Printed Electronics and Security Printing

The Security Printing industry has to anticipate and respond to constant and unremitting attack from counterfeiters.  Activities range from attacking Brand owners products to personal documents thus undermining everyone’s very fabric of life.

This has always been a problem but latterly, with the advances in production technology and techniques, counterfeiters have increased their attacks very significantly.

The task facing the Security Print industry is to introduce a range of technology hurdles to deter or mitigate such attacks. Typically security products include a range of protective technologies including Forensic or DNA-based features as well as technologies using covert machine –read systems. The main technology defence area however is the Overt or interactive features which draw the Consumer’s attention to the product – which is where we believe that Printed Electronics can offer significant potential.

Many printed products from brand certificates to security packaging are very price sensitive and cannot support the cost of conventional electronics. The potential for a printed electronic version which offers good anti-counterfeiting protection while being cost efficient would be attractive to businesses whose valuable brands are constantly challenged.  Printed electronics also has at its core the main cost in its materials not its overhead which means from a UK perspective it can be readily manufactured here and be competitive worldwide. It thus offers an effective alternative which cannot be achieved in any other way.

End Users are constantly engaged in producing products and packaging which differentiates them from competition and encourages consumers to buy their product. At the same time they are also seeking to protect their identity. The issue has been that End Users will not usually pay a premium for technology features alone since they represent an increase in cost without direct evidence of return. The approach we believe the Printed Electronics industry should adopt is to combine Brand enhancement with protection features.  Enhancement techniques could for example combine printable displays and logic to produce flashing or blinking Brand symbols that appear to move and draw the eye to the product making instant recognition possible. The protection comes from several key areas. We make the actual printable micro-technology difficult to replicate without resorting to expensive conventional options and we combine or register the printed electronics with other secure printed features.

Another area that interests the Secure Print industry is printable electronic track and trace. This offers additional functionality over bar or QR codes but at only moderate additional premium and allows the consumer to check quickly with their mobile phones if the product is what it claims to be. While this ambition is still some way away there is evidence that the technology has the potential to achieve moderate success within several years.

From our perspective, the embryonic Printed Electronics industry is growing up and starting to deliver on some of its initial promise. The early hype has given way to solid achievement and we look forward with true excitement to working with the new printable technologies and the energetic companies who will supply them.

Philip Cooper