Two new US-based traceability company Telesis lasers, a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser to mark organic material and a vanadate solid-state laser to mark metals and plastics, have been introduced to the local market by tracking and tracing equipment company Traceability Solutions for the high-speed on-the-fly laser marking of goods, products or packaging.
Sales manager Kyle Parker says the CO2 laser is able to mark 1 300 characters a second, as well as able to mark 15 m of material a second with marking fields ranging from 50 mm × 50 mm up to 250 mm × 250 mm.
The solid-state laser is used for fast, high-quality marking of metals, plastics and composites in both manual off-line or automated on-line marking applications and has a diode life of over 20 000 hours.
The machines require little maintenance during their operating lives and use single-phase electricity. They are reliable and use no consumables besides electricity. This makes the machines more environment- friendly than the more commonly used inkjet machines and printers, which use solvents, inks and adhesives to bind the labels to the products or packaging, he says.
However, by using these on-the-fly laser markers, companies are also able to place unique, encrypted data matrix codes directly onto individual products or goods, enabling each unit to be traced throughout the logistics chain and in stores.
The two-dimensional (2D) codes can include information such as the date the product was made, which factory or which production line the unit was produced by, its expiry date and the country of origin or the country of destination.
Further, when the units are packed into a container, the 2D code on the container or packaging can include a list of the serial numbers of the units inside, enabling stores to populate their databases with the codes of individual units of products by scanning only the code on the container.
“Each packet of headache tablets, for example, will have its own unique 2D code enabling it to be traced from production to retail sale or intended destination.”
Parker says this also reduces the likelihood of ‘round-tripping’, which involves people fraudulently taking products that have been imported into a country, often at a discount for government or health programmes, out of the country, importing the goods as new goods and selling it in retail stores at higher prices.
“The main application of unit-level traceabi- lity is in pharmaceutical products, which is where a lot of ‘round-tripping’ occurs. Because most labelling is done by batch and contains limited detail as to the origin and destination, these products are often taken from stores and reimported for personal profit, while also making it difficult to catch the fraudsters,” he notes.
With the use of this technology, a pharmacy planning to buy a box of medicine from a supplier can scan the codes to determine if the products have been sold before to a different pharmacy, have been earmarked for hospital use or are destined for use as part of a health programme. This will enable government and the pharmaceuticals industry to combat this illegal practice.
Traceability Solutions is working on a project, in collaboration with its partners, on behalf of a large customer to prevent ‘round-tripping’ fraud, specifically with HIV/Aids drugs, he adds.
Further, the CO2 laser and the vanadate solid-state lasers can also mark fast-moving consumer goods, such as high-value cosmetics or even packets of milk. This means that individual units can be traced, their origins verified and their authenticity tested.
This also helps to protect against tampering in stores, because units of goods can be flagged as sold. If a person places a tampered packet back on the shelf, the scanner at a teller will show the unit as sold and management can question the unit and carry out tests, while the customer can buy a safe product that has not been tampered with.
Products that have been registered as sold to one chain store cannot be sold by another store because there is a central database of units at the producer against which all codes are verified.
Meanwhile, Parker says that individual consumers, in the not-too-distant future, will be able to use their cellphones to scan the 2D codes on the products to ascertain whether the product is genuine, when it expires, at which factory it was made, how long it has been on the shelf and to which store chain the product was sold.
Further, products that have been sold at discount to, for example, flea markets, possibly owing to stockholding policies of different stores, can still be verified and customers can make an informed decision on whether to buy a discounted product nearing its expiry date, while being assured that the product is still safe and genuine.
“We are excited about the potential of these lasers and believe that this year and next year will present an upswing in our industry. Despite a high initial cost compared to inkjet systems, these lasers are extremely reliable, cost effective, have a long operational life and use no consumables. We provide round-the-clock support for these machines,” he concludes.