could allow the sender to know exactly when an envelope or package arrives in the recipients box.
Market adoption of this technology depends on the cost of the technology versus the value of a packages contents. One development that could lower costs is printable RFID. Earlier this year, Parelec Inc. announced that the company, in partnership with
Some researchers are studying the use of wireless technology with stamps. Intelligent stamps could one day communicate with devices such as cell phones.
An Added Layer of Security
Currently, we use simple technologies patterned gum seals or breakaway seal flaps to help protect important packages from tampering. Developing technologies, such as electronic seals, could improve shipping security and safety. For instance, a machine-readable electronic seal could be encoded with the contents of an envelope, such as sensitive financial documents, to ensure that the intended recipient receives the shipment. Or, an electronic seal could improve the security of packages containing prescription drugs.
All of these technologies continue to be developed and refined. As they make their way into the marketplace, they will offer exciting possibilities for envelopes and parcels to interface with other devices, creating more secure, safe and personalized transactions. These materials will no longer be mechanisms for carrying other documents but will serve as communication vehicles in their own right.
One great way to keep up on the latest in envelope technology and major research and trends in the paper-based communications industry is by visiting the Envelope Manufacturers Association Foundations Web site at www.emafoundation.org.
Maynard H. Benjamin, CAE, is President and CEO of the Envelope Manufacturers Association.