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While counterfeiting has challenged industry forever, in recent years, another problematic subject has emerged – the grey market, featuring products that are not counterfeit but are sold outside approved supply agreements. In general, the goods are bought in a low-price country, and then sold elsewhere, where they command a much higher price. There are also goods that are meant for use in service outlets but then appear on supermarket shelves.

Whilst it is not illegal to buy from grey market sources, consumers often find the experience less than satisfactory when products come without local language instruction manuals, the usual accessories, or the brand owners refuse to repair or replace an item when something goes wrong. Brands are expected to close down grey market channels, but the challenge is to find out where the supply chain has been disrupted.

Flexible electronic tags are a potential weapon against grey market, as well as counterfeiting – using blockchain and cloud-based services to track goods from manufacture to the end consumer. However, the overheads of using standard solutions for lower price FMCG would be too high when adding the cost of implementing blockchain on top, as Rachel Baker, marketing manager at PragmatIC points out.

“Counterfeiting nowadays is not limited to high value and luxury items, it covers the whole price range. Printing quality has improved so much, making it a lot easier to produce convincingly packed products at a low cost. For consumer goods, where the price of the packaged goods is £10/10€ or less, it is not economically viable to support the high price of silicon-based electronics, creating a need for lower cost flexible electronics.”

PragmatIC’s ConnectIC family of flexible RFID circuits, launched in February this year, bring cost-effective digital traceability and interactivity to everyday objects, as Gillian Ewers, PragmatIC’s marketing VP, claims.

“ConnectICs are designed on PragmatIC’s technology platform which delivers flexible integrated circuits that are thinner than a human hair. They are designed to be used with single layer antennas, which dramatically reduces total inlay costs. They are flexible and robust, which enables them to withstand the rigours of consumer goods packaging and use. Large bond pad sizes allow for more relaxed placement and bonding tolerances. ConnectICs are compatible with both conventional pick-and-place machines and higher throughput parallel assembly. Fast read times ensures verification of the inlay can be performed at standard production line speeds and no customer encoding is required. In addition, they don’t require a battery, as they harvest energy from the antenna. The absence of a battery does further help to save space,” she says.

“Conventional solutions can leave a bump. An undetectable solution can be better as you don’t necessarily want the entire supply chain to know that there is a tracker in the product. If it is undetectable, it enables auditing the entire supply chain and finding out where a potential problem lies,” concludes. Ms Baker.