Unipac Guarantees Agricultural Product Authenticity via NFC

By Edson Perin

The company has adopted an Internet of Things-based RFID solution to eliminate the risk of criminals reusing discarded packaging for the purpose of selling counterfeit and potentially dangerous products.

Unipac has announced the adoption of an Internet of Packaging (IoP) solution utilizing radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to guarantee the security and authenticity of its products. The company has been a business unit of Brazil's  Grupo Jacto for more than 70 years and comprises multiple firms that operate in the agricultural, polymer application (automotive, packaging and logistics), transportation, cleaning services, hygiene and medical fields. Founded in 1976, Unipac is a reference for national and international companies operating in the automotive, pesticide and logistics segments, among others. It operates a headquarters office in Pompeia and a branch in Limeira, both in the state of São Paulo.

The system consists of an induction seal and a smartphone application with a Near Field Communication (NFC) reader. The seal is mounted on product lids, as with conventional authenticity seals. Throughout a packaging's entire lifecycle until it is opened by an end user, anyone who has a smartphone equipped an NFC reader and has downloaded Unipac's app can verify whether the package has been tampered with, according to André Silvestre, the company's sales manager for the packaging segment. "Once the packaging is opened," he states, "the system identifies that it has been violated and, therefore, is potentially non-authentic, in addition to providing real-time information and passive traceability."

Humberto Fujita, a researcher at Unipac, says the company has developed a solution for the plastic packaging market that differs from existing offerings. "We offer a response to customers that want to solve the violation problem using technologies applied directly to a product," he explains. Two points proved challenging for Unipac, Fujita notes: uncertainty about the breadth of NFC technology in Brazil when the project was launched in 2014, and the learning curve regarding these prototypes until a minimum viable product (MVP) could be industrialized.

"Over time," Fujita says, "UHF and NFC technologies were tested. Based on an analysis of their advantages, NFC tags were chosen due to the growth of this technology and the availability of NFC readers on smartphones, allowing common users access to a means of authenticating a product without having to invest in expensive equipment." The current patented configuration enables the coupling of an NFC tag to the aluminum induction seal, thereby forming a single piece. The solution meets homologation requirements, he reports, and will replace the conventional seal without the need for changes to the lid or packaging, thus enabling customers to adopt the technology, and without affecting recycling efforts.

One benefit the company has obtained with the system, Silvestre reports, has been increased reliability, since the solution makes it difficult to reuse authentic packaging, while identifying any violations. "In this way," he states, "the practice of counterfeiters to fill empty and authentic discarded packaging with non-authentic products becomes apparent once the tag's identifier is verified in the database." The system allows a more objective decision based on a cell phone's NFC reader, via the authentication of the tag identifier with a database in the cloud.

"The use of NFC technology is growing on smartphones," Silvestre states, "enabling authentication in a practical way and allowing access to a greater number of users." Another advantage, he adds, has been that the collected data enables greater interaction between consumers and the industry, allowing companies to know the consumption habits of customers and end users. "Furthermore, loyalty programs, awards and unit recalls are possible, as is the potential for packages interacting with machines in the field for the purpose of traceability from chemical factory to farm."

According to Fujita, Unipac has already mapped opportunities for the future, initially for use in the pesticide market, which demands this type of solution, according to a June 2019 report from the  Institute of Economic and Social Development of Borders (IDESF). The report indicates that approximately 20 percent of all pesticides sold in Brazil are of illegal origin, at an annual cost of 8.8 billion real (nearly $2 billion). "Unipac has proof-of-concept for progress in the pesticide market," he says, "in addition to prospecting initiatives in other potential markets."

With the solution, from the filling of the product, anyone along a supply chain can authenticate packaging, download the application and register a product in the Unipac system. "For consumers looking for quality and original products, the main value will be the verification of authenticity," Fujita states. "For Unipac customers who will use these resources, it will be possible to obtain information about a product's lifecycle, including its traceability, batch deviation, sales in regions other than those planned, and information regarding an end user's consumption patterns."