SECURING NEW OPPORTUNITIES IN LABELLING
Someone else’s problem frequently represents an opportunity for others. This is certainly true concerning security matters and explains the increasing growth of security-related labels and tags in terms of materials, systems and production methods.
Counterfeiting, retail theft, illicit rerouting of products, brand piracy and, to a lesser extent, product tampering are increasing on a huge global scale. As is widely recognised, all in their various ways cost huge amounts of money in terms of lost company revenues and the need for preventative action, which ultimately leads to extra costs for consumers.
Counterfeiting in the sense of product replication alone accounts for some five per cent of world trade. This faking of products and packaging affects many types of ordinary products, including software and CD piracy – not just luxury items. Its effects can damage a valuable brand image, throw people out of work and threaten life, as in the case of fake pharmaceuticals, aircraft and motor parts.
Disturbingly, it has long moved from the minor league of petty crooks to organised criminals, money-laundering drug dealers and terrorists. They can afford to spend whatever of production of illicit goods. They also employ some technically-clever people, who can access the latest electronic imaging and production techniques. Historically lax attitudes by many national governments, particularly in the Far East, have compounded the overall problem.
Fortunately, it is not a one-way street for the fraudsters. A greater international recognition of the problems involved has encouraged a growing sub-industry based on new solutions and technologies aimed at reducing forgery, retail theft and product tampering. This is evident at security related events, such as the annual Product & Image Security conferences organised by Cowise in Amsterdam and Chicago. (This issue contains a report on the latest one.) Co-operation and knowledge sharing among suppliers (and some end-users) is also central to the work of Label & Tag Security International. As a trade forum, it brings together manufacturers, users and suppliers of security labels, tags, materials and systems.
Successive conferences and the work of the LTSI serve to underline just how extensive this aspect of the security business has become. Scores of companies now offer several hundred different products. For end-users and their advisors, the problem is how to balance varying degree of security affectiveness against the cost of protection each device offers. At the same time, everyone concerned acknowledges that no single device – whether covert or overt – can truly deter a determined criminal in the long term.
This particularly applies to issuers of negotiable documents, or similar high-value items. A typical passport, for example, may contain over a dozen different security devices. Even an ordinary bespoke cheque may have half-a-dozen or so methods of protection against forgery and/or counter-feiting.
Protecting paper-based documents against duplication by copying or replication by counterfeiting has long been a specialisation of security printers. Many have grown from their links with the business forms industry. However, it is only relatively recently that label producers have offered anti-counterfeiting, anti-theft and anti-tampering products (including those that warn and advice against some particular action).
Certainly, opportunities exist for more converters to exploit the many solutions available on the market in varying degrees of availability. Using the right materials, press configurations, inks and systems they can produce an effective security aid – all on one self adhesive label. No other labelling method offers such opportunities. Also, the added-value potential is enormous.
The past few years have seen more specialist converters of security and so-called ‘intelligent’ labels in Europe. They have defined several clearly demarcated markets. For them the usage of visible or invisible inks, special varnishes, embedded fibres or threads in labelstocks, optical-variable films, hologram foils, special electronic origination software, traceable elements, self-destruct (frangible) labelstocks and much else form part of their stock-in-trade.
Not surprisingly such firms wish to protect their hard-won expertise. Consequently, they are keen to maintain the air of mystique and secrecy that surround any security issue. Secrecy of another type comes from the fact that their hard-won customers understandably wish to play down the extent of their security problems.
So are there any opportunities left for forward-looking firms looking for new opportunities? Plenty, it would seem. ‘Many ordinary converters can still offer certain aspects of security labelling providing they observe certain conditions’, says Jeremy Plimmer, secretary-general of the LTSI and a security consultant. There is certainly a gap in the market, but entrants would need to review their production methods. This implies strict controls over wastage. Extra security concerning the factory site and personnel, backed by water-tight auditing procedures, are also necessary. Of course, production and marketing expertise are essential. Some companies may feel it worthwhile to bolt on extra accreditation processes to an existing ISO 9002 certificate.’ Don’t tamper with my label A key area for new business opportunities is the ability to offer tamper evident labels and seals. Typical paper, polyester, semi-rigid vinyl or acetate constructions are designed to stay put when removing the waste matrix, yet break up or tear when removed from a container or packaging.
