In our continuing efforts to provide broader market education, Supply Chain Matters provides broader awareness to advanced technology approaches that are making their way to industry settings. In this commentary, we focus on a rather unique software-centric approach to product authentication across various tiers of the finished product supply chain.
The challenges for overcoming fraudulent and counterfeit products that exist across the global supply chain remains significant. This is especially of-concern for manufacturers and/or distributors whose supply chains reside in a regulated industry or whose products are of high brand or product value. There have been many attempts to address such challenges, often resulting in added expense for marginal mitigation. Counterfeiters themselves have become far more sophisticated in their methods and in their presence.
Systech International, a long-established technology provider addressing brand protection needs, recently launched its UniSecure application. We were somewhat intrigued by this application and underlying technology and subsequently conducted a product briefing with Systech executives.
This provider has been in existence for decades, with a prior focus on manufacturing automation and vision systems that evolved into support for manufacturing item-level product serialization needs. Much of this support was focused in support of pharmaceutical, life sciences, and food and beverage manufacturers in their needs for unique product identification. Beyond these efforts, Systech began to recognize that counterfeiters have become far more sophisticated in their methods, and there was growing a need for a less infrastructure-intensive approach to supporting product authentication needs for products flowing across global supply chains.
Scientists recognized that every printed label or barcode has character and signature-unique characteristics that vary with the make and model of the specific printer at the time of printing. According to this vendor, no two labels or printed data carriers are identical and are affected by environmental factors that produce small-scale variations. The UniSecure approach is to capture these unique character elements of the printed identifier signature and store this in the Cloud, for future authentication in subsequent movements through the supply chain. Further along the supply chain, a mobile or smartphone based reader can read the existing barcode utilizing the UniScan mobile app, which sends the image to the Cloud for authentication to the original label signature to determine if that product is authentic. This unique scanning capability can also be utilized by clients to enable point-of-sale, consumer engagement or loyalty as well as product security focused processes.
Supply Chain Matters has previously highlighted newer smart labeling technology just coming to market that opens opportunities to address both supply chain authentication and consumer engagement processes by leveraging existing near-field cellular (NFC) and other internal Wi-Fi communication networks
Thus far, pilots involve scanning of products by wholesalers and distributors, but some customers have plans to deploy the technology further into fulfillment channels. We probed whether existing high-speed label readers could be leveraged for volume scanning but that seems to be a work-in-progress at this point, subject to customer and vendor investment needs.
A further promising use of this technology is described in product recall situations where products can be scanned to determine if specific products are subject to withdrawal from the supply chain.
Industry pilots of the UniSecure technology are underway across multiple industry verticals to including pharmaceutical, animal health, precious metals and consumer goods focused supply chain settings.
UniSecure is a unique approach, one that bears watching for broader deployment use cases and overall scalability. The uniqueness stems from its software-centric emphasis along with its leveraging of existing item-level identification processes across the supply chain.
Supply Chain Matters continues with our market education series, in particular, citing next generation technology involving smart item-level labeling technology that can open the door to further integration of physical and digital information needs. Evolving next-generation labeling utilizes printed electronics and near-field communications (NFC-enabled) smart labels to track products and their various states.
Today, Xerox announced the availability of two printed electronic labels that can collect and store information about either the authenticity or condition of products flowing across the supply chain. From our lens, the availability of such advanced labeling technology will foster new, more affordable dimensions of item level tracking, security and authenticity specifically related to products. This author would add that this is the dawning of the application of item-level technology that industry supply chain teams have versioned for quite some time.
Xerox Printed Memory is label that is printed on a thin, flexible substrate (see photo) upon which 36 bits of data can be added, stored, or re-written to non-volatile memory. Xerox product teams describe this product as a low cost method for adding intelligence to objects. The label can be manufactured with tamper-evident adhesives and available in a number of physical formats. Data affixed to the label can be pre or post programmed, depending on business process or product need.
The label licenses printed labeling technology developed by Thin Film Electronics ASA, which Supply Chain Matters has previously brought to the attention of readers in various other application areas. Thin Film and Xerox have been collaborating on joint product research for the past few years, and we were alerted earlier this year of a pending product release.
We had the opportunity to speak with Xerox product management and learned that initial application of this labeling technology can apply to needs to authenticate refill of products such as dispensing machines with consumable products. Think of air or water filters, pharmaceutical products or ink jet print cartridges. A further and most interesting application area is product authentication where label based memory can store product identification or distribution codes while supporting needs for controlling product authentication, tracking and monitoring across the entire physical supply chain. The label is thus utilized to verify if the product is genuine and can track handling during distribution.
