Although much of the pharma packaging industry, worldwide, is coalescing around the use of 2D barcodes for track-and-trace systems to secure pharmaceutical distribution, experts in the field know that the unique serial numbers for each package, while providing a much higher obstacle to counterfeiting, are not insurmountable. An industrious counterfeiter could seek to duplicate the codes, and unless the multi-party distribution chain is monitoring the codes carefully, some counterfeit product could slip into distribution, at least until duplicate codes begin showing up. For that reason, several vendors have asserted that a secure supply chain requires both the serial numbers and an additional authentication measure, such as security inks or holograms, among the many other technologies available.
Now, Systech International (Cranbury, NJ), suppliers of the widely used Guardian Serialized Product Tracking (SPT) software to manage serialization on a packaging line, believes it has a winning solution, called e-Fingerprint. “The key to this is that it is part of the normal serialization and vision-inspection process,” says Dave Harty, VP. “Adding additional steps and equipment to provide conventional authentication measures to a serialization system is a steep challenge."
Systech’s e-Fingerprint comes from a surprisingly simple realization: in-line visual inspection cameras (of which Systech is a provider) routinely and automatically remove visual “noise” to verify an image of the barcode label—but this signal noise is unique to each image. By running that signal noise through a proprietary algorithm, a string of data are produced that can be stored (and retrieved) just as the numeric barcode data are. The data string can be conveyed via the same steps that the barcode data are to other locations (such as warehouses or pharmacies) where the data are to be read, and with the appropriate software at the distant location, the barcode’s signal noise can be compared and authenticated. Conceptually, this is similar to a number of other visual authentication processes that use unique patterns on a carton’s surface (or even on individual pills)—Alpvision SA (Vevey, Switzerland) is an example of the former, and NanoGuardian (Skokie, IL) is an example of the latter. But a significant feature of the Systech e-Fingerprint is that the image itself does not need to be conveyed to the point of authentication—just the data string. Harty says that the technique will work with most inspection cameras—even a smartphone camera can be used at the authentication point. Pilots of the technology are being planned in China and in Europe.
Along with the e-Fingerprint announcement, Systech is taking the wraps off a cloud-based data repository, to be called Citadel. Based on the cloud service obtained when Systech purchased Apostrophe Systems earlier this year, the Citadel service frees manufacturers or contract packagers from requiring the installation of data servers and secure data communications networks to deliver barcode and other packaging-related data to trading partners. Citadel is said to be EPCIS compliant (that being the standard established by the GS1 organization for serialization data exchange), and can be used for routine order instructions or other communications between manufacturers and their contractors. Like many cloud-based applications, pricing is based on data volume. “With the launch of Systech Citadel, Systech has become the first operator to offer a truly holistic approach to serialization, transcending all architecture levels from inspection at the line up to enterprise number generation,” said Robert DeJean, Systech CEO, in a company statement. “The value proposition presented by Systech’s entire serialization solution is immense.”
Systech will be demonstrating these technologies at the upcoming Pack Expo (Chicago, Oct. 28-31).