The Ambrosus Anti-Counterfeiting Solution
Angel Versetti, ceo Ambrosus 20-11-2018
Smart supply chain management typically involves a variety of different functions: track and trace capabilities, optimized data sharing, anti-counterfeiting solutions, and even automatic payment processing. While ample discussion surrounds the use of blockchain and IoT for track and traceability purposes, much less discussion has centered upon anti-counterfeiting measures: What does a holistic anti-counterfeiting solution look like? What technology does the Ambrosus Innovation Laboratory employ to stop counterfeiting that can be considered cutting edge and unlike anything else that can be found on the market?
Below a detailed explanation outlines the Ambrosus anti-counterfeiting solution. This begins with a brief outline of what fraud and counterfeiting entail, and leads into a more in depth discussion concerning the tech at the InnoLab that is currently being designed to solve this problem. Ultimately, the Yverdon-based Ambrosus Innovation Laboratory confronts and solves the main issues that threaten supply chains and the security of such products in a both cost-effective and cutting edge fashion.
Fraud and Counterfeiting in Supply Chains
For Ambrosus, fraud and counterfeiting, formally known as crime, is best understood in the context of a product’s journey throughout the supply chain. Crime takes place when a product is tampered with, replaced, or intentionally mislabeled for financially or politically incentivized reasons. According to a recent executive summary from Europol, global counterfeiting of food and drinks is estimated to generate $49 billion USD annually. The same report goes on to detail how criminal networks possess sophisticated packaging and labelling systems, whereby a food, beverage, or medicine can be re-packaged, distilled, or un-packed in a virtually undetected manner. For companies, such practices directly threaten business margins; for consumers the crime is even more dangerous as fraudulent food, medicine, or beverages can result in serious health issues and sometimes even death.
Importantly, according to a Michigan St. University Presentation, supply chain counterfeiting is only going to increase in the future: the globalization of food and pharma, new markets for products in the developing world, and easily accessible technology for organized criminals are only a few of the factors that will contribute to such a rise.
Ultimately, during the journey throughout the supply chain, a product can be tampered with in two main locations: 1) first mile crime, and 2) transportation crime. After dissecting what each form of crime entails, the InnoLab’s solution is explained in detail.
First Mile Crime
The most frequent case of fraud in supply chains, happens to originate from the very beginning: first mile crime is most often the center of dishonest trade practice whereby a product is unfairly or incorrectly shipped to a market. The most common form of first-mile crime is when the producer in question directly deceives clients, retailers, and consumers about the nature of the product being sold. This form of crime can be manifested in variety of ways:
- By diluting the quality of a product for financial purposes and then reselling the product as the ‘original’.
- By lying about the origin or quality of the product in question in order to access new markets or to benefit financially.
- By mislabeling the product and therefore pretending to sell one product while in fact selling a different one.
- By manipulating the conditions around the growth of a product so as to qualify for insurance, additional benefits, or market advantage.
Altogether, first mile crime presents a formidable challenge for honest supply chain management.
Crime which originates during the products movement throughout the supply chain can be considered to be ‘transportation crime’. Transportation crime concerns all of the fraud and counterfeiting that takes place after the original product has left its ‘first-mile’ enclosure. Examples of this type of crime include:
- Lying about the origin of a product.
- Receiving one product, and shipping a different one to the next part of the supply chain.
- Tampering or opening a product that is received, in order to extract, dilute, modify, or tarnish the product in question, before re-packaging it and sending it on.
- Stealing or switching out products from their container, in order to then resell them on a different market for a higher price.
- Reconfiguring batch information in order to steal certain packages in a shipment.
Ultimately, Transportation Crime is exceptionally difficult to stop due to the complex nature of supply chains and the limited accessibility of information: some supply chains require the product to move between 6 to 8 different placeholders, where in each case, one placeholder depends upon the information from the proceeding placeholder. Fragmentation inevitably allows for gaps, and such gaps are easily exploited by organized criminals wishing to siphon off some of the profit.
How does Ambrosus Address Anti-Counterfeiting?
At the Innovation Laboratory, the Ambrosus Center for Research and Development in Switzerland, Dr. Stefan Meyer and his team of highly skilled industry experts deal with the problem of counterfeiting every day as they design new, cutting-edge solutions for smart supply chain management.
