Page 30 - Packaging News Magazine Mar-Apr 2021
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TRACK & TRACE | | March-April 2021
 Scanning the traceability horizon
 The past decade has seen the rapid development of multiple technologies that make track and trace accessible for all manufacturers. A multi-layered approach offers the best way forward, writes Phil Biggs.
barrier has been eliminated in many categories, with tags now as low as 3c to 4c each. All major smartphone makers also allow NFC tag reading nowadays, which wasn’t possible a few years ago. NFC tags can be encoded with a unique and locked identifier, making them very suit- able for track and trace. Application of the tags is generally best suited to being a layer in a self-adhesive label. RFID and NFC technologies also allow relatively simple aggregation of codes on each packaging level, making for simpler supply chain traceability tracking from pallet level to product level.
An emerging new technology embraces the inherent variability in the printing of normal retail bar- codes to create a unique identifier on consumer goods. Incredibly, a normal smartphone camera can identify these print variations in every printed barcode. The captured image taken of each barcode, at speeds up to 600 labels per minute on a production line, is converted into a unique alphanumeric string, and stored in the cloud. No additive technology is used, just the existing retail barcode. A smartphone, with the correct app, is then able to scan the barcode and confirm traceability and authenticity of the product. The technology is not able to be repli- cated by counterfeiters and is simple to deploy on any production line, or label conversion process.
Finally, what we are seeing is a multi-layered approach to traceabil- ity and anti-counterfeiting. No single technology is the silver bullet, and so the use of more than one technology is becoming the gold standard. ■
Phil Biggs has 20 years’ experience in the product traceability industry. He’s a director at factory automation specialist, Foodmach, which is an Australian partner of global product traceability leader,
BACK in early 2010, at the dawn of the iPhone, PKN published an article calling on the Australian food, dairy and bev- erage industry to implement smartphone-based product traceability solutions.
In the wake of the Chinese milk melamine substation racket at the time, and as a means to differentiate against imported generic branded products, it proffered a way for local manufactures to improve profits by ensuring quality, trust and prove- nance for customers.
When I wrote that article, the tech- nology options were limited to 2D bar- codes. It’s been pleasing to see the rapid development of multiple technologies that now make track and trace very accessible for all manufacturers. At Foodmach, we’ve recently been involved with the implementation of three types of product traceability tech- nologies, which has given us the oppor- tunity to review the merits of each.
A unique QR (uQR) code needs to be digitally printed, either off-line during the label printing process, or online, using laser, thermal or inkjet printing. Laser coders have been successfully deployed in many infant milk formula uQR applications, though not else- where. Thermal printing of 2D bar- codes in real time, embedding variable event information, is probably the most exciting development in recent times to advance traceability, though this technology format isn’t generally acces- sible to consumers. Unique QR codes are able to be replicated by counterfeit- ers, though not easily when good num- ber generation algorithms are used. There is some potential though for uQRs of supply chain diverted prod- ucts to be read and replicated, creating counterfeits with ‘authentic’ uQRs.
RFID and NFC technology has been held back by tag costs, though this
ABOVE: A smartphone, with the correct app, can scan the barcode and confirm traceability and authenticity of the product.

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