A Singular Impression

Digital printing enables a pharmaceutical printer to add serialization and unique authentication features to each label.


Using an HP Indigo digital press, Challenge Printing can add serialization as well as anticounterfeiting features to pharmaceutical labels. 

Building variable security features into preprinted labels hasn’t been easy with traditional printing methods. Plate changes have been required for flexography and offset printing methods, for instance, making it next to impossible to print unique items.

Tim Gelsinger and Tony Kapsaskis of Challenge Printing Co. had this limitation in the back of their minds when investigating the use of digital label printing—but overcoming it wasn’t their primary goal. Customers were seeking shorter runs and smaller label inventories as well as better quality and unique color printing. Installation of HP’s Indigo 4500 digital press could meet or exceed these needs, says Kapsaskis, who serves as Challenge Printing’s director of sales and marketing. The system uses an electrostatically charged cylinder that attracts ink to downloaded images and imparts those images directly to substrates. And, he adds, digital printing could revolutionize order fulfillment by shaving off turnaround time traditionally needed for plate making. (For more on Challenge’s installation of the digital press, stay tuned for the upcoming news story in the September 2008 issue of PMP News.) But “every time the cylinder of a digital press makes a revolution, the image can be different,” explains Gelsinger, director of new product development and QA. Adds Kapsaskis: “That means that unique data can be assigned to each label.”

Challenge had already been encoding unique numbers to labels using RFID technology, so moving toward unique item printing—i.e., serialization—felt like the next step, says Gelsinger.

Unique printing ties into Challenge’s other major undertaking—creating a pedigree registry. “We are following our RFID approach. We take blank tags off our shelf, integrate them into labels, program the codes our customers tell us to encode, verify the codes, reconcile the codes, and send the data back. We can do the same thing now with labelstock. The pedigree starts with us,” says Kapsaskis, meaning that Challenge can commission numbers and provide data files to customers. “We are developing a portal for sharing codes and are integrating our ERP system with those of our customers.”

As an added benefit, the typical varnish applied to preprinted labels can protect unique linear and 2-D bar codes. “Such protection just isn’t possible with printing methods used on packaging lines, such as ink jet,” says Gelsinger.

Gelsinger says the new press allows Challenge to stretch beyond code printing and add other security features for product authentication. “We are in a position to be able to entertain any customer request,” he says. “The press gives us the ability to use dynamic printing for anticounterfeiting.”

For instance, Challenge can print proprietary serialization schemes, like variable color frames around 2-D bar codes (shown above in the label provided) or covert microprinting.

Gelsinger and Kapsaskis realize the responsibility Challenge is assuming by playing a role in serialization, pedigree, and anticounterfeiting. A charter member of the North American Security Products Organization (NASPO), Challenge is seeking NASPO certification. “We want our customers to sleep at night,” says Gelsinger. “We know that these codes are actual security devices and need to be treated as such.”

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