Particles "an ideal tool for product authentication"

MagnifierThe use of tracer particles as unique identifiers for products is one of the most potent anti-counterfeit tools available, say Swiss researchers.

In a review article on the use of unique identifiable particles - published in the journal Powder Technology - the authors from ETH Zurich in Switzerland write that the technology could underpin a "global materials identification system" for products.

Such a system would not only enable the tracking of everyday products back to the original manufacturer and help uncover fraud and product adulteration, but would also "allow us to understand product usage cycles and pinpoint waste generators," they note.

Companies such as Polysecure, GenuineID, Sicpa and 3S have already started to introduce item-specific particle identifiers into the marketplace, with some organisations now using particles in much the same way as barcodes - to provide not only authentication but also give each marked item a unique identity.

The ideal tracer or taggant should be able to produce a large number of codes, and for most of the technologies in use - graphical (i.e. shape/colour), optical, chemical, DNA etc - this is not a limiting factor.

Detection limit is another crucial property as it influences the amount of material needed in a product and therefore costs, and ideally tracers should be inert and capable of being produced in large amounts with little effort, once again to keep costs per item down.

While use in applications such as food and pharmaceutical pose significant regulatory hurdles, tracer particles are ready for deployment in many markets including aerospace, automotive and the construction material industries "which have high stakes in promised guarantees and potential liability claims," according to the reviewers.

"With the ongoing globalization of product manufacturing and the increased complexity of material sourcing, it may be foreseen that methods for the tracing and tagging of materials and products will drastically increase in the years to come," they conclude.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock / Piotr Marcinski

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