RFID and security inks

New revenue streams for the traditional printer

At the Oct. 15 meeting, the Digital Imaging Association once again delivered high-value to all attendees.

Security is becoming ubiquitous in every aspect of our lives. A recent survey of 186 global organizations by ABI Research found that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is being used or evaluated for a growing number of applications across a wide range of vertical industry sectors, from security-based applications to supply chain management to multiple avenues of asset tracking.

Simultaneously, printing inks have been developed that support RFID, as well as a full suite of covert and discreet taggant technologies to thwart counterfeiting.

Representatives from GS1 Canada and Sun Chemical provided a wealth of information on RFID and security inks. The presenters demonstrated how incorporating these unique tools could become value-added resources to print product offerings.

RFID tagRFID
Nigel Wood, Director of Standards, GS1 Canada and dean of GS1 Canada Education Centre was the evening’s first presenter. Nigel is a recognized expert in electronic commerce. He covered bar coding, electronic data interchange (EDI), electronic product code (EPD) and RFID technology, global data synchronization and product identification.

Automatic identification and data capture is not new. Since the early 1970s, the universal product code (UPC) symbols have been a visible tool of product identification. The symbol is comprised of a machine-readable bar code, requiring line-of-site scanning or manual entry. While this technology is not going away, says Wood, there are some limitations.

What’s next is electronic product code (EPC), which is a numbering scheme to identify each of multiple objects. A microscopic RFID chip enables this powerful concept. This chip is leveraging an old technology and adding functionality to it. An RFID chip and its integrated antenna on a substrate carrier can track products in the supply chain by pallet, by case and by item, providing a unique identifier for each. But the value, says Wood, is in how the data is gathered and used.

In a simpler form, RFID technology can be traced back to World War II to identify friend or foe. In the 1960s, it was used for electronic article surveillance; in the ‘70s, for animal tracking; and in the ‘80s, for electronic toll collection. By 1999, EPC/RFID data was the key element in auto identification. Commercially, Walmart led the way in the sophisticated use of the data to manage inventory and deter theft. By 2007, global standards had been developed.

When affixed to objects, the RFID tag automatically sends information to a reader. There are three types of tags and accompanying readers:

The active tag has a battery, which enables long distance reading. The military has made use of this tag to track submarines.

The semi-passive tag is a transponder that reflects energy back to a reader and also has a power source to run circuitry and an onboard sensor. This allows for a longer read range and the ability to determine the location of an item and also its state, such as the temperature of goods.

The passive tag has no battery and is energized by the reader. This is the least expensive of the tags and the most widely used because of its versatility.

Regardless of which tag is used, its purpose is to capture numbered information that is tied to a database of information specific to that number.

There are also numerous types of readers and other ancillary devices that complete the loop of data capture, interpolation and utilization. And, there are increasingly more applications benefiting from the technology. These can essentially be grouped into four main categories:

  • Supply Chain Management
  • Asset Management
  • Security and Access Control Management
  • Consumer Applications

As these applications continue to increase, there will be a growing need for the tags. The process places a chip and an antenna on a substrate, which is already a print-based application. This is indeed a growth area for our industry. In addition to tag production, RFID technology also delivers productivity with inventory and asset management.

Security inks
Sun Chemical’s brand protection consultant, Richard Gill, discussed technology, devices and implementation issues connected to anti-counterfeiting and brand protection. Issues surrounding product authentication can be accomplished via covert technologies, which are UV-light activated, or machine-readable or other forensic-read taggants. Overt technology includes colour shifting, thermochromic applications and holograms. Sun Chemical is actively providing proven solutions for a variety of applications.

A complexity of processes, substrates, logistics and environmental issues need to be considered when reviewing options:
Processes. Confirm that the technology can be implemented into current packaging processes. Substrates. Confirm that the technology will be compatible with the range of substrates used in current packaging. Logistics. Confirm that the technology can be supplied globally in a secure fashion with a chain of custody. Environment. Confirm that the technology can be authenticated in the most adverse environment.

From an application perspective, says Gill, adopters of the technology need to delineate what they want the application to do: identify and reduce counterfeiting, act as a diversion because it provides a unique identifier, or to deter and identify tampering issues.

An interesting example of complex layered security which addresses counterfeiting, tampering and diversion is the various applications that are used in the production of today’s paper-based currency. Money is printed using a tremendous range of visible pigment images, non-pigment images and text that can be viewed only with special readers, all in conjunction with polymer binders, surfactants and modifiers. The exact positioning and layering is what is intended to deter counterfeiting. The following are only some of the layers that are used:

  • Covert variable data for track and trace
  • Covert machine authentication
  • Covert non-line of sight authentication
  • Covert destructive authentication
  • Covert UV fluorescing inks
  • Semi-covert currency grade metachromics
  • Semi-covert thermochromic inks
  • Overt colour shifting inks
  • Overt machine readable holograms/foils.

Sun Chemical has developed a variety of security systems

Verigard is a covert taggant system that can be applied using a variety of printing methods. This taggant is not visible to the eye but is read by filtering devices.

SunGuard is an invisible covert product that also works with a variety of print processes and is able to endure extreme heat and other adverse environments. The process applies an invisible security layer that turns inks into authentication tools viewed with a filtering device.

Nautilus is Sun’s newest offering. It is a hidden image technology that can be integrated with existing packaging whether it is a printed package, an injection mould or nano-embossed foil.

SunGuard UV inks are either visible or invisible and can be applied using a variety of printing methods, or a combination of multiple print processes.

SunScreen is a product used for product authentication. It is a data distillation that is a hidden image consisting on a seemingly random overlap of letters and numbers. This random pattern process can be copied but not duplicated. It is used by the pharmaceutical industry; for example, on drug capsules where a reader can readily identify the authentic product, enabling immediate counterfeit crime enforcement.

All systems are fully supported by Sun Chemical, including any equipment retrofitting required. Sun also has indefinites and supports various authentication tools including simple and complex readers. Perfecting the art of security represents significant opportunities for printers to offer value-added applications to their clients.

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