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Every manufacturer knows that counterfeiting remains a huge problem. For plastic products and components, counterfeiting is made easier by the sheer number of parts and products produced globally every day. And the counterfeits often look like the real deal, until there is a problem with them. The manufacturer is then stuck with liability and warranty issues that not only can cost millions in claims but also cost the company its reputation.

Clare Goldsberry

September 21, 2015

4 Min Read
Material taggants provide protection from counterfeiting of plastic products

Every manufacturer knows that counterfeiting remains a huge problem. For plastic products and components, counterfeiting is made easier by the sheer number of parts and products produced globally every day. And the counterfeits often look like the real deal, until there is a problem with them. The manufacturer is then stuck with liability and warranty issues that not only can cost millions in claims but also cost the company its reputation.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) announced in April that, as the result of aggressive enforcement, 23,000 seizures of fake products worth an estimated $12 billion were made. "Protecting intellectual property rights is a critical part of CBP's trade enforcement mission and is critical to protecting American consumers," said Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. "These were seizures of products that could have cheated or threatened the health of American consumers."

PlasticsToday has written numerous articles over the years on fake consumer goods and automotive parts. In fact, automotive aftermarket parts are a huge business for counterfeiters, resulting in $9 billion annually in vehicle recalls.

Counterfeit plastic products and components are difficult to spot for a number of reasons:

  • Plastic materials are ubiquitous—they can be obtained from resin producers or brokers, or purchased from the molding plant down the street.

  • It is easy to make up material certifications, even for OEMs that require lot traceability.

  • You can't tell by looking at the part that the plastic material isn't what it is supposed to be—material testing is required, which often takes time. The counterfeiters can have goods shipped and on store shelves before the fakes are caught.

One way that resin material suppliers are helping to thwart counterfeiters is through taggants, an anti-counterfeiting measure in which molecular particles with specific qualities are blended into the materials. These taggants can help identify whether or not the material is the one specified for that particular part or if it is a cheaper resin or one of inferior quality. Taggants provide a "virtual fingerprint" for the material that is unique to that application, making identification of the product's authenticity possible.

Sunglasses

These counterfeit sunglasses were seized by U.S. customs officials in July 2013.

Taggants have been around for more than a decade. One of the first developers of material taggants is Microtrace Solutions (Minneapolis, MN), which offers taggants, security labels and other product authentication solutions. The company's molecular taggants are formulated specifically for the base material of the product. Microtrace also partners with a number of resin compounders that incorporate Microtrace's taggants into their materials. According to Microtrace's information, compounded plastic resin masterbatches are an ideal solution when authentication is required for parts that are injection molded, extruded or rotationally molded.

Plastics Color Corp. (Calumet City, IL) offers its taggant, MiBatch, as a proactive anti-counterfeiting measure to help brand owners protect their identity and secure their supply chain. Once added to the material, the MiBatch taggants are easy to authenticate, but difficult for counterfeiters to replicate. They also function well under most environmental conditions without affecting product performance, allowing a company's personal chemical "signature" to be consistently produced in any quantity.

Adding taggants into plastic resins as an authentication measure can help OEMs with global suppliers secure their supply chain, making management of the supply chain easier, and ensure safety for consumers, particularly in the areas of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and automotive parts. Additionally, because consumers will pay more for a high-end brand-name product, it ensures that they are, indeed, getting what they paid for.

"To be clear, intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime," said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sara Saldana. "The victims are American businesses, and the employees whose jobs are dependent on IP-intensive industries. Counterfeiting is a crime of global proportions, and when property rights are violated, American jobs are lost, business profits are stolen and, ultimately, consumers are cheated."

PlasticsToday Senior Contributing Editor, Clare Goldsberry, will present, "Protecting Your Products = Protecting Your Profits," followed by a panel discussion on some of the leading in-mold anti-counterfeiting methods at the upcoming In-Mold Decorating Association's annual symposium on October 28 and 29, 2015, at the Doubletree Chicago North Shore Hotel & Conference Center.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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