From the outset, Dr. Stefan Meyer has been direct about the underlying philosophy that the InnoLab takes when addressing the problems of fraud and counterfeiting in global supply chains:
“Addressing Crime in supply chains is a very tricky business, especially when the criminals are organized and possess large amounts of funding to support their activities. Due to this, when we address the problem of Crime at the InnoLab we must approach it from a very specific mindset: we accept that we will never discover a perfect solution to solve all crime but we try to stay ahead of criminals by using multi-layered solutions; according to the intensity of the problem, we propose to combine solutions and mix approaches, in order to stay ahead of what criminals are capable of tampering with.
Current practices can be substantially improved by designing and implementing cutting edge solutions — for better product protection, product storage, and data security. Our goal is to always be multiple steps ahead of where most anti-counterfeiting measures currently are. We seek to put in place anti-counterfeiting measures that serve the very practical purpose of directly inhibiting mal-actors by making it more difficult for them to access the product without being caught.”
In relation to 1) first mile product counterfeiting and 2) in-chain transportation tampering, the Ambrosus InnoLab has developed a variety of strategies intended to help defend the product from criminals through the use of Guardian Sensors, or to hide the product from criminals through the use of Smart Containers.
Stationary Guardians — First Mile Security
To better protect the integrity of products in their first mile, Ambrosus utilises static (stationary) sensors to physically attach to the field or pasture in question. In order to thoroughly ensure the security of the first mile, multiple static sensors must be configured around a number of different gateways: through such a configuration data can be taken from many different devices and automatically processed, in order to calculate whether tampering has taken place.
In such a scenario, in order for a criminal to alter a product in its first mile, they would have to be able to simultaneously tamper with all of the devices in the vicinity that constantly monitor the data being produced. By combining artificial intelligence with big data analytics, the static sensors in place can intelligently communicate with one another, before transmitting information to a secured gateway connected to the Ambrosus blockchain.
More specifically, the Ambrosus Multi-sensing Platform is the premium stationary guardian capable of efficiently guaranteeing data integrity of the various parameters it has been designed to monitor. By adding specific sensors to the multi-sensing platform, client companies can customarily secure various inflection points of their supply chain. Such parameters may include (but are not limited to):
- Light Exposure
- Co2 / O2 / other gases
- Distance (infrared, ultra-sound, laser, light rangefinder, interferometer, etc.)
- Radio Frequency
- Sound intensity or Frequency
All sensors attached to the multi-sensing platform have already been calibrated to the Ambrosus Network or certified by NIST. With such capabilities, the Ambrosus Multi-sensing Platform is a unique in-house device suitable for a wide variety of static and dynamic guardian responsibilities.
Supply Chain Guardians: Sensors, Seals, and Analytic Devices
Slightly more sophisticated than stationary guardians are the dynamic sensors that have been designed by the InnoLab in order to follow products throughout their journey in the supply chain. Such sensors can be understood to be ‘guardians’ of products, due to the fact that they have been specifically designed to prevent counterfeiting, and ensure the integrity of all data sent to AMB-NET. More precisely, the InnoLab has a number of smart seals, analytic devices, and bio-sensors readily available:
For some supply chain solutions, a lack of technological infrastructure to monitor products can result in difficulties in guaranteeing product security, or assuring the quality of a product throughout its journey. For such situations, the InnoLab has compiled or designed a number of ‘Smart Seals’ which can be used for more ‘raw’ commodities or products anywhere in the world. Examples of such smart seals would include (among others):
Smart Zip Ties:
Another particularly unique Ambrosus design that is currently being built is a fully integrated smart cork. While most ‘smart corks’ today are only capable of monitoring temperature, the Ambrosus smart cork will be able to guarantee the integrity of many more features, effectively preventing cork manipulation or ‘needling’ of the package.
A wide variety of Analytic devices currently exist that specifically guarantee and demonstrate the composition of products. The InnoLab concentrates on finding analytic tools that already exist on the market, in order to integrate them into an Ambrosus Gateway as a way of maximizing security and efficiency. Such products include but are not limited to the following devices:
Handheld Spectrophotometer: The Near InfraRed (NIR) spectral sensor delivers spectral responses of light absorbed by materials for quantification, qualification, and identification purposes. With research and customization, the underlying technical transmission of spectral signals can be independently customized for the following industries or use cases:
- Food analysis.
- Oil and Gas.
As a cutting edge technology, Spectrophotometer’s allow any interested company to verify the quality of their product without directly tampering with it. In the context of supply chain crime, the hand-held device provides a defense against dilution, and the alteration of a product’s composition: by scanning a high value product, or even a sample of many products at a time, a company can better understand in real time, if and how the product has been altered during its supply chain journey.
