Microtags: The Dust-Sized Future of Packaging Security
TruTag Technologies is making the tiniest anti-counterfeiting product to hit the market yet. Aptly called microtags, these dust-sized particles can be incorporated into almost anything and carry their own unique digital signature. It’s another miniature step towards a safer world for product and package alike.
As we know, counterfeiting is a major worldwide problem, and it’s extremely difficult for a large-scale business to detect these items before they reach the hands of the consumer. Be it clothing or pharmaceuticals, few industries are immune from the counterfeit goods industry, and crimes can range from fake sports jerseys to dangerous and ineffective cancer medication.
As these phony products can be hazardous and inferior in quality, they can lead to consumer dissatisfaction and can be unsafe. No business wants to hear that one of their customers was harmed by a faulty product (especially if it wasn’t truly theirs to begin with), so the best way to fight this is to stop the sale of counterfeits before they make it on the delivery truck.
A Tiny Solution to a Big Problem
Of special interest to the pharmaceutical industry because of its edible nature, this special dust is made from silica, a naturally occurring component in sand and rocks. We use it in everything from bricks to “excipient” (that is, filler) in pills. It’s the use in pills that has pharmaceutical companies excited. Designated by the FDA as GRAS (or, “Generally Recognized as Safe”), it can be incorporated directly into a pill and consumed without worry.
Counterfeit medicines are a massive problem worldwide for obvious reasons: we depend on medicine for survival, and if they’re ineffective, the results can be deadly. In the worst cases, they can contain harmful substances like fentanyl, a powerful painkiller that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
While blockchain and smart labels allow us to identify packages and bottles of medicine by container, TruTag’s microtags will allow doctors and pharmacists to confirm authenticity down to the level of an individual pill.
The microtags are resistant to heat, cold, moisture, and almost anything else you could throw at them, and can be incorporated directly into plastics. This means that on top of conventional inedible security measures, they can be incorporated into labels or containers, giving them huge potential in almost any industry that wants to protect what it sells.
Microtag technology has been winning awards since 2010, but TruTag recently made a move that puts them on track to start making their digital dust a part of worldwide commerce. By partnering with Iris Corp, a Malaysian identification solutions provider, TruTag is now poised to roll out a whole line of smartcard and secure label technologies.
According to Choong Choo Hock, CEO of IRIS, the two companies are “looking to provide multiple layers of security to secure labels and documents, including but not limited to biometric smartcards and mission-critical labels such as airline baggage labels.”
Even better for businesses excited at the prospect of this new technology, the small size and resilience of microtags mean that they can be incorporated into almost any pre-existing label or package manufacturing process with almost no re-engineering or significant costs.
For us in the packaging industry, with the ease of introduction to production lines and low expense, these tags are a seriously exciting concept. Easy to implement security with no effect on appearance and design is a dream come true for anyone that relies on making sure boxes and bottles get where they need to go, carrying what they need to carry.
The properties of the dust allow for all kinds of fascinating uses, many of which are yet to be discovered. According to Packaging Digest, due to the high heat resistance of the tags, if they’re incorporated into, say, an item made of plastic, the tags can be recovered by placing the item in a high-heat oven. The plastic is vaporized, while the tags remain and can be collected.
At all points in the process, the tags can be scanned by an specially-made optical reader, and in seconds the code is cross-referenced with a massive library of information. If you’re a consumer that has to take frequent medication, having a tool like this could be extremely useful.
TruTag even wants to make rolls of consumer labels that companies and small business owners can load with any information they want associated with their product. Universal application like this is obviously a huge step forward for security and authenticity, but we can’t help but wonder how they’re going to implement this. If they want to roll out these tags for everyone, what’s to stop counterfeiters from using them?
Information Inside Us
With the introduction of edible identification technology, it will be interesting to see what develops in the areas of ethics and regulation. However, will people be comfortable with putting things that carry data and information into their bodies? And what about counterfeiters using this technology in their own unsavory dealings?
Right now, there are lots of experimental technologies that put our devices physically inside and on us. There are tattoos capable of performing a whole range of functions from monitoring heart rate to delivering localized medicine. They’re Bluetooth compatible, so any and all information collected is sent straight to your phone. Imagine being able to wear a tattoo capable of directly administering medicine in the event of a seizure — that reality might be close at hand.
CBS News recently did a report on microchips that can be implanted in people’s hands that act like keycards. Operating via radio frequency, they contain unique identity information that allows you to automatically unlock things like phones, doors, and cars simply by being present.
Of course, the issue with technology like this is that it represents large potential to erode our privacy. We already give lots of smartphone apps permission to access things like our location, photos, cameras, and microphones.
If we put information directly into our bodies, we’re leaving a digital trail wherever we go, and whenever we interact with technology. Also, it means you might be constantly sending out information without any way to stop it since it’s implanted inside you or grafted onto your skin.
These concepts are still in their infancy, so we’ll have to see how governments and citizens alike react to our increasing entanglement with our personal data, and how seriously we weigh our privacy against our day-to-day efficiency.
As most businesses have a vested interest in the security of their goods, technology like microtags will likely become much more commonplace in coming years. Tiny authenticators that are nearly impossible to tamper with are almost too good to pass up for those companies that lose large amounts of money to counterfeiters each year.
The savvy business owner would be wise to keep an eye on the availability and advancement of innovation in tracking and anti-counterfeiting technology. Between packaging, medicine, retail, and many others, it’s hard to see a future where built-in security isn’t the standard.
From the perspective of the consumer, maintaining awareness of where your information goes is equally important. It’s generally not a good idea to readily embrace technology that has unbridled access to what you say and do without making sure you fully understand where the information is going.
That’s not to say that we should be paranoid and shun things like this. It seems to be an excellent way to maintain safe and transparent worldwide shipping and commerce, and that benefits everyone through the entire chain of production. Only time will tell to see how microtags affect the world of business and technology, though the future for this new security feature is looking bright.