In-mold labels use digital watermarking for authentication

By Rick Lingle in Brand Protection on November 24, 2014

A new opportunity in using digital watermarks for in-mold labels for cosmetic and personal care packaging results from an alliance between packaging vendors SussexIM and Inkworks that provides a permanent mark for brand protection.

The alliance centers on a new way of bringing brand protection via authentication using a durable format (for more information see www.sussexim.com/blog/) that’s as much a part of the product and package as the polymer: Digital watermarking for in-mold labels (IMLs) using engineered resins such as ABS.

 

Ed Fabiszak, vp sales and marketing, SussexIM, Sussex, WI, answers our questions about this intriguing development.

 

 

What is this technique and how does it work?

Fabiszak: The digital watermarking capability offers the next generation in machine-readable images. The progression is from bar codes to [quick-response] QR codes to digital watermarks. The benefits of digital watermarks are that they: 

Do not detract from a brand’s image;

Provide a direct link from the product to smartphone apps;

Provide a direct consumer connection to the brand; 

Allow for usage directions, ingredient list, links to promotion and consumer engagement; 

In beauty products, they allow for links to augmented reality applications and elevated consumer interaction; and

The mark certifies product authentication. 

The embedded imaging technology is not patented or proprietary, but the machine readers all have patented and proprietary technology in their Software Development Kit (SDK) applications. 

 

What is meant by “digital watermarking"?

Fabiszak: Digital watermarking is an imaging technology that embeds machine-readable images within the graphics. Those machine-readable images are not legible to the human eye. Thus, the brand keeps its design clean and retains its brand equity. 

  

How is it applied?

Fabiszak: SussexIM has numerous product decoration capabilities and has partnered with InkWorks in using digital in-mold labels (IML) with watermarks.  Alternative methods were considered, but those were more costly, had higher error rates, and added complexity to the IML process. 

 

What have been previous ways to do this and why is this better?

Fabiszak: Watermarking technology can be embedded in standard pressure-sensitive labels, but the labels can be removed from the product and detract from the product’s perceived value. There have been a few reported developments of digital in-mold labels with watermarks, but to the best of my knowledge, none have been commercially implemented. The benefit is that the IML is embedded in the product, offers the highest read-rate, and is permanently attached. 

 

What are the applications and what is the “sweet spot” for this technique?

Fabiszak: IML technology is widely used in Europe and has been growing in applications in North America, with a focus on polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) containers. Many examples exist within the dairy and laundry categories. The alliance between Inkworks and SussexIM makes this technology available for engineered-grade resins such as ABS, SAN, PC, nylon blends and more.  In the cosmetic industry, the fit and finish requirements require ABS and ABS/SAN blends. 

 

What’s required to implement and what are the costs to customers?

Fabiszak: Process automation requirements include an IML cell that present magazine-loaded labels to a robot pickup, which then travels into open mold, picks up completed parts, makes the label static for placement and places the label into the mold.  Application costs are driven by automation investment and process cycle time,  and in most cases the design of the molding tool. The cost of the watermark is included in the digital IML cost. Label costs are driven by print image requirements, developing the optimum mix of tie-layers in the label construction and volume levels. 

 

How does authentication work?  

Fabiszak: It works with a smartphone via free downloadable APPs via iTunes or Google Play. Ask any GenX or Millennial consumer for directions. The consumer must download the app to read the product’s in-mold label; the connection to the target brand’s website is triggered. For example: download the free DigiMarc app, then point the reader at the watermark label that will link to brand website. 

 

What is the commercial status?

Fabiszak: SussexIM has made the technology available to the cosmetic market in its stock “soft-square” compact. The product launch was presented to attendees of the MakeUp-New-York tradeshow and met with rave reviews. A number of the largest brand companies are looking at deploying the technology in the market. Expected first products in the market are planned for first quarter 2015. 

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