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RFID–chips in packaging
Cigarettes accounted for 19 per cent of all counterfeited products and were on top of the list. Not far away: medicines. One out of ten counterfeited products detected in 2009 belongs to the category drugs and medicines. Probably because of the pirated medicines Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Anti-fraud and Audit, warned the counterfeits could be a security and health risk for the consumers.
Especially in the pharmaceutical industry the growth in product piracy requires protective mechanisms in order to reduce risks for the consumer. RFID-systems are one possibility to protect products against counterfeiting. RFID stands for radio-frequency identification. The technology makes it possible to identify products with the help of electromagnetic waves. In the project „EZ-Pharm – Anwendung elektronischer Echtheitszertifikate an Faltschachteln entlang der Pharmaver-sorgungskette” scientist of the Instituts für Integrierte Produktion Hannover (IPH) searched how the system can be used in the pharmaceutical industry. The main aim was to prevent the distribution of counterfeited products, the project manager Björn Eilert says: “We want to enhance the security in the supply chain.” The system developed at IPH consists of a chip and an antenna. The chip measures only 0,1 millimetre and has a storage capacity of 512 bit. It is possible to save the Pharmazentralnummer (PZN), which is a nationwide standardised identifcation number for medicines and pharmaceutival products, as well as place and date of production and the date of expiry on the chip, Eilert explains.
The chip is preassembled on a transparency and mounted on the package. The antenna is being printed directly on the paper of the package. With the help of a special reader everybody – distributor, chemist or end customer – should be able to reconstruct the way of the medicine and to assure oneself of the originality of the product. The sysem enhances security, Eilert says: “We are able to create a digital authenticity certificate for every product.” Up to now the demand of the pharmaceutical industry is not that high, Eilert states. The 30 month research project has proven the feasibility of the system. Principally it can be used in every other industrial sector, in which expensive products, which are often counterfeited are put in packages, as for example cosmetics. A device (chip and antenna) costs between five and eight cent if the edition is about 50.000 pieces.
The Institute of Printing Science and Technology at the Technical University Darmstadt has developed a system, which focus more on the savety of the products inside the package than on preventing product piracy. Up to now RFID-systems have mainly been passive, the head of the research team “functional printing” Hans Martin Sauer explains. The systems mainly react and for example give the alarm if somebody tries to steal a product. The scientists at IDD had searched for new RFID applications, Sauer says: “It was our idea, to develop an RFID-module which is intelligent.” The scientists have put a sensor at the RFID-tag which registers discontinuities in the cold chain. When the product – for example a milk carton – is read out, discontinuities in the cold chain can be found out and the product can be depolluted if necessary. Moreover the scientists at IDD have developed a procedure, which makes it possible to print the RFID-tag directly on the package. The special feature: Instead of expensive silicium the researchers use the much more cheaper polymers as electroconductive material. They use screen, intaglio and offset printing to print the polymers on special transparencies. Afterwards the transparencies are stuck on the package. With this method, it is easy to recycle the tags, Sauer explains.
The technical facilities of an active RFID-transponder are also used at Siemens. “We use the RFID-technology to communicate with the environment of the product”, explains Gerald Lanzerstorfer. In cooperation with the Medical University of Graz scientists have developed an RFID-system with temperature sensors. It allows to control sensitive products as for example units of stored blood. The device consists of a temperature sensor, a storage unit and an RFID-interface and can be attached to every package. It records the temperature in a settable time interval. The temperature curve can be read out with a special reading device short before the administration of the unit of stored blood. In addition the device has an LED which changes the flashing if a the temperature falls below or exceeds a certain level. Therewith the LED points to possible damages at the unit of stored blood. Thereby the RFID-interface allows a communication through the package.
Principally, the system can be used for the supervision of every temperature sensitive product, Lanzerstorfer explains. Meanwhile it is also used for controlling the temperature of medications. The device weighs approximately 25 gramme and can be fixed inside and outside at the package. After the transport the device is removed. It can be reused, the battery life is minimum three years. The price depends on the amount of produced devices but is about 50 Euros each.