Labels that react to environmental changes are mostly encountered in the food and drink sector, although color changes can also provide useful indications of product condition for some pharmaceuticals and electronic components too.
Figure 8.1 - Smart packaging is designed to provide additional useful information on a product’s status such as its authenticity. Note the de-metalized holographic tamper evident seal
These labels inform about temperature change and advisable serving conditions, as well as ripeness condition and in some instances they can delay the effects of product deterioration such as in fresh packed meat and fish.
Most products carry some sort of code. This code can be simple or complex, dependent upon how much data needs to be carried and how important such information is to those in the supply chain and beyond.
In cases where data is used to deliver more complex messages - that may be visually read – this will require the aid of a barcode scanner, smart phone or tablet computer.
Figure 8.2 - Shows the use of barcodes for tracking individual packs. Note the additional booklet label
Product security is a process rather than an isolated event and in order to deliver a safe outcome it is necessary to capture status information at choke points within the supply chain as well as at the location of purchase and up to the final point of consumption.
Status information may include some, or maybe all of the following:
What is the ‘sell-by’ and ‘use by’ date for the product?
Where was the product manufactured and which production batch did it come from?
Does the product carry a unique identification number and if so is the product still in the correct distribution channel?
Has the product been exposed to environmental factors that are outside a safe temperature range?
Is the product still fresh or has it been exposed to unsafe conditions during transit?
Is the product authentic and has it remained unopened before use?
LABELS AND PACKAGING THAT INFORMS ON ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS THROUGH VISUAL PROCESSING
As mentioned previously, unwanted or unsafe environmental exposure can be reported visually with a color change. Likewise, the best time to consume a product can also be communicated visually with a color change ink as can the best serving temperature for hot and cold drinks.
Figure 8.3 - Color change indicators provide information on a product’s freshness and best use date
It is fairly commonplace now to see color change inks on beer labels that change from clear to blue when the correct levels of coolness are reached before serving. Also warnings can be displayed on hot beverages such as coffee and tea that caution that the beverage may be too hot to consume and needs to cool further before drinking.
Other popular applications for such informative labels include ripeness indicators that ‘sense’ a change in the chemical compounds surrounding fresh fruit in a clear PET carton and indicate where the fruit is firm, juicy or overripe.
In meat products the ingress of oxygen into containers sealed or flushed with nitrogen can lead to deterioration in the product, making it unsafe or unappetizing to eat. Such labels are useful to warn shop staff as well as consumers that such foodstuffs are past their best and need to be taken off display or thrown away.
Labels can also be used to accurately inform of water contamination in the field of consumer electronic goods and components.
Water contamination is a common occurrence in the FMCG electronics sector. Products such as cell phones, tablet computers and such can accidentally be dropped into water or exposed to rain or snow during use. This invalidates their guarantee, but repairers may not be aware when a product is returned for service that water ingress is the cause of the malfunction.
Often it is in the interest of the user not to disclose that a broken cell phone has been dropped into a drink or a sink full of water by mistake.
Water contamination indicators (Figure 8.4 ) are supplied in label form and irreversibly change colour alerting to the fact that water damage has occurred. This technology is useful to both the user and the original equipment supplier since it prevents misunderstandings occurring when malfunctioning products are returned for replacement or repair.
Figure 8.4 - A product returned for repair or replacement to the brand owner may involve undisclosed water damage. The brand owner can confirm this through the use of water indication labels that change color or flash up a message
Most of the above illustrations apply to safety and provide advice on the recommended best conditions and time to consume a product. Whist not considered directly as anti-counterfeit solutions in their own right; they add a degree of complexity to the packaging and therefore act as a barrier that counterfeiters can find obstructive if they are unable to obtain the same degree of quality information delivered by these proprietary devices.
LABELS AND PACKAGING THAT DELIVER ‘QUALITATIVE’ STATUS DATA IN DIGITAL CODING FORMAT
Unwanted or unsafe product condition can be communicated through color change chemistry that requires the use of specially formulated inks that change their state dependent upon exposure to pre-set environmental conditions.
These solutions, however, can only inform on the current status of a product at any specific moment is time.
They cannot identify other critical information that a user or supply chain manager would find useful, such as whether the product packaging confirms authenticity or that the correct distribution path has been taken which would confirm that diversion or parallel importing had not taken place.
