Interpack 2017 and Serialization

Probably not what my readers expect from me for the first day of Interpack 2017, as this might not be a glamorous article. However it is of utmost importance for the pharmaceutical segment of packaging as well for the food segment, the two packaging segments that dominate the Interpack. So read on.

Interpack 2017
Today the world biggest and most important packaging exhibition opens its doors. As usual Interpack is held in Düsseldorf/Germany, this year from May 4 till May 10. The exhibition covers some 18 huge halls and some 200,000 visitors are expected to meet some 3,000 exhibitors from 60 countries.

Two packaging segments are dominating the exhibition, namely food and pharmaceuticals. With the enormous size of the exhibition and the anticipated novelties it is to be expected that the professional visitor related to food processing, isn’t interested or simply doesn’t have reserved the time to look at what the pharmaceutical segment has to offer.

Machine strategies are becoming leaner, user-friendlier for a large number of formats and yet more efficient than ever – Photo: Groninger

However there is one topic that has the pharmaceutical industry firmly in its clutch as it is facing regulations of serialization of drug packages including an obligatory tamper-evident feature. It is the most far reaching and expensive initiative to hit the market in decades. And as this is the case, it’s not surprising that many an exhibitor at the Interpack is showing his developments in software and hardware in regard to serialisation, counterfeiting and related problems.

But what has the food segment to do with all this. In my opinion what the pharmaceutical industry is facing at this moment will be without doubt extended to the food processing industry and well in the near future. Food safety is the number one concern for many a government body.

The criminal world
The pharmaceutical industry isn’t the only one anymore targeted by organised crime. And it isn’t solely counterfeiting, the problem is much more complicated and is unobstructedly moving into the food processing segment of the market. Consequently the food industry has to follow the steps the pharmaceutical industry is taking to implement adequate measures.

To show that I’m not telling a fairy tale, let’s look at some figures. Stephanie Neil, Senior Editor for Automation World reported on December 14, 2016 in her article “Taking a Bite Out of Crime”, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that total cargo thefts (including food, drugs, consumer product goods and medical devices) nationwide (USA) amount to a USD 15 billion to USD 30 billion issue annually for companies, who fall victim to these roadside swindles.

Combination label with QR code, RFID and NFC – all-in-one – Photo: Securikett Ulrich & Horn GmbH

And that’s just half the problem, as manufacturers must also deal with counterfeit products entering the supply chain. According to the International Chamber of Commerce, counterfeiting is one of the fastest growing economic crimes of our time, noting that 5 to 7% of world trade is fake.

Whether it is theft (which could move the product into poor conditions that impact product quality) or counterfeits, this is an issue that costs manufacturers a lot of money, and also puts consumer safety at risk. This is especially true when it comes to food and pharmaceuticals, which is why the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) introduced laws such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), while (EU regulation) 2016/161 of the European Union formulates binding provisions against the entry of falsified medicines into the legal supply chain. It states that all prescription medicines must be provided with unique identifiers and an anti-tampering device.

Although the EU-regulation 2016/161 (at this moment) doesn’t cover food products, it is to be expected that in the near future the regulation will be extended to that area as the food safety topic is of growing concern of many a government. Despite efforts to improve food safety, food-borne illness still is a huge problem. According to statistics there are globally 600 million cases of food-borne illnesses a year causing 420,000 deaths (125,000 deaths are children under the age of five).

Food and drugs safety
It surprises nobody that more and more companies are concentrating their technological developments on serialisation and related technologies to provide more flexible, sophisticated and secure methods of keeping food and drugs safe, starting in the processing plant, because it is clear that this is serious business. Interpack 2017 represents many a supplier of these technologies highlighting the solutions for the pharmaceutical industry, but it’s worthwhile for the food professional visiting Interpack to take a look at them as he will be confronted with identical requirements in the near future.


