3D Barcodes Are Being Used To Fight Fake Medicines

There is a rising concern about couterfeiting of medicines.  The World Health Organization estimates that 10% of medicines globally could be fake and 2/3 of pills bought online could be sub-standard.  A UK team has developed 3D barcodes that could help tackle this dilemma.

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The system was developed by Sofmat Ltd, a small Yorkshire company, in collaboration with engineers at the University of Bradford.  The team has now been awarded 250,000 pounds by the government technology body, Innovate UK.  They are now at the final stages of funding and the grant is intended to see the product through to market readiness.

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Integrating into an injection molding system, the device is capable of generating more than 1.7 million bar code configurations on anything from cellphones to pills.  The indentations are created by an array of pins that can be set at different heights using microactuators.  “These have to be set with a very high accuracy, and with sufficient force so their position is maintained during the manufacturing process,”  said Dr. Ben Whiteside, a senior lecturer at Bradford.  “While our system has been developed initially for products made from plastics or composites through injection molding, it could also be used to stamp or emboss the code onto a product.”

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Unveiled at the British Science Festival in Bradford on Wednesday, the system would be used during manufacturing and would imprint each tablet with a series of tiny indentations, which could later be read using a scanner in a hospital or at a medical center before the medication is given to a patient to ensure it firstly has a code and secondly it matches the correct batch and type of pill.  The managing director of Sofmat, Dr. Phil Harrison said the company is already in talk with firms in Switzerland and China, but getting the US and UK companies interested has been more difficult.  The scanning device at the prescribing end of the chain is expected to be completed by November 2016, said Harrison, and the air is to keep the cost to about 200 pounds to make it viable for health centers.

Though the system has been developed for the pharmaceutical industry, the technology can potentially be used for any manufacturing process involving highly counterfeitable products. The technology is already generating interest from the electronics and automobile sectors.

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