Celebrating 150 years of cardboard boxes - DS Smith

Boxing clever: blueprint for intelligent packaging made from self-healing ‘skin’ is released

In the 150th year of the cardboard box, we reveal the future: the self-healing box.

In the 150th year of the cardboard box1, our innovation experts reveal a futuristic blueprint for how the box might evolve in the next 50 years. The blueprint shows how packaging could be made from organic, programmable fibres with the ability to self-heal – like our skin – when damaged.

The characteristics of the self-healing box
The characteristics of the self-healing box

The characteristics of the self-healing box include:

  • A webbed nerve system that borrows from the composition of leaves: sensors are printed onto the ‘skin’ of the box and connect all fibres in the packaging, so that it can ascertain damage, and communicate externally.
  • Regenerative ‘scar tissue’: healing itself just like the human body, the surface stretches and thickens to cover the injury, and transmits data to the delivery company and the recipient to tell them it is pausing to heal itself en route.
  • Reuse capability: after it has been opened, the packaging heals the opening of the pack, so that it can be continually reused, extending its life.

There is already a trend for the technologies we use every day to look after themselves – self-driving cars are the obvious example. 

Packaging that heals itself so it can be perpetually reused is a futuristic concept but we’re already designing out waste and recycling the fibres we use by up to 25 times. A circular economy where materials stay in use for longer is much closer than we think.

Wim Wouters
Innovation Director at DS Smith

Looking back into its storied past as well as into its evolutionary future, to mark the 150th year of the cardboard box we have created a retrospective of corrugated cardboard,  charting its journey over time and how it has woven its way through society for hundreds of years. The new digital archive celebrates past and present achievements in the race for innovative ideas, such as plastic replacement designs like Eco Carrier, and parcels that can withstand cold and wet conditions, such as Greencoat.

What’s next for the cardboard box?

In addition to the self-healing box blueprint, our innovators also expect to see developments in the fields of self-adjusting parcels, and spray-on packaging. 

I think we will eventually see intelligent packaging that actually self-adjusts its size to fit its contents, making the absolute most of materials and space.

Wim Wouters
Innovation Director at DS Smith

Taking inspiration from the unique dress that captured the world’s attention during Paris Fashion Week, we will surely see a time when spray-on packaging becomes real.

Wim Wouters
Innovation Director at DS Smith

“Right now, the reality is that boxes can already be high performance kits. It’s possible to make them water and humidity proof, anti-microbial, and to track them throughout their journey with printable nano technology. Self-healing boxes are not here yet, but we have to look into the future for the next set of innovations that will help us use materials as sustainably as possible. We will only achieve this with fresh thinking and new ideas. We’re already looking at partnerships to accelerate the journey to a circular economy so would love to hear from experts who can come with us.”     

1 The first corrugated cardboard box patent: The origin of corrugated cardboard - (dssmith.com) Patent: US122023A - Improvement in paper for packing - Google Patents