Labelers to the Rescue
The Challenge Printing Co.'s RFIData label integrates an RFID tag with a product label. It also features a DataMatrix code. The company offers RFID integration in-house.
Saying a labeling company only serves to supply or apply labels would be like saying a firefighter only fights fires. Such a statement severely understates the capabilities of both the labeler and the fireman. A fireman prevents fires, teaches children, upholds city regulations, rescues animals, and can be a hero to people in a community. A supplier of labeling materials and solutions can wear just as many different hats. Many labeling companies are putting out fires, too, by developing new strategies to cram more product information onto already tiny labels and to protect product and package integrity from counterfeiters.
Label makers seem to be offering a huge array of services and choices in materials, label design, and security features. And pharmaceutical manufacturers seem more than happy to rely on label printers to incorporate RFID into label design and application—it eases the addition of RFID tag application into existing packaging lines.
Demands on manufacturers are one reason for the necessary increase in services offered by label makers. Because of the continuing demand by wholesalers and FDA for product authentication and security, especially in terms of integrating RFID, manufacturers are looking to the one stage in their production line where most of their problems can be solved in one fell swoop: labeling. Labelers offer many combinations of security features beyond RFID, such as color-shifting inks, UV printing, and covert codes or taggants. And in light of FDA’s new rulings on the minimum font sizes of insert text allowed, as well as what information needs to be included, manufacturers are looking to their label providers for help maximizing their precious little label real estate.
Nosco (Gurnee, IL) recently launched its own initiative to help pharmaceutical manufacturers integrate RFID technology into packaging. Nosco’s RFID Package Integration brand of RFID-enabled label products includes UHF or HF, and dry or wet (pressure-sensitive) tags. The finished RFID tags have read, write, and verification capability. Nosco attempts to bridge the gap between manufacturers and the FDA regulations they must comply with by offering services such as assistance with production line modifications necessary to incorporate RFID into packaging components. The company also offers a portfolio of serialization and authentication technologies.
“Nosco’s entry into the RFID market helps support our customers that need to comply with FDA guidelines and state legislation, while also transforming their supply chain with increased efficiencies and an overall more effective infrastructure to track drugs,” says Nosco president Russ Haraf. The company also offers mass serialization built into an existing bar code infrastructure by using 2-D and Orbid- code variable data printing that uses digital label production to provide redundancy. The company’s RFID and mass serialization can be supplemented with authentication technologies including color-shifting inks, taggants, security holograms, and other overt, covert, and forensic options.
“The challenge for our customers is two-fold—finding more label real estate in order to incorporate more text, as well as finding ways to protect the integrity of the packaging from counterfeiters,” says Margaret Polt, marketing manager at The Challenge Printing Co. (Clifton, NJ). Challenge helps manufacturers weigh potential options by rating each of its anticounterfeiting solutions in terms of security level and cost. By rating features such as RFID tags, IR taggants, and UV printing, the company can perform cost-benefit analyses of these technologies to find the one that works best for a specific application.
Under the layers of security and tracking features incorporated into a label—necessities that Polt calls “the newest and most-pressing issue facing manufacturers today”—are the raw materials that hold everything together. This is the most basic function of and most variable array of options offered by label providers. Label makers understand which substrates, papers, films, adhesives, and inks will work best, and in what combination, to suit manufacturers’ needs.
Robert Ryckman, vice president of sales, healthcare group, at CCL Label (Hightstown, NJ), says that the raw materials being used for the majority of labels are “constantly in development to suit the changing needs of the packaging industry.” The industry is demanding a high level of product integrity monitoring by manufacturers—tracking and authenticating products, incorporating tamper-evident packaging, structuring product information in new FDA-mandated formats and in multiple languages, and keeping everything about the packaging in a compact, user-friendly format. Manufacturers, in turn, look to label makers for creative, flexible solutions to these demands. The most difficult aspect of this process, however, is getting all of these components of a modern label to work together.
“For example,” says Ryckman, “thinner-gauge papers [are used] for large pharmaceutical inserts. Thinner paper makes the finished folded product thinner or smaller. However, it can be difficult to handle on the printing side, so sophisticated equipment is used for the printing. Every change in the raw material has potential manufacturing issues associated with it,” he says.
Dilemmas like this require label makers to know how to choose materials to get the best print-quality results, just like a firefighter must know how to handle the hose to best extinguish a fire. A labeler doesn’t want ink to bleed or migrate on the substrate for a prescription drug package insert any more than a firefighter wants a fire to spread.
But like a fire, one must keep in mind that a label is an active thing. A label transports information all along the supply chain. “People are looking for efficiencies in communicating information,” says Narendra Srivatsa, business development manager, brand authentication, New Jersey Packaging (Fairfield, NJ). New Jersey Packaging’s RxTrackNSecure protective product line of labels that incorporate RFID tags features a multilayer design of anticounterfeiting printing methods including security inks, security papers with encoded fibers or watermarks, covert identifiers, and holography. “Real estate on labels is shrinking, but you don’t want labels to become too big either. And what is the label doing for the consumer? More information useful to the patient needs to be communicated in language the patient can understand,” says Srivatsa.
Clarity in print and unambiguous instructions are key concerns of both label and pharmaceutical manufacturers. From choosing the raw materials to complying with FDA formatting requirements, manufacturers are looking for the quality of their label to reflect the quality of their product. When it comes to selecting the raw materials, such as paper, PE, or PET substrates, Srivatsa says his company looks for “print quality, especially to make sure there’s no issue of ink migration.”
Polt, whose company is currently using a high-gloss or semigloss label material with a permanent acrylic adhesive, says that the benefit of using this stock, like other new materials, is that it incorporates security and authentication devices. “This stock is not only economical as compared to film but, for pharmaceutical purposes, meets the most important requirement: tamper evidence. If someone tries to remove one of these labels from a pharmaceutical bottle, it will tear. On the negative side, these labels are not repositionable, making it critical that the labels are applied correctly,” she says.
“The use of technology and patented constructions allows us to provide a solution to almost any packaging challenge,” says Ryckman. “[Including] color-shifting inks, RFID, and invisible bar codes, to name a few, a total of nearly 20 different technologies [can be] used,” he says.
An almost unlimited number of security feature combinations seem possible for label and package designers to incorporate into labels. As manufacturers rely more on label makers to turn their brand labels into multifunctional tracking and security devices that also meet FDA’s product information requirements, label makers creatively and zealously offer up ideas and services to accommodate manufacturers. This kind of relationship can fuel further technological developments, strengthen ties within the industry, and ultimately benefit the end-users by keeping the products safe and easy to use.