Anti-counterfeiting has been a key concern in packaging in recent years, yet new technologies are constantly thwarted by counterfeiters worldwide. Lior Krasnovsky, labels and packaging workflow product manager at HP Indigo, talks us through the track-and-trace technology that marks a change in the packaging status quo.
Now more than ever, grey market diversion and counterfeiting are growing threats to brands. The International Chamber of Commerce estimated that in 2015, sales of counterfeited goods will reach almost $2 trillion.
Grey market diversion jeopardises brands' abilities to globally market products. A relatively small number of diverted items can cause significant price pressure to an entire market area - but the damages of counterfeiting extend beyond loss of revenue, to brand reputation and legal liability. And in the case of electrical products, consumer goods, beverages and pharmaceuticals, the use of such items can potentially put consumers at risk, making the brand liable.
Protecting a product from counterfeiting usually requires multiple measures, overt and covert, which ultimately make the production of counterfeited goods too complicated or too expensive for manufacturers.
New security printing opportunities
HP Indigo, the leader in digital printing, offers capabilities for print service providers to deliver sophisticated security solutions to brands including overt and covert serialisation in various forms, using HP SmartStream Designer variable data printing technology. Security-data printing in a one-pass process on the package or label (and not at the filling line) reduces the risk of non-serialised packages reaching the grey market.
HP Indigo enables printing of high-quality overt serialised codes such as QR codes, data matrix and 1D barcodes. The end-to-end solution is usually provided by one of HP Indigo's track-and-trace-qualified partners, which create the codes, and offer tracking infrastructure and database services.
Indigo also supports the printing of copy-sensitive marks via its partners GPAS and ATT. Such marks can be read by standard QR-code readers for regular track and trace purposes, but also include encrypted data. The marks are designed to lose part of the encrypted data when copied. If a counterfeited mark is scanned, the back-end system will send an alert.
Multiple security methods
A common way for counterfeiters to avoid detection is to remove serialisation data. This can be done by scratching off a part of the QR code or by applying a label over it. As a preventative measure, therefore, dual serialisation that employs overt and covert means is necessary. An invisible code creates a secondary backup in case diverters attempt to thwart investigations by removing the visible code.
HP Indigo allows the use of two main technologies for this purpose: variable microtext and mini QR codes. Variable microtext is a 1pt or smaller font that is designed to maintain readability when magnified, yet have the look of regular print to the naked eye. Mini QR codes can be as small as 2.5×2.5mm, and can be integrated into label and packaging designs. Both elements can be placed on the package or label in a location where the diverter will not be able to scratch or hide the elements. These features are not limited to printing on paper, and the small elements can be printed on synthetic substrates too, allowing Indigo press owners to offer unique capabilities to their customers.
Additional security features are available via Indigo's open integration to security partners. GPAS and ATT allow consumers to check the authenticity of an item by creating a random pattern that is unique and easily recognisable to the consumer. They are offered the option to read the QR code via mobile phone and get an image of the random pattern to compare with the package. If the images are identical, the product is genuine. Prooftag, another Indigo partner, uses a special substrate with random dispersion of coloured security fibres associated to a serialised 2D code to create a unique fingerprint for each label.
But print is only one part of the overall solution. There are many stakeholders in an end-to-end track-and-trace system: marketing, design, production, distribution, inspection and enforcement. The solution needs to be integrated into brand IT systems. HP Indigo provides the needed printing technology and open integration to partners for use of this innovative technology.