The best tool to assist in monitoring the proper flow of product is track-and-trace technology. The unique identification of products and/or packaging, and the tracking and storing of those unique identifiers along with transactional shipping data, are the cornerstones of track-and-trace. This identification can be based on a standard such as the electronic product code (EPC), or it can be proprietary to the brand owner or security provider. Bar code or radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies are the most common marking methodologies.
These marking methodologies are often overt, however, in that their presence is evident to the naked eye. Unlike counterfeiters, who try to mimic security features, diverters typically try to remove serialization information to protect the source of their supply. Covert serialization, or the application of unique identifiers in a hidden format (typically through invisible inks), is an alternate marking methodology that can be employed in combination with an overt, human readable code. Because diverters cannot see the covert mark, this unique identifier can survive in the unauthorized supply chain while the human readable code may be compromised. During investigation, the covert unique identifier can additionally be used by the manufacturer or investigator to ascertain where and when the product left the authorized distribution channel. Additional benefits of covert serialization are that it doesn't interfere with the overall design of the package and it may provide a combined benefit of authentication and serialization.
Once the product has been uniquely identified, associations or linkages can be made to cartons and pallets, and to customers/customer shipments. These hierarchies or linkages can be maintained throughout the product's supply chain, enabling enterprises to track a product's movements through the supply chain and to retrace its movements if necessary. When a sales or enforcement person checks a product in the field, the track-and-trace database can report on the product's history from manufacture, through distribution, to the intended customer. This information can be especially rewarding to companies offering rebates or warranties, enabling them to match the rebate or warranty to the unique identifier, reducing the risk of fraud.
Key Considerations: Taking the First Steps
Companies can avail themselves of a wide variety of technologies, products and services to help in their product security efforts. But the choice of which technology to adopt need not be difficult. When selecting among the various product security devices, keep the following in mind.
Authentication technologies should:
- Be integral to the overall anti-counterfeiting solution
- Enable definitive decision making in the field as to whether a product is genuine or counterfeit
- Be implementable in a minimally invasive way into operations
- Be difficult and expensive to copy or reverse engineer
- Not detract from brand images or art
When selecting suppliers for these security features, ensure the vendor:
- Has secure manufacturing facilities and a secure supply chain itself
- Preserves secrecy and confidential information
- Has the necessary support systems
And certainly always remember that securing products and supply chains is a multi-pronged effort, of which authentication technologies are integral to, but only one component of, an effective and comprehensive program. Supply chain executives, in conjunction with their business partners, should work collectively and collaboratively with sets of tools and processes to advance their efforts in improving the security of their products and product delivery. A secure supply chain delivers the "right product" — a genuine and un-diverted product — at the right place and the right time, and makes certain that equal care is given to ensure the safety and security of that product when it is outside the company's direct control as it receives within a company's own walls.
About the Authors: Donna DelMonte, business development manager with Honeywell Brand Security, has more than 20 years experience in supply chain management and brand security solutions. Bob Goodman, technical project manager, has had a career of more than 25 years in the military, industry and management consulting, including guiding customers through the design and implementation of anti-counterfeiting and anti-diversion brand security solutions. Erin Kane, global marketing manager, is responsible for strategic and operational marketing for Honeywell Brand Security. Six Sigma Black Belt certified, she serves on the board of directors for the International Authentication Association, an organization of providers and users of authentication technologies. More information on Honeywell Brand Security and Honeywell's Safety & Security business can be found at www.honeywell.com/sites/sm/lumilux or reach us at email@example.com.