Furthermore, data on the source of the product, together with manufacturing information such as lot number, serial number and expiry date are also essential pieces of information that need to be acquired at various points in the supply chain.
Very basic coding systems such as those that only provide an expiry date and lot number or product reference still require protection from alteration fraud since once a product has passed its sell by date it loses value. Therefore some means of preventing alteration or identifying that alteration has taken place is necessary.
This may involve over-laminating with a clear destructible label or debossing using a hard metal die to impress the data into the carton substrate
Alternative approaches could involve the use of hot or cold stamping foil to apply the variable information to the label or pack at the same time as pricing or the Universal Product Code (UPC) is added. A more practical approach for large batches of product is to pre-print this information.
Many producers choose to add this basic data through the use of inkjet printers or laser marking systems. Whatever process is chosen there is a basic requirement to ensure that alterations cannot easily be made, otherwise product integrity may be compromised.
Figure 8.5 - Shows how alteration of expiry data on a carton may be prevented by the use of hard debossing
Alteration protection may involve lamination, the overlay of a de-metalized holographic label or the addition of a clear optically variable varnish.
Whilst it is commonplace to see the UPC barcode on many products, this code is static and only applies to a specific product type, size and other common attribute such as color or style. A fixed code will always be displayed on every item through the range produced.
In order to identify a specific item within this range it is necessary to provide every article with a unique reference number so that it may be identifiable and thereby traceable. We see numbers on banknotes, passports and identity documents so it should not be out of the ordinary for us to see them appearing on products too, especially as we move further towards the internet of things (IoT ).
Barcodes are useful since they allow us to acquire relatively long and complex reference numbers that may contain letters and symbols as well as numbers. Such codes provide almost instant machine readability when placed in front of a barcode reader or smart phone camera.
The main driver in the process of tracking and tracing products in this way is the ubiquitous cell phone. It should be recognized at this point that track & trace systems in isolation do NOT deliver authentication. However they can be modified to provide both real-time supply chain information and product verification if designed correctly.
First, let’s look at some interesting fairly recent history. With the introduction of digital telecommunications systems in the 1990s it was possible for users to send each other text messages, given that they were equipped with the necessary 2G phones and a suitable key pad.
Very basic authentication systems grew up that took advantage of this capability and it was possible to ‘text’ a short message service (SMS) alpha-numeric code to a given telephone number and receive a simple reply confirming or refuting authenticity.
Figure 8.6 - Shows the use of a scratch off protected code that can be used to check authenticity. The scratch off feature preserves the integrity of the code to ensure ‘one time’ use
This process, however, was pretty insecure since a database containing the information on the range of serial numbers used could be hacked. If a counterfeiter purchased several genuine products and took note of their codes it was not difficult to predict how the coding structure worked and then introduce copies of the code or predict future reference numbers that had yet to come into circulation.
The benefit that such codes delivered was the ability to check that a pack or label bearing the code was authentic. This could be achieved via a suitably equipped cell phone with Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) or through a laptop or desktop computer linked to the internet. The latter process often required the keying of a lengthy alpha-numeric code and this process in itself limited the flexibility of the system because keying such extended code often led to keying errors which caused frustration and annoyance.
The process has evolved over time and was refined in order to overcome these obstacles. By the turn of the century structured encrypted codes that were not reliant upon a database for checking had been developed. These codes were randomly generated and sent by the user via text message to a server where they were decrypted and verified, removing the hacking vulnerability. In order to protect such codes from copy attacks they were often hidden beneath scratch panels (Figure 8.6) or perforated opaque over-laminates similar to those used by the banks to advise a new PIN for credit or debit card activation.
In some cases the unique reference was also provided as a barcode so that keying was not required and early applications relied upon the camera within the phone for a communication tool. A picture was taken of the barcode and was sent by multi-media messaging (MMS) to a server where the code was decoded and a return message delivered by SMS confirming or denying authenticity.
Despite some of these drawbacks the process of ‘serialization’ or adding exclusive identifiers was adopted by many brand owners who recognized the benefits that unique item identification provided, especially within the closed supply chain where it became easier to track and trace items on an individual level.
QUANTITATIVE + QUALITATIVE = TOTAL PRODUCT VISIBILITY IN TRACK & TRACE
Today, the practice of track and trace has advanced enormously, with complex coding structures being developed that are able to carry sufficient information to embrace all the critical data needed to identify an item, where it originated, when it should be used and whether it is in the correct supply channel, to pinpoint just a few of the attributes such codes deliver.
