September 10, 2015.
UK engineers have developed the first 3D barcode that can be built into products during manufacture. The new technology "has particular relevance for pharmaceutical, automotive and high value consumer products", it is reported. The anti-counterfeit marker is virtually invisible to the naked eye and impossible to detect by touch. It can be read using a laser scanner, allowing anything from phones to pills to be tracked and verified as authentic. Announced today at the British Science Festival in Bradford, the technology was devised by the UK SME, Sofmat Ltd, and has been developed in collaboration with engineers from the University of Bradford. The 3D barcode is made up of tiny indentations in the surface of the product, created by pins which are integrated into its mould. Using micro actuators, the pins can be set at different heights, each step corresponding to either a letter (A-Z) or a number (0-9). The prototype - developed with funding from Innovate UK - works with a four pin array, enabling over 1.7 million different configurations. “The system enables very small displacements to be made in each pin – each step being just 0.4microns, 100th of the width of a human hair,” explains Dr Ben Whiteside, from the University of Bradford. “These have to be set with a very high accuracy, and with sufficient force so their position is maintained during the manufacturing process. While our system has been developed initially for products made from plastics or composites through injection moulding, it could also be used to stamp or emboss the code onto a product.” Many pharma companies are now developing moulded tablets, produced using an injection moulding process, into which a 3D barcode could be incorporated. A video explaining the new technology is available here.