Using lasers to fight the counterfeiters

Ingenia Technology was founded in 2003 after years of research funding at Durham and Cambridge Universities and more recently at Imperial College in London. Led by Professor Russell Cowburn that research resulted in the development of Laser Surface Authentication which is the basis of Ingenia’s security solution. Andrew Gilbert, Business Development Director at Ingenia, talks to CIE about Laser Surface Authentication (LSA) and how it can help tackle counterfeiting in the electronics industry.

Part of the NewScope Group, a Swiss business that comprises of specialist high-end technology companies that work in a variety of technologies, Ingenia Technology (UK) is headquartered in London and consists of a team of business and security experts and of specialist engineers and physicists and includes three members of the original research team from Imperial College. The company focuses on developing innovative products and solutions for brand protection, authentication and track & trace applications to a wide range of industries.

The company’s anti-counterfeiting products and solutions are based on a proprietary laser technology called Laser Surface Authentication (LSA).

So how was Ingenia’s technology first discovered?

Ingenias LSA technology arose from an accidental discovery by researchers at Imperial College and Durham University looking at magnetic films. The researchers noticed that by shining a light on a surface the natural imperfections of the material produced a random scattering of light. Taking this a step further, the researchers began working on methods of capturing this random scattering as digital data.

How has the technology been applied to anti-counterfeiting?

Building on the fundamental research, Ingenia began developing a high speed scanner that could be implemented on any production line to apply the technique to commercial products.

The LSA system shines a laser onto the surface of a product and measures the naturally occurring microscopic imperfections inherent in any surface

to generate a unique digital serial code for each separate item scanned. This code, which can be compared to a fingerprint or DNA sequence for the item, is unique for every product scanned and can be used to unambiguously identify the item.

The key advantage is that LSA is not adding anything to the items being scanned – unlike barcodes or holograms for example. Instead LSA is simply measuring the naturally occurring imperfections in materials. This makes it possible to identify and authenticate items down to a unit level (rather than batch level). It also makes it incredibly difficult for counterfeiters to circumvent. In order to overcome LSA counterfeiters would have to be able to control the microscopic imperfections of a surface, something that not even the genuine manufacturers can do.

This makes LSA a highly secure and reliable anti-counterfeiting measure.

How does LSA increase security through the supply chain?

By enabling this secure and reliable authentication, LSA provides another layer of covert security against criminals. But it is not the only issue that must be addressed by anti-counterfeit organisations.

Knowing if the item in front of you is genuine or not is as important as knowing whether the item in front of you is where it should be.

This issue of diversion (unauthorised selling of genuine products – either in the wrong regions to take advantage of price or tax and duties differentials, or through unauthorised vendors) is a major and growing problem for manufacturers and brands. It is a problem that can only be tackled through increasing accountability in the supply chain.

Manufacturers are already looking to adopt a more innovative and covert approach to this issue and the new ISO 17367:2009 standard is helping manufacturers and distributors track products and manage their traceability thanks to standardised RF tags. However, these tags, like other codes that are added to enable the individual items to be traced, can be found by the diverters and removed, despite being hidden. This completely removes the opportunity for tracing and interrogation of the supply chain to find where a breach occurred.

LSA again provides a highly secure track and trace solution.

The combination of Ingenia’s production line scanner, field scanners and LSANet software package enables total supply chain management by enabling every item to be authenticated and tracked at every single stage of its journey through the supply chain and distribution channels. It also means that if items are found to have been diverted then managers can work out exactly where the chain was breached – greatly increasing accountability.

What impact do you think LSA can have in the electronics industry?

Although steps are being taken to tighten procurement rules and to develop electrical tests to verify components, counterfeit electronics are still on the rise.

Electronics vendors face some major challenges. Not least is the fact that

many of the common anti-counterfeit measures such as holograms or barcodes cannot be used with electronic components as they interfere with the manufacturing process.

However, as LSA reads the inherent microscopic surface characteristics of any product, rather than adding elements, it does not affect the manufacturing process in any way. As a result LSA can be applied to the electronics sector by scanning the individual chip packages.

With LSA authenticated products everyone in the electronics supply chain could quickly and reliably scan and verify any component and be certain of exactly what chip they have before them at any given moment.

In this way LSA can complement the anti-counterfeiting strategies and techniques already in place the electronics industry. This additional layer of protection would not only impinge on the counterfeiters’ ability to profit from sub-standard or unsafe products, it also helps manufacturers ensure that their customers are not dealing with potentially dangerous items.

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