Sophisticated coding systems using inkjet or laser ablation marking can be mounted on packaging machinery and any number of ancillary devices that are required for fast filling, sealing, lidding, and capping. Running such systems requires a database-driven encoding process that delivers the required information at packaging line speeds, often onto a curved surface that can deform the code significantly unless compensated for in software.
Such software must also drive quality inspection tools to ensure that readable codes are being produced.
This requires the use of scanners that read every code produced and ensure that it meets the requirements of the barcode symbology being generated. (Interleaved 2 of 5, Datamatrix, QR Code etc.)
For perfect ‘first time read rates’ there will be a requirement to meet edge definition standards, print contrast and dimensional stability in every code produced. If these standards are not met then poor reading performance may well nullify any of the expected benefits that automatic code acquisition may deliver to the track and trace environment.
At this juncture it should again be noted that track & trace in itself is not authentication. Whilst track and trace data provides an essential measurement as to the status of a correctly coded product, it can only provide an indication of origin or veracity.
To ensure that the code is trustworthy it must be encrypted and contain a unique (ideally) randomized reference that can be verified using the digital tools that are now available, such as cloud computing which can be reached through wi-fi or mobile connections and a connected intelligent (learning) network that works dynamically to identify fraud as it happens in real time.
This whole process is being driven by what are considered to be the five major digital enablers of authentication and product security.
With the introduction of smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy series amongst others, the ability of such devices to run powerful apps in conjunction with 3G, 4G (and next Big Data 5G) telephony, plus wi-fi connectivity means that more than a quarter of the world’s population has access to a barcode reader and the ability to interrogate a product’s genuineness and origin through a barcode acquired through the phone’s inbuilt camera.
Figure 8.7 - The five major enablers of digital authentication in product security
Barcoding is becoming synonymous with security in both pharmaceuticals and tobacco markets as alliances and government directives encourage the use of track, trace and authenticate systems to ensure product integrity and protect against counterfeit products reaching the consumer.
In the pharmaceutical sector in particular there are a number of government mandates already in force; or about to be activated. For instance in Europe the EU Falsified Medicine Directive will come into force in 2018.
This means that cartons of prescribed medicines will be required to carry a 2D Datamatrix code (Figure 8.8) and corresponding clear text on every pack to enable serialization and traceability.
Figure 8.8 - A requirement for prescribed medicines to carry a 2D Datamatrix code and corresponding clear text on every pack
Many predict that in the pharmaceutical market protection of the secondary packaging is not enough and primary packaging such as blisters should also carry the code. Taking this a stage further some suppliers of coding systems are providing the ability to code each tablet, capsule and vial with its own protective code.
By consolidating codes in this way, and by supplying a master number to every case that leads to subsequent cartons and eventually dose level, a powerful barrier is placed in front of any counterfeiter or perpetrator of fraud such as those that may choose to ‘seed’ fakes amongst legitimate consignments.
Ideally, to improve efficiency, such systems require the aggregation of the coding structure which is illustrated below and shows how a tertiary case would be marked with its own unique identifier and then how each subsequent pack and sub-pack in the case would be marked so that each individual primary pack carries a hierarchical reference which includes its unique reference/position/identifier amongst others in the consignment.
Another market where track & trace is finding ground is that controlled by the major tobacco companies. Alliances formed by the chief tobacco players in the global market are designed to defend and identify cigarettes which are constantly under counterfeit attack across the globe.
Figure 8.9 - Aggregated coding enables each primary pack to be associated with secondary packs and case numbers so all are ‘bound up’ and inseparable. This approach prevents counterfeits infiltrating the distribution system
The tobacco market has always been an attractive target for counterfeit activity, mainly because of the high excise duty that is levied by governments in an attempt to control consumption and also to raise income to pay for defense, social services etc.
Coding technology offers opportunities for tobacco companies to discover where their products are finally consumed, since the distribution chain can be highly extended and there are a number of opportunities for this to be compromised by inserting fake (or diverted) products at various points within the chain.
The challenge posed for the tobacco industry is that cigarettes are a mass consumer product and universal coding needs to be applied in as many markets as possible, since it is difficult to control the product effectively once it has left the factory. In order to address this weakness the industry has developed a code verification system (CVS).
