3 Nov 2015

You've heard of 3D printers.. now comes 3D bar-codes

From Nine To Noon, 9:41 am on 3 November 2015

Products ranging from medicines to brake pads and aeroplane parts are being counterfeited with sometimes fatal consequences - and a UK company is developing a product to help combat the lucrative trade.

British engineering company Sofmat is developing 3D barcodes, invisible to the naked eye.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has put the value of international trade in counterfeit and pirated goods at up to $US250 billion in 2007.

The World Health Organisation estimates up to 10 percent of medicines worldwide could be counterfeit, and says in over 50 percent of cases medicines purchased over the internet from illegal sites that conceal their physical address have been found to be counterfeit.

The barcodes being developed consist of a series of minuscule indentations with precise, slightly different depths, allowing for billions of different combinations.

With four pins making holes at 36 possible heights, the team can produce 1.7 million codes.

Next, Sofmat wants to step up to a six-pin system, with more height variation, which will allow 14 billion variations.

Managing director Phillip Harrison told Nine to Noon goods ranging from Viagra to aeroplane parts are counterfeited.

"Basically anywhere in the supply chain things can be integrated. Obviously there are very high value goods that's involved. If you have a manufacturer or a company that wants to make fake goods they can infiltrate them throughout the chain.

"A proper management system can reduce this, but there have been instances where military installations have found counterfeit products actually on their shelves waiting to be integrated into their aeroplanes.

"There was instances in Canada where something like 10 percent of deaths caused by brake failure were counterfeit brake pads which had been made from sawdust."

The system involves putting surface features on an object, and supplying a unique reader which can identify the markings and cross reference them with a database to confirm the product is authentic.

The company would supply the system to "end users" such as hospitals or pharmacists, in the case of medicines, or manufacturers or distributers, in the case of automobiles or aeroplanes.

The Sofmat team are working in conjuction with engineers at the Univerisity of Bradford and hope to launch the barcodes in November 2016.