01/15/2019

Bye bye bluff packaging - Counterfeit protection protects brands and consumers

Packaging that cannot be counterfeited is a proven means of product and brandprotection. The surfaces are provided with special features, such as invisible inks. Surface measurement technology convinces with automation and individual adaptation in the analysis of these structures.

Product piracy

Product counterfeiting causes 50 billion Euro every year in Germany. This is particularly critical in the pharmaceutical sector if pharmaceuticals are counterfeited and their effects are sometimes hazardous to health or even life-threatening. This is why manufacturers are looking for ways to label their original products in such a way that the brand and consumers are protected.

Packaging and its surface design

In this context, packaging plays a key role. Their surface design in the micro or nanometer range is an interesting expandable option for counterfeit protection, which offers further advantages. Leading IT companies, for example, use nano-structured signatures to protect consumers from counterfeits. The tiny colored markings are applied in a printing process and cannot be physically copied.

Special characteristics as a distinguishing criterion

In general, surfaces can be provided with certain optical, mechanical, electrical or chemical properties through specific design and structuring in the micro and nanometer range. This makes it possible to achieve reflections, conductivity or adhesion, as well as to distinguish an original from an imitation on the basis of these characteristics or a special signature. Appropriate surface measuring tools are required - both during production and during quality control. As these have been used for a long time and in many industries in the areas of R&D and quality assurance, the step towards counterfeit protection is only a small one. The documented results and the resulting possible and unique identification can also be used for targeted action against counterfeiters - keyword protection of liability.

Diverse measurement tasks

The special challenge for surface measuring tools is the variety of parameters to be measured. In addition, most users require automation of the measuring process in order to be able to perform it "inline" and as a one-button solution. Often, individual adjustments are made on site when materials or production processes change. The various finishing variants in the packaging industry, such as micro-punching and embossing or cold foil transfer, also call for a versatile measuring tool. The ideal surface measuring tool offers several measuring methods in one system, works non-destructively to avoid damaging sensitive materials, and is highly reliable. Then the measurements can help ensure quality and reveal counterfeits.

Counterfeiters have a hard time

In addition to the pharmaceutical industry, other sectors such as cosmetics and software rely on surface features to identify their products. The final product, the blisters for medicines or cosmetics and the outer packaging (folding box) can be used to apply unique features. The counterfeiters use the most energy on the outer packaging so that the consumer can access it without skepticism. It is therefore extremely important to make these so-called secondary packaging materials tamper-proof. This starts with a high-quality printing process. The cardboard surfaces can be provided with small craters, so that an optimal ink application is possible. The depth and diameter of the craters are checked with optical surface measuring tools so that they correspond to the requirement parameters. Similar to tool and mould making, the means of production, the roller and the product, the packaging, are measured routinely. Above all, the printing roller may not have the smallest scratch. The relatively new cold foil transfer process also gives companies the opportunity to increase counterfeit protection by designing only the packaging.

Labels, Holograms & Co.

Special labels, invisible inks or holograms are also used on the packaging. Optical surface measuring tools are able to measure the amount of ink applied to these special silk-screen prints. In the tobacco industry, this production process is common and usual. The roller structures for printing on paper or cardboard are also checked using optical measuring tools, and the invisible inks are detected using special sensors. The packaging industry also uses optical surface measurement to monitor the efficiency of the production process. In food packaging, for example, the thickness of the cold bonding glue is measured - the desired value is a fine line between durability and ideal material use. The task of gluing cigarettes is similar. The print cells in the rollers during gluing of the cigarette wrapping paper are controlled by optical sensors.

The analysis of surfaces

By quantitatively evaluable measurements of the structures on tools and printing rollers, distance, step height, angle, roughness, contour, layer thickness and topography of surfaces can be analyzed. They provide precise height data for 3D measurements. Thus, a uniform standard can also be set for several production plants and counterfeit protection can be guaranteed worldwide. Since the state-of-the-art measuring tools are equipped with various sensors, they can secure results on almost all surfaces - transparent or reflective. A major advantage of optical surface measuring tools is that they can be fully automated and integrated into the production process due to their fast measurements. This is where tactile methods reach their limits during a certain run. Designed as a one-button solution, these tools prevent employees from influencing the measurement result. In addition, a manufacturer is able to vary possible control points during production and thus keep them secret.

The technical measuring solution

Companies such as FRT produce multi-sensor measuring tools with a modular setup that allows them to be adapted to various applications, even flexibly on site. These include measurements with chromatic distance sensors, confocal sensors with a high dynamic range, thickness sensors that achieve a high lateral and thickness resolution, as well as white light interferometers for fast planar 3D measurements, but also thin film sensors for resolution in the nanometer range and atomic force microscopes. This combination of different sensors increases the flexibility in surface characterization. The measuring ranges reach up to 415 mm x 305 mm or more, the speed reaches up to 300 mm/s. Integration into the production system is also possible.

FRT also offers the right solution for measuring "on site", e.g. on large machines, areas that are difficult to access, permanently mounted or bulky tools and printing rollers: the MicroSpy® Mobile. Thanks to carrying handles and adjustable support feet, it is functional on site within a few minutes. Topography, roughness, wear, contact area, volumes, layer thickness and other important characteristics of surfaces can hardly be measured and evaluated more flexibly than with the MicroSpy® Mobile. Contact us if you are interested in our MicroSpy® series.

Are you looking for further information? You can find it here!

Do you have further questions or comments? Then contact us! Our experts will be happy to help you solve your measuring tasks.

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