CVS is a 2D barcode that uses a unique encrypted 12-character number to identify and authenticate a cigarette pack. The number, when linked to a database, can be verified and can be read by a human or by a computer-driven barcode scanner.
By entering the number in the database or scanning the code, a code-verifying computer program will determine whether the code is authentic
or not. The code has information about the place of manufacture, the machinery, the date and time of production, and the brand.
Figure 8.10 - The CVS barcode on a cigarette carton allows automated track & trace information to be exchanged and verified
CVS is a part of the PMI Codentify system. Philip Morris International reports that the application of the codes to product packaging has a minimal impact on the manufacturing process.
PMI has licensed the technology to its three main competitors: British American Tobacco, Japanese Tobacco, and Imperial Tobacco.
Together, they will use and promote this system to governments to ensure a single standard for product verification and identification of non-conforming, tax evading stock.
A similar system is also used for checking the authenticity of cigar boxes. The code is placed on a cigar box before it is sealed and a paper wrapper placed on each cigar.
From these two illustrations it will be appreciated that track & trace in isolation does not automatically deliver satisfactory confirmation of authenticity. A further process is required and this embeds a unique serialized reference to the code that when encrypted supplies the necessary robustness needed to protect both the code and the database from compromise or copy attacks.
It is also important to recognize that such coding technology often exists alongside other more formal methods of overt and covert authentication, since not everyone outside the industry will have access to the code verification system. Therefore it may be observed that holograms, invisible inks and forensic markers (amongst other authentication features) may also be in widespread use in both tobacco and pharmaceutical packaging.
RANDOMIZATION – CODING THAT IS PRACTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO COPY OR DISRUPT
In the importance of printing substrates in brand security article it was discovered how randomization provided a useful method of protecting materials from copying and replication assaults.
The combination of randomly distributed colored fibers and planchettes in security label substrates and papers provides the designer with a tool that is practically impossible to copy. This is because to replicate such random occurrences and features within a substrate is an impractical proposition for any counterfeiter. Mimicking these features is just too time consuming and costly to justify the effort.
The developers of coding systems have also recognized the value of randomization in providing a barrier to the imitation of track, trace and authenticate codes.
In order to capitalize on this attribute a number of security solution providers have introduced various proprietary systems that depend on randomization as a kernel to their serialization and authentication systems.
The process relies on artificial randomization and can embrace unsystematically placed dots, lines or other visually identifiable features such as colored pellets that can be added to a label during the printing process or to the substrate during manufacture.
To demonstrate how artificial randomization works it is necessary to imagine holding, say, six match sticks in your hand. If you throw these lightly into the air they will drop and form a pattern when they finally come to rest on the surface of a table for instance.
Every time you do this a different pattern will be formed. Some match sticks will lie in isolation, others will fall across each other forming a series of intersections. Finally, if the pattern produced is contained within a specific area, all points created by the crossing of the matchsticks as well as the position of each matchstick can be plotted. It will be noted that each time the process is repeated a different (random) pattern will be formed.
Such a procedure will generate millions of different (position) combinations, all of which can be stored in a database as a numeric code. Adding such a code to a label immediately introduces a unique artificial feature that can be authenticated and that is impossible to copy easily.
By linking this visual, randomly created code to a serialized barcode that is encrypted, it is possible to provide a useful link between the random visual code and the stored image in the database.
Codes produced in such a way can be read with smartphone apps and verified using software residing in the phone and also in the database (Figure 8.12).
Attempts to copy, say, one code and replicate it many times will be immediately evident since each barcode is unique (as is its accompanying randomized feature) and can be designed to reveal other attributes such as its position within the supply chain, whether it has been read before, and if so how many times.
Figure 8.11 - Haphazardly scattered micro wires embedded in a label to generate the random code. This random pattern is ‘linked’ to a serialization code to assist in processing the data
Figure 8.12 - Authentication mesages can be delivered through the use of smart phone apps
RFID AND NFC: AUTHENTICATION SYSTEMS OF THE FUTURE?
This sub-title may seem somewhat confusing since RFID and NFC have already been chosen and proven as ideal authentication systems for incorporating into packaging and labeling.
However this choice is measured against the cost of such systems, which require a complicated infrastructure of readers and also a heavy investment in RFID tags that need to be placed on all the articles within the supply chain that are to be protected from counterfeiting.
