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Pliant and IBM Harness RFID for Tamper Detection

Packaging materials manufacturer Pliant announced the successful trial of a new technology co-developed with IBM that combines Gen2 RFID tags with printable electronics to automatically record if pallet shrink wrap material has been tampered.
Jan 10, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

January 10, 2007—Packaging materials manufacturer Pliant and IBM have successfully developed and tested an RFID system that detects and records if packaging film has been tampered. Pliant combined printable electronics on pallet shrink wrap film with a modified 915 MHz EPCglobal Gen2 semi-passive RFID tag to automatically record if the pallet shrink wrap was cut, torn, or removed. The system was successfully piloted on shipments between Pliant research and development facilities in Newport News, Virginia, and Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

"If the pallet is compromised en route we can detect that instantly at receiving and know that we should check that shipment," Pliant technical director for innovation Doug Lilac told RFID Update. "It's not inconceivable that organized thieves could use a stretchwrap machine to rewrap pallets. If a thief took boxes off the pallet, replaced them with empties, and re-wrapped the pallet, we'd know."

Pliant developed proprietary printed electronics for application on the film used in pallet shrink wrapping. After pallets are wrapped, a semi-passive RFID tag is applied to the pallet. The tag energizes the conductive material on the film. If the wrapping is punctured, torn, cut, or removed, the event is automatically recorded on the RFID tag. The event would be reported whenever the RFID tag is read.

Pliant worked extensively with IBM for RFID technical support and to develop the software for the system. According to Bill Barlow, a Pliant product development engineer, semi-passive RFID technology was chosen for cost, and the Gen2 standard was chosen because of its widespread adoption for supply chain use. Tampering is recorded in the extended, optional memory portion of Gen2 tags, not the core memory space, thus preserving the ability of tags to be encoded with an EPC or other data useful for supply chain applications. The pilot included automated receiving and chain-of-custody applications, using Gen2-standard handheld and portal readers. IBM's WebSphere RFID Device Infrastructure and Data Collection Server software were also used.

Barlow and Lilac say they do not see any technical obstacles to eventually using active RFID technology with the printed electronic film. An active system could allow the tags to issue tamper alerts in real-time. "We also think adding a time and date stamp to record the event is very doable with the current semi-passive technology," said Lilac.

Barlow and Lilac said the project is now in the "optimization" stage. Pliant is refining the system based on pilot results, while also speaking with customers to assess the commercialization potential.

"The goal of this program is to commercialize practical and cost-effective bulk packaging solutions that incorporate RFID," Lilac is quoted as saying in IBM's release. "The RFID system we've implemented provides us with a real-time view of our products' security and location so we can ensure that we will meet our customers' expectations."

Security and privacy is an area where much innovative RFID development is occurring. In September, PolyIC reported its progress developing 13.56 MHz printable RFID circuits for product authentication (see PolyIC Announced Printable RFID Prototypes). IBM has also developed a tearable RFID tag for item-level privacy protection in consumer product applications (see Pro-Privacy Tearable RFID Tag Becomes a Reality).

Read the announcement from Pliant
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