is part of the Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Countering counterfeits with an integral 3D barcode

A new weapon has been developed in the fight against fakes. A British SME called Sofmat Ltd. has come up with a 3D barcode which could be molded into products during manufacture, and, together with engineers from the University of Bradford, has further developed the technology into a promising product. Currently, most anti-counterfeit devices are stuck onto the product or its packaging after manufacture, making them easy to copy.

A new weapon has been developed in the fight against fakes. A British SME called Sofmat Ltd. has come up with a 3D barcode which could be molded into products during manufacture, and, together with engineers from the University of Bradford, has further developed the technology into a promising product. Currently, most anti-counterfeit devices are stuck onto the product or its packaging after manufacture, making them easy to copy. With estimates for the total value of counterfeit products sold worldwide each year reaching as high as $1.8 trillion, the need for improved anti-counterfeiting technologies can hardly be overstated.

The anti-counterfeit marker is virtually invisible to the naked eye and impossible to detect by touch. It can be read using a laser scanner, allowing anything from phones to pills to be tracked and verified as authentic. And because the 3D barcode is an integral part of the product itself, made up of tiny indentations in the surface of the product, created by pins which are integrated into its mold, it is very difficult to reproduce. Using micro actuators, the pins can be set at different heights, each step corresponding to either a letter (A-Z) or a number (0-9). The prototype—developed with funding from Innovate UK (Swindon, United Kingdom)—works with a four pin array, enabling over 1.7 million different configurations.

“The system enables very small displacements to be made in each pin—each step being just 0.4microns, 100th of the width of a human hair,” explained Dr. Ben Whiteside, from the University of Bradford. “These have to be set with a very high accuracy and with sufficient force so their position is maintained during the manufacturing process. While our system has been developed initially for products made from plastics or composites through injection molding, it could also be used to stamp or emboss the code onto a product.”

The patented technology is already generating interest from the electronics, automotive and pharmaceutical sectors, where counterfeiting is a serious issue. Many pharma companies are now developing molded tablets produced using an injection molding process into which a 3D barcode could be incorporated.

“A 3D barcode allows much more complexity than existing anti-counterfeit systems,” explains Sofmat Director Dr. Phil Harrison. “You can have multiple configurations, different codes on each individual product and additional details such as patterns on the heads of the pins themselves, making copying the code extremely difficult. For the first time the same technology and coding can be used on bulk packaging, individual packaging and on the actual product, making it much harder to create and ship fake products.”

The system has been verified in the laboratory using high-tech scanning devices including a white light interferometer and a laser-scanning confocal microscope to characterize the surface of the coded ‘product’ to ensure the code is accurately reproduced. A laser scanner is currently in development that will be able to read the code and wirelessly transmit the result via an app to either a phone or tablet.
 

Hide comments
account-default-image

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Publish