Photo: Schreiner ProTech

There are many definitions of serialisation running around, but in our context we use the following:
Serialization is the process of converting the information of an object (packaging, product) into a binary or textual form (unique sequences of letters and/or numbers) to persist into storage medium or transported over a network. It involves the conversion into a stream of bytes, which is then written to data stream. The reverse process of converting stream of bits into an object is called deserialization.

In other words each and every product (packaged or not-packaged) receives an individual and unique number or code. Mass serialisation is seen as incredibly important, because it is capable of accomplishing some important goals.
Authentication is in principal the most important feature. Or it should be for the consumer, although most systems stop dead at the way to read the authentication, as if it’s not a consumer right to have the option to verify whether the product they plan to buy is genuine or fake or in some other way “damaged goods”.
Besides the authentication feature, data collection by the manufacturer gives him the tools to monitor each product item and verify that the security of his supply chain or that no “foreign products” are entering his supply chain.

However, a marking solution is only truly secure if the products, in addition to an identifier, are provided with an authentication feature. Serialization alone hardly offers any protection, because it is easy to copy and counterfeit. That’s why we see it always in combination with some other systems to enable the final consumer to clearly identify a product in terms of its identity, origin, destination or other characteristics. As a result, product diversions, re-imports or the exchange of original goods and documents for fakes can be reliably detected and shipping processes optimized.

CPI is the name of the smart software from Bosch for track & trace. It can manage serialization from the allocation of serial numbers to the last aggregation step – Photo: Bosch Packaging Technology

Introducing serialisation in combination with track & trace and anti-counterfeiting devices to secure a safe arrival of the product in the hands of the consumer, starts in the processing plant and modifies every single production line. It is obvious that the security provided by serialisation requires particularly careful implementation in order to efficiently and reliably track & trace and protect products against counterfeiting and to offer other value-added services to the consumer. Item-specific marking, with encrypted codes or RFID/NFC technology, offers a wide range of options for automated manufacturing, logistics processes across the entire product lifecycle.

Serialisation using barcodes, 2D codes or RFID performs a wide range of functions, from controlling internal logistics processes, monitoring distribution chains to offering product-specific online value-added services. The proper utilization of products is ensured and all relevant information, from serial number, contract data to service history, is consolidated in a digital file. In closed systems, a machine, according to the lock-and-key principle, recognizes any material or spare part in use based on an individually programmed RFID label. Reliability and speed of processing purchase orders, making shipments and responding to service requirements increase, plus these solutions make it possible for the manufacturer to offer warranty extensions.

When you read all these possibilities and requirements to safeguard the authenticity of your production, you can’t be surprised that the pharmaceutical industry, confronted with these requirements at this moment, is in quite an uproar. It is the most far reaching and expensive initiative to hit the market in decades.
So, it’s worthwhile for the food industry to get prepared as I’m sure it will reach their area in due course.

Mettler-Toledo has launched ProdX 2.0 – an advanced software solution that enables manufacturers to get a 360-degree view of line performance. Designed for use on food lines, as well as in pharmaceutical and chemical processing, this new and improved data management software package connects product inspection equipment across the entire production line into a single, unified network – Photo: Mettler-Toledo

Selection Interpack
After this general story about serialisation let’s have a look at what several exhibitors at Interpack are showing and demonstrating. Type serialisation and/or track & trace in the search engine of Interpack and you get some 97 names of companies exhibiting these systems. I had to make a selection.

Tomorrow we will describe the systems of Atlantic Zeiser, Schreiner ProTech and Securikett Ulrich & Horn GmbH. Further Bosch CPI software, and Mettler-Toledo for food safety. Unfortunately two interesting developments aren’t shown at Interpack, but I decided to include Covectra debuting StellaGuard and in addition NSF International with its Eye Succeed wearable technology.

By the end of the year, manufacturers will see ‘transformational’ wearable technology in the consumer market, which will overtake sales of handheld devices, predicts NSF International – Photo: NSF International

Stay tuned

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