The smuggling and counterfeiting trade is worth $75bn and growing at 13% a year, so pharmaceutical companies are constantly looking for ways to combat this threat.
In addition, many manufacturers are looking for effective and unobtrusive ways to track products throughout the production and packaging processes.
Pharma counterfeiting represents a real problemto end users, who want assurance that the product is what they purchased and will be effective and not harmful.
The coding and marking industry is able to offer some solutions to the problem of counterfeiting. These include complex high-definition digital graphics from thermal inkjet or large character printers, special security inks for continuous ink jet printers, or laser coders which mark an indelible code.
Serial numbering of packs can help the end user to identify that their purchase is genuine, through the use of codes that can be linked back to a central warehouse for authentication.
However at a basic level it is possible to duplicate that serial number and make a counterfeit product look genuine.
So hiding the identification or serial number in an encoded format such as a Data Matrix barcode makes it more difficult for these codes to reproduced.
Combining this with supply chain management, whereby individual products are scanned as they migrate from manufacturer to end user can provide added security and highlight where counterfeits maybe originating.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have proven a popular method of hiding data so itis not easily accessible by counterfeiters. This comes at a cost though – RFID programmers, readers and application processes carry a higher investment than that of a printed digital code.
High resolution digital printers, such as the Linx TJ225, which have the capability to quickly produce graphics with resolutions in excess of 180dpi, allow the production of not just encoded dynamic Data Matrix codes but also images that can contain covert data, which can only be read with a specialised electronic system. Designs may take the form of image forensics, digital watermarks or copy detection. Laser coders can also produce these codes indelibly on certain types of packaging material.
Tracking and traceability is also enhanced and these techniques can even be used as a detection tool, by deliberately putting particular covert data into certain stages of the supply chain, or geographical areas, to identify where counterfeiting is taking place.
Modern coding and marking printers generally tend to have this inherent printing capability but need to be backed up with software or image creation software that allows integration of this additional data into the original files.
In providing this additional capability, system interfaces have to be intuitive to use and minimise the chance of coding errors during setup,or printing the wrong code for the product.
Security inks have also been developed for discreet coding and marking applications such as anti-counterfeiting or internal traceability.
These are almost invisible in normal light but fluoresce under UV. Linx security inks for Linx continuous ink jet printers are available in different colours and different solvent bases to offer more choice.The distinctive colours that they fluoresce in are achieved using unique dyes, making imitation of the code even more difficult. The inks are fast drying and water resistant once dry.
What’s clear is that thorough anti-counterfeiting processes must encompass all aspects, including the supply chain, consumer activity and even through to investigators and law enforcement.