A Smart Tracer is most often a miniaturized or product-conducive chip or chemical compound which can then be used to measure and transmit such information to a reader or gateway. Some of the Smart Tracers currently being tested and configured at the InnoLab include:
A micro-tracer is a miniaturized label (a few 100 µm in size) that is produced using photolithographic techniques. Such tracers can be used to detect manufacturing errors, to ensure the correct measurements of additives, and to determine levels of contamination in products that have been made around other products.
These tracers, currently being tested, function as an added security measure used to authenticate products: with a smart phone application, a product can be scanned whereby the phone camera will be able to verify the authenticity of the package based on interaction with ‘invisible-to-the-eye’ clues that have been dropped into a product’s packaging graphics. Products that have been counterfeited will not possess such clues, nor will criminals be capable of assessing if the products they counterfeit utilize such a security mechanism.
Chemical tracers, also being tested, utilise the molecular compounds of particular ingredients in a product in order to provide a distinct absorption spectrum. This spectrum can be made to be either visible or invisible; depending on the mixture of molecules, the spectrum will indicate the chemical composition of a product, and whether it has been tampered with. These indicators effectively serve as a products’ specific ID for chemically based product’s such as those commonly found in pharmaceuticals, plant-based foods, grains, and spices.
The most sophisticated chemical tracer that the InnoLab currently utilises, are chemical based ‘inks’ which are implemented during the manufacturing process of a product: such inks or chemical compounds are nearly impossible to copy or replicate, and can be specifically designed to be invisible to the eye (in a similar manner to how special ink is used to validate paper currency). In order to ensure maximal security, a specific reader for the ink is required by a designated third party software.
Smart Packaging — Hiding the Product
When there is no product visible or accessible during its transportation in the supply chain, there is no way for a criminal to tamper with or counterfeit the product in question. As such, the safest strategy to ensure the security of a product is through placing each product in a thorough and tamper-proof package.
The Ambrosus InnoLab, has custom designed a number of smart devices in order to better protect products while they are transported throughout the supply chain. For such smart packages, there are three different levels by which they can be implemented: firstly, it can be besides or inside the package; secondly on the package; and third, directly integrated into the manufacturing of the package. Different parameters have to be considered, such as for example the location, the communication (short or long range, through the packaging or not), the sensitivity (continuous or punctual, with an alarm threshold, which calibration) and the energy (passive, active), to name just a few.
Smart Isothermal Box:
Both products have been uniquely designed by the InnoLab: what is especially particular about he two devices is that they possess an inbuilt Ambrosus Gateway whereby any detectable tampering or alteration is immediately processed as an ‘alert’ to the designated authority. In such a manner, the product within the container or box, does not even have the possibility of being counterfeiting or modified since the packaging itself has the capability of alerting the stakeholder in the event of suspicious activity. Additionally, such gateways are cryptographically secured with a special signature that only certain people can authenticate via finger print, signature, optical reader, etc.
To go even one step further, cutting edge printing techniques have been designed to allow products to merge with their containers, in a manner whereby the seal, chip, or monitor, cannot be extracted without damaging the entire package itself. While a more in-depth blog post will detail the specifics, such techniques ground the main ideas behind Role-to-Role printing, and ‘moulding’ currently being done at the InnoLab or through an industrial manufacturer: an electronic circuit is printed ‘within the walls’ of the product itself and safe from tampering. Ultimately, not only is the product protected, but the guardian stationed in front of the product is equally secured.
With all of the technologies described above, the anti-counterfeiting data is transmitted to an Ambrosus Gateway, and thereby securely processed and sent to the Ambrosus Network. While a future blog post will detail in depth the security and configuration of Ambrosus Gateways, the overall solution that the Ambrosus InnoLab proposes as a counter to anti-counterfeiting is holistic: much more than simply tracking and tracing product ID’s, the InnoLab has developed sophisticated and highly innovative mechanisms to better secure and protect supply chain products. This pertains to both stationary products in the ‘first mile’ of supply chains, as well as products ‘in transition’ throughout the various stages of the supply chain.
Altogether, the InnoLab is strategically designing solutions that will greatly improve upon current anti-counterfeiting measures, and thereby make it more difficult for criminals to tamper with and exploit supply chain deficiencies. At the same time, such measures will also preserve and monitor the integrity of the products in question so as to better inform the consumer. Ultimately, anti-counterfeiting is an increasingly competitive field that offers useful tools for deterring crime and assuring the protection of brands.