Lightweight 60gsm machine-coated paper facestocks, combined with strong permanent adhesives, offer a basic and popular solution. Rubber based adhesives offer a good choice for low-energy surfaces, while resinated emulsion acrylics tend to be used for glass surfaces. Security edge cuts or perforations applied on the press act as another deterrent to wilful removal. Grain direction is important, particularly for flap seals. It is weaker when running across the edge of the flap, compared with a cross directional grain direction.
Clear or opaque cellulose acetate films have good tear resistance and brittleness. Normally they are sensitive to solvents and have poor long term UV stability. One exception is Courtaulds’ Integuard, available in clear, white or holographic versions, and offered by several laminators as part of their security ranges. It is a chemically-modified 50-micron acetate with good printing and converting properties, including edge cutting.
This has allowed some converters to develop durable products for outside applications, such as serial number plates, permits, security seals and ID plates. Although designed to resist abrasion, weathering and chemicals, any attempt to remove them, either by solvents, acids or by physical means, is instantly noticeable. Like all acetates, it is non conformable, so is unsuitable for squeezable containers.
Cast ultra-destructible PVC (vinyl) scores here and, like acetates, suits computer-imprintable applications where security demands a non removable label. Madico Graphic Flms offers Destrukt, claimed as the only destructible vinyl labelstock available in a range of colours, namely yellow, white, black, matt silver and clear. They span a service temperature range of - 46 to +93. Once applied, the internal strength of the labelstock completely disappears. Any attempt to remove the film causes the label to break into tiny fragments to instantly show either planned or malicious damage.
A new and different type of security material is Fasson’s Foam Tac, offered as part of its Select Service. It consists of a white expanded polystyrene foam base, with an extruded top layer of transparent high impact polystyrene for printability and strength during the conversions of difficult shapes. The low internal bond strength of the foam layer results in splitting of the film, leaving a white residue, when anyone attempts to remove it.
Most people think of tamper-evident products in terms of protecting such items as pharmaceuticals, health care products, and many food and drinks products from periodic bouts of headline-grabbing retail blackmail. Sadly this still happens, but tampering can cover many illicit activities in non-retail sectors.
Consequently, a huge potential market exists for the new generation of security products. The usages are limitless: from protecting forensic evidence to sealing the doors of parked aircraft. They also advice of actions regarding electronic goods that could, for example, effect a warranty. Other applications involve non-transerable serial and warranty numbers. That is, protection against the growing practice of the removal and re-use of labels on reconditioned or stolen high-value traceable items. These include automotive chassis and vehicle components, cellular telephones, computer parts and VCRs.
Tamper-evident labels for these uses include many proprietary products widely available to converters, as well as those developed by security label printers themselves. A common example is the type showing ‘Void’, or similar message using a low-adhesion clear, white or metallic release varnish with filler on its underside. Removing the label leaves a ‘fingerprint’ of its existence. Products from companies like Alcan Deutschland, 3M Identification & Converter Systems, Tagsa, Fasson Select Division, Samuel Jones and a few others offer ingenious bespoke constructions that contribute to an added-value self adhesive market that hardly existed a few years ago.
Other solutions include colour-shift seals that change colour when removed, clearly showing illicit attempts to open a container. The Advantage Technology polyester-based seal serves the same purpose and is also difficult to remove without damaging it. This one is transparent when viewed directly and then changes from orange to green when viewed from different angles.
Hueck Folien has a new tamper-evident label intended to protect travellers’ baggage. Removal destroys the metallised coating. Even if the label is resealed, evidence of removal can be seen at a distance because the surface changes colour and reflectance. It has produced label samples with a UV-printed feature to provide a further security device.
Hanita Coatings offers a new protective, tamper evident and anti- counterfeit label film. The purple/pink film alters according to the angle of light, changing from purple to clear upon removal or attempted peeling. This reveals a silver surface layer, giving clear evidence of tampering. This makes the product virtually impossible to duplicate, owing to the complex structure of the film.
Film sleeve labels either singly or combined with a prime label offer an alternate choice for end-users. They ensure product integrity by continuing across the closure to provide an effective tamper evident seal. Perforations around the sleeve, applied during the application process, allow easy opening. Countering counter-feiting Producers of anti-counterfeiting and anti-theft products are faced with a bewildering range of solutions. One of the most firmly established for security packaging and labelling (including tamper-evident labels and shrink sleeves) are the optically-variable devices (OVDs) that include proprietary metallic foils and holography. A hologram embossed onto a product label without difficulty, on its own or with other protective features.
