though expensive technology used presently is the radio
frequency identification device (RFID). The RFID tag
comprises an antenna with a microchip at its center. Unlike barcodes, RFID includes batch information that can
be interrogated at a distance without requiring a line of
sight. The RFID allows the recognition of objects through
wireless communications in a set frequency band.
Forensic markers is a wide range of high-technology
solutions that require laboratory testing or dedicated field
test kits to scientifically prove authenticity. These are
strictly a sub-set of covert technologies, but the difference
lies in the scientific methodology required for authentication. Trace chemicals that can only be detected by highly
specific reagent systems, but not normally detectable by
conventional analysis. A biological marker can be incorporated at extremely low levels (parts per million or lower)
in product formulations or coatings, or invisibly applied to
packaging components. At such low levels they are undetectable by normal analytical methods, and require highly
specific “lock and key” reagent kits to authenticate.
Track and trace technologies involve assigning a
unique identity to each stock unit during manufacture,
which then remains with it through the supply chain until
its consumption. The identity will normally include details of the product name and strength, and the lot number
and expiry date although in principle it may simply take
the form of a unique pack coding which enables access
to the same information held on a secure database. The
latter solution overcomes some of the concerns about
privacy where the encoded data can be read at a distance
by radio equipment. In itself the track and trace label
may not be immune to copying or falsification, but its
security is greatly enhanced by the inclusion of unique
and apparently random serialization, or non-sequential
numbering, ideally at individual item level.
Monitoring of counterfeit activities serves 2 purposes:
It helps to identify incidents of counterfeit trade and
allows for timely responses at an operational level.
It provides management with information on the
development of the counterfeit market and thus
supports decision-making as do market observations
or competitor analyses for the licit market.
Visual Examination is the simplest and quickest of
the inspection techniques. All that is required is an opti-
cal microscope, a few chemicals and a trained eye—the
trained eye being the most important of the three. Signs
of counterfeiting are often very subtle and there is no
substitute for experience.
Biophysical tools often play an important role in these
efforts by providing a faster readout on a counterfeit
product. Most of the special anti-counterfeiting packaging markers can be characterized by microscope-based
approaches (nanoparticle tracking analysis) and classic
microscopy-based techniques. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) offers a great benefit in the examination
of the microscopic internal structures of components.
Like X-Ray, SEM examination is benefited by direct
comparison to a known authentic part. Techniques such
as FTIR are newly being used in authenticity testing;
Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) is a
method used to identify organic compounds.
In the era of globalization, it would be a challenge for the
packaging industry, as the years ahead would witness the
opening of the global channels, and to match the international
standards and quality, it is necessary that packaging industry
upgrades more in research to have a holistic approach to
packaging that would go beyond functional aspect of
packaging. Presently, very few pharmaceutical industries
spend time and money on R and D in packaging.
Owing to a growing number of sophisticated
counterfeiters who now can easily reproduce genuine articles
by using high-resolution equipment, the development of
novel materials and approaches for preventing/detecting
counterfeiting has become essential. A summary of advanced
imaging techniques and spectrometry-based methods was
given, which can be employed for direct identification and
characterization of goods that can be easily counterfeited.
We hope that the materials and technologies described
above will serve as stepping stones for developing more
enhanced anti-counterfeiting systems.
Vinod Jyothikumar, PhD is currently the Consultant in WM
Keck Imaging Center, University of Virginia, USA. Vinod
Jyothikumar can be reached at email@example.com.