Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Finish security tag protects valuable shipments

Steve Rogerson
May 12, 2015
 
In collaboration with its EU project partners, the VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland has developed an electronic security tag that can used to protect valuable shipments and enhance product safety. By using a security tag equipped with sensors, the sender and the recipient can ensure, for example, that the packaging of the product has not been tampered with and that the product is genuine.
 
Previously, printing techniques have been applied to integrate electronics into plastic labels only, but with the VTT methods it is now also possible to produce more environmentally friendly paper-based security tags.
 
Both logistics companies and the retail sector are seeking methods for protecting shipments, preventing forgeries and ensuring that products remain unspoiled during transportation. Using the roll-to-roll technology developed by VTT, electronic circuits and sensors can be integrated directly into different materials by printing, thus producing novel security tags for sealing shipments and verifying the authenticity of products.
 
"With the help of roll-to-roll technologies, VTT has implemented a security element that can be used for supervising the integrity of shipments," said Liisa Hakola, senior scientist from VTT, describing the results of the EU-funded Ropas project. “Our project partners have been examining the recyclability of the security element and its feasibility in logistics chains, so we now have a functional package in our hands. In its studies, our project partner ITene has detected that the components used in the security element have a very minor influence on the optical and mechanical properties of recycled fibres. The use of conductive printing inks is also so minimal that their impact is almost negligible."
 
The security tag consists of a paper tag with an embedded battery and two coloured LEDs. When the package is opened, the signal light will show whether the shipment has been opened earlier during transportation.
 
In the Ropas project, VTT showed that roll-to-roll technology for printing electronics was also suited to the manufacturing of paper-based security tags. This will improve the cost-efficiency of production, the environmental friendliness of the tags and their suitability for mass production.
 
Now the consortium is looking for someone to adopt the technology. In the project, the Spanish logistics sector partner Loginser tested the functionality of the security tag in its own shipments. The tag is also suited to the use of diagnostics companies, for example.
 
The newly closed Ropas project was a four-year EU project of €4.7m. It was coordinated by TNO from the Netherlands, and the other partners in addition to VTT were ITene from Spain and CEA from France. The companies involved included S2Grupo and Longinser from Spain, Starcke and Enfucell from Finland, MpicoSys from Poland, Océ from the Netherlands, and ELEP from Belgium.
 
• VTT has developed a sensor that detects ethanol in the headspace of a food package. Ethanol is formed as a result of food spoilage. The sensor signal is wirelessly readable, for instance, by a mobile phone. VTT is searching for a partner to commercialise the sensor.
 
The sensor monitors ethanol emitted from the spoilage of foods into the headspace of a package. Ethanol, in addition to carbon dioxide, was found to be the main volatile spoilage metabolite in fresh-cut fruit. The information given by the sensor is transmitted from the package to the customer by means of a reader, and the data are saved digitally in a remote server.
 
The sensor layer is part of an RFID tag, and the sensor data can be read wirelessly using an RFID reader in, for example, a smartphone. The sensor transmits information about the freshness of the food in the package to the retailer or customer. The freshness data can be stored in real time in the cloud, enabling the comparison of food quality with its previous or later condition.
 
A similar optical readout based on the colour change of the ethanol sensor was also developed for a smartphone.
 
The sensor and the RFID tag can use printing techniques manufactured into a label or sticker and easily attached to a food package. The price of the sensor will then be low enough for use in food packages.
 
Using the sensor, it will be possible to control the food quality throughout the distribution chain and to prevent waste caused by spoilage. More than 100 tonnes of food products end up in waste annually in Europe, and the amount will rise to 126 million tonnes by 2020 if nothing changes.
 
The sensor was developed in the European project SusFoFlex, EU Seventh Framework Programme Agreement No 289829. The invention is currently in the process of being patented.