Obviously any OVD device must be difficult or, ideally, impossible to copy. Although holograms are difficult to replicate and manufacture, many forgeries do exist, particularly those relating to credit-card fraud and software piracy. This fact acts as a powerful force for genuine suppliers to push the technology along.
Options offered include various 2D, 2D/3D graphically-generated designs and 3D holograms, which give the illusion of movement produced from three-dimensional objects. Another type has covert features revealed by a laser pen. Many specialised firms now supply the foil carriers, from which the hologram is transferred to the substrate, complete with full design, origination and production services.
Applied Holographics, Light Impressions Europe, Opsec, De la Rue Holographics (which has developed non-copyable optical microstructures) and American Bank Note Holographics are among the leaders. Another is US-based NovaVision, which additionally offers a patented production process. It allows converters to produce holograms as an in-line process on their adapted press lines (see security conference report).
Another new development is the KrystalMark, developed by Krystal Holographics International and US Holographics. It uses DuPont’s OmniDex photopolymer film, giving high-resolution and high brightness. Krystal claims it represents a breakthrough in 3D holography.
Despite their universal usage, selecting the right holographic product for any given application is a daunting process for the non specialist converter. With this in mind, Fasson Select is extending its existing holographic activities, based on continuous repeat patterns (‘wallpaper’ design) and bespoke security projects. It now offers a service that co-ordinates the origination of designs directly with holographic originators on the behalf of customers.
‘We have seen label converters reluctant to become involved in this process because of its perceived complexities’, said Tony Strong, Fasson UK’s business development manager. ‘herefore, we have made it our business to understand the process from an initial idea to a holographic presentation on diskette to the customer. It involves subsequent tooling and minimum quantities, also the resulting costs each stage involves.’ The idea is to consider all security and branding considerations so that both converters and end-users can judge the viability of a project.
Such initiatives are to be commended, but while this one can make holography a more approachable subject to mainstreamlabel converters, it is arguably a different story when moving into more specialised realms. As mentioned earlier, the security-related material suppliers and converters have every reason to guard their secrets and maintain the confidentiality of what they supply to customers. Specialised approaches. Another aspect is that no single security feature will give absolute protection against forgery by alteration or replication by counterfeiting. That partly explains why there is considerable armoury of devices, but with an availability necessarily restricted to bona-fide security printers (that is the theory anyway). Included here are the embedded ‘fingerprints’, such as micro-taggants, chemical markings, magnetic particles and the ‘lock-and key’ Biocode marking system. Each can variously be incorporated in a dye, adhesive or ink.
Various over-laminating films are another carrier, which with an appropriate adhesive provide a versatile security barrier in their own right. These films can also include optical-shift features, holographic images, overt or covert UV-responsive dyes and other security devices. Besides anti-counterfeiting applications, they can provide product tracing and identification.
Other protective methods include machine-readable inks, a considerable subject in itself. Products include covert fluorescent, phosphorescent and thermally-reactive inks, also several types of UV and infra-red inks that work in varying spectral ranges.
Of course, security papers – the oldest protective device of them all – come into the picture. Bespoke watermarks, fluorescent fibres and threads, chemical reagents, metallic or holographic strips and iridescent planchettes are all paper-based features. Some are appearing for use with pressure-sensitive facestocks, such as the Tagsa/Portals collaboration mentioned in the conference report.
This source also covers some of the latest article surveillance systems (EAS) used essentially for preventing retail theft by staff and the public, also portable items like computers. Labels with appropriate security features make up part of the various proprietary EAS systems. The most popular are still the standard labels and tags with radio-frequency or electro-magnetic circuits and strips. They are frequently applied to packaging, but we are now seeing them integrated product-specific labels as source-tagging devices.
While this article has mentioned many of the principle security aids, it has only scratched the surface in terms of the full range of applications to which they can be put. It is also recognised that many worthwhile products and systems have been excluded. Quite apart from the sensitive nature of the subject itself, this further shows how extensive security labelling in its broadest sense has become. Keeping up with developments, and knowing how to implement them, must therefore be one of the most demanding tasks faced by label converters today. But as many are showing, it can also be highly rewarding too.