RFID is an abbreviation for radio frequency identification and as this title suggests, each tag can be identified by a unique number embedded within the tag that can be acquired through a wireless connection. These ‘radio barcodes’ consist of a silicon chip, an antennae through which data passes and is stored, and a carrier which is usually a pressure sensitive label.
Dependent upon their construction, tags can be read from a distance (Figure 8.13) and can be designed to deliver both reading and writing functionality. Power is delivered to the chip in the tag by the incoming radio signal which also carries a command for the tag to deliver its data payload to the reader.
Figure 8.13 - Illustrates how tamper evidence can be introduced to an RFID tag
Such tags can be designed to provide tamper detection by adding a perforation to the label substrate that carries the antennae. If such a label is used as a seal, once the seal is broken so is the ability of the tag to communicate.
Even in their most simplified format, such as a radio tag that carries only an identification number, these tags can cost a number of US cents each, even when purchased in large quantities. In small quantities such items require an investment of ten or fifteen cents depending on their format.
Therefore until the price of such devices falls significantly their widespread use in brand protection is limited to applications where such an investment is only a small part of the cost of the item carrying the tag.
Figure 8.14 - Shows the different read ranges and applications for various RFID technologies – note the difference in distance reading between cell phones (NFC) and hand held barcode readers
Therefore such RFID solutions have so far mainly been focused on high price designer goods such as ladies’ handbags, shoes and clothing where price tickets can absorb the cost of such devices and counterfeiting is an ever present threat.
RFID is widely used in a number of other applications such as transport (contactless) ticketing, access control, industrial asset management and logistics.
Manufacturers of RFID tags promote the return on investment (ROI) such devices may provide in brand protection, especially in a well-designed system that leverages on the various attributes of a tag such as providing hands free reading, tamper evidence, authentication, anti-theft protection and supply chain information such as product origin, destination and route to market.
These elements when taken in their entirety can all be added to the functionality of a tag, but the incremental additional costs of each performance enhancement feature needs to deliver more in return to make the ROI worthwhile.
For instance EAS, (Electronic Article Surveillance) allows retailers to protect their stock from theft both from display and from within the stockroom.
Therefore in such applications combining EAS functionality with authentication will deliver benefits for the retailer and the brand owner who may wish to use RFID as a feature to engage with consumers as well as deliver protection against fake products reaching the consumer through legitimate channels.
Nowadays RFID tags can be made with safety features that also protect them from counterfeiters. Just like holograms and color change inks, where RFID tags were useful in brand protection applications there was a demand for fake tags in order to confer authenticity onto phony product.
This weakness was previously considered an inhibitor to market acceptance of RFID for brand protection, but developments that add physically un-clonable functions (PUF’s) to the tag have removed this obstacle.
The role of PUF’s in protecting RFID tags from counterfeiting involves the recognition of tiny imperfections in the chip carried by the tag. These imperfections act as a material biometric and are written into the tag memory as a self-checking feature.
The evolution of RFID over the last two decades has delivered a trustworthy product that promises to become more widely used in packaging security as manufacturing methods change and printed electronics replaces the more expensive manufacturing processes of the past.
The development of NFC (near field communications) is an important trend in widening the scope for RFID adoption. The growth of this technology, which has a smaller form factor than RFID, but functions in the same manner, has been proven in transport ticketing and in contactless payments.
Contactless payment technology has been previously hindered by a dearth of infrastructure, but with the recent introduction of NFC applications on Android and now iOS platforms the use of contactless payment methods in stores, coffee shops, newsagents and on public transport has reinvigorated the banks and business as a whole to provide the infrastructure necessary to drive the process further and faster.
Encouraged by the simplicity and speed of the process, as well as the security offered by fingerprint authentication at point of transaction, smartphone users and brand owners are recognizing the power of this solution for brand protection applications.
Again, it is important to highlight the need for delivering a firm ‘business case’ for NFC in this consumer (not payment) environment. Systems that leverage the attributes of NFC such as secure authentication, tamper evidence and consumer engagement functions will be covered here.
Figure 8.15 - The NFC symbol can now be seen on most new issues of credit and debit cards and indicates the contactless functionality of card which requires no PIN for payments of up to £30 or its equivalent in mainland Europe and North America
Figure 8.16 - Shows a smart phone NFC authentication process in action. Note NFC symbol on the neck closure. The NFC tag is de-activated on opening, supplying an additional anti-tamper feature.jpg