SmartSkin Technologies: Thinking outside the bottle



“We have become the global go-to for some of the largest brands in the world. We love to apply technology to solve problems and we’ve become very good at that.”

 - Evan Justason, CEO, SmartSkin.

Sensing a disturbance in the force

From protecting the integrity of vaccine bottles during the filling and packaging process, to helping one of the world’s largest soft drink companies reduce their carbon footprint, Fredericton-based SmartSkin Technologies has been quietly revolutionizing the world’s pharmaceutical and beverage manufacturing industries.

The company’s patented technology leverages a unique blend of advanced wireless sensors, AI, and in-depth data analytics to solve and prevent problems on bottling and container production lines.

“SmartSkin makes sensors that measure the various forces that containers are subjected to as they move through the packaging line,” explains company CEO, Evan Justason. “Understanding these forces helps uncover all kinds of opportunity for optimizing production, sometimes to the tune of 10 percent. You can learn why containers break, get pinched or fall over, etcetera.”

Designing something different

SmartSkin’s breakthrough sensor technology was the brainchild of company founder and Chief Technology Officer, Kumaran Thillainadarajah. In 2009, Thillainadarajah was a UNB student working a summer job with the university’s biomedical engineering department. His assignment: to design a stronger skin for prosthetics. “We ended up making and designing something different,” admits Thillainadarajah. “Instead, we designed a skin that could behave like a sensor.” 

What followed was a research and entrepreneurial journey with the support and guidance of UNB’s Technology Management & Entrepreneurship (TME) centre. “We built many prototypes and tried different applications from golfing to prosthetics before stumbling into an application for packaging.” 

“This idea was very research intensive,” adds Thillainadarajah. “The raw sensor tech had to be created and tested – it takes a lot of time and money.  Raising capital is hard. ACOA and IRAP’s support helped leverage next steps for our company. We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for partners like ACOA and IRAP.”

Making a difference on a global scale

Today, SmartSkin supports 15 of the world’s 20 largest pharmaceutical companies and is used in bottling and manufacturing facilities around the globe. The company has attracted over $15 million of investment into the region, including more than $5 million from Schott Pharma, the world's largest supplier of pharmaceutical glass vials. 

“Our technology is used on a global scale in the pharmaceutical industry to find and eliminate challenges that limit production of life saving vaccines and medications like chemotherapy drugs,” says Justason. “Companies can also use it to optimize quality and ultimately safety for patients.”

As if that wasn’t enough, SmartSkin technology is also helping in the fight against climate change.

“We are working with Coca Cola on a greenhouse reduction initiative,” Thillainadarajah mentions. In fact, it is the largest carbon footprint reduction initiative ever undertaken by Coca Cola. The soft drink giant is looking at reducing the weight of its cans which will have a huge impact on the company’s overall carbon footprint. The challenge, Thillainadarajah explains, is that the lighter cans can be more susceptible to damage. SmartSkin sensors will help identify potential problems in the production line so adjustments can be made to accommodate the lighter cans. “We continue to make improvements to this initiative, and it will be ongoing.”

The Atlantic Canada Advantage

When asked what it’s like navigating the global marketplace from a small New Brunswick city, Thillainadarajah says location has never been a barrier to growing his company. “All the ingredients we need to make and build a successful company are here and we are proof of it. We have easy access to business support, investors and skilled talent right here in Atlantic Canada.”

He points out that most of the company’s employees are graduates of UNB, NBCC and CCNB. “They all have different types of skillsets that contribute to the success of this company.  Together, we work to make a product that is invented, designed and shipped all over the world. 

“The business environment and ecosystem is unique here. In New Brunswick, so many people reached out to me and wanted to genuinely help me. It’s incredible the types of investors that exist here. “

Justason agrees. “Every company around the world that reaches the stage that we’re at now, needs support to remain competitive and we’ve been lucky to garner support from many.  ACOA has been one of the most important supporters for SmartSkin and has helped us to rise to the challenge of reaching a global scale.”

And it’s not just the supportive business environment that’s a plus for entrepreneurs looking to build both a career and a rewarding lifestyle.

“Quality of life is like no other,” says Thillainadarajah. “It takes me six minutes to get to work and six minutes to get home to my family. Overall, that’s more time with my business and more time with my family.”

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