The Xerox label passes through a two-part verification, one being the reading of physical memory on the label, and one being a hand-held or smartphone based reading device utilized to authenticate the product.
Consider for a moment prior commentaries where sophisticated counterfeiters were able to accurately replicate product labels and distribute counterfeit goods.
Xerox Printed Memory with Cryptographic Security adds a unique, encrypted code developed by the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Essentially a manufacturer can pre-print a QR type item level identification that conforms to GS1 standard serialization or product tracking standards at time of printing along with encrypted metadata with a unique cryptographic “seed” value that is authenticated by designated authorized parties with the proprietary algorithm. An inspector with a secure smartphone reader can capture the encrypted authentication code, along with the QR code, compares the two values and generate a further proprietary authentication code. The reader can optionally add additional time/location or intended destination information that can be fed to a track and trace application.
The attractive part of Xerox’s approach is that verification by reader or smartphone device can be accomplished both online of offline. In the case of offline, the authentication occurs and later can be uploaded when connected to the Internet. Another added feature is that new codes can be re-written to the memory label as the product transcends the value-chain.
Xerox is initially targeting this smart labeling technology for brand protection, anti-counterfeiting or tax or duty stamp conformance needs. Products could include expensive pharmaceuticals, liquor, tobacco or high fashion branded products. A potential use can be the use of rewriteable data within each label to identify if the product is authorized, a shipping tax has been paid, or whether the product passed through an authorized supply chain node.
Previous advanced item tracking technology utilizing RFID enabled technologies proved expensive to implement on a wide scale basis. Xerox believes that its new smart labeling technology can provide high security as well more attractive cost affordability.
Xerox plans to produce these new labels in volume at its Webster New York facility.
As noted in our prior market education commentaries, this is the dawning of a new era for item-level tracking. It is one that will harness the potential of the Internet of Things as well as the abilities to bring together the physical and digital aspects of supply chain information integration applied to important product and business challenges and opportunities.
Counterfeit Apparel and Other Unauthorized Products in China Draws Added Actions: Welcome Taylor Swift
After years of what is described as unproductive conversations, The American Apparel & Footwear Association recently publically called for major changes to Alibaba Group’s anti-counterfeiting procedures. AAFA represents more than 1,000 clothing, shoe, and lifestyle brands, and over the last four years, has been engaged in on-going conversations with Alibaba representatives on the problem of counterfeits on Alibaba’s Taobao online shopping site. According to the trade association, counterfeits across China cost clothing and shoe brands millions in lost sales, cause damage to reputation, and incur legal costs and an immense toll on internal resources.
In an open letter to Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma, AAFA President and CEO Juanita Duggan called for a plan to address counterfeits that is more transparent and driven by certified brand owners. The proposed AAFA plan outlines four elements:
- Easy brand certification
- Brand-controlled “take-downs”
- Brand approved sales
- A transparent verification process
To add even more emphasis and probably more attention to ongoing apparel counterfeiting, singer Taylor Swift has taken up the cause. Readers will likely recall that Ms. Swift recently successfully confronted Apple with the issue of proper royalties within Apple’s new music streaming service during a subscribers free three-month trial.
According to a published report by The Wall Street Journal, the American pop star’s popularity in China has exploded and so has the availability of unauthorized products of all dimensions. In an attempt to control this surge of counterfeits, Ms. Swift is launching her own branded clothing line in early August among China’s two largest online players, JD.com and Alibaba. According to the report, the strategy is to leverage Swift’s star status to stem the selling of products that do not have proper rights to utilize the Taylor Swift name.
The availability of unauthorized counterfeit goods across China obviously continues. While industry associations such as the AAFA, along with respective brand owners themselves provide due-diligence, continued visibility and calls for action, the efforts of Taylor Swift might prove to be more meaningful. Alibaba, with enormous online fulfillment influence, perhaps now has an added incentive to stem the availability of unauthorized products.
Industry supply chain teams should applaud and support Taylor Swift’s entrance and response to this challenge.
On the eve of the beginning of the chronological New Year, it is our time to reflect, look back and scorecard our Supply Chain Matters 2013 Predictions for Global Supply Chains which we published nearly a year ago.
Readers are welcomed to review our predictions for 2014 which we outlined previously in a series of detailed commentaries. But now is the time to look back and reflect on what we previously predicted and what actually occurred in 2013.
In our previous Part One posting, we scored our first five predictions for this year. We now move toward the final five of our predictions and how they fared.
As has been our custom, our scoring process will be based on a four point scale. Four will be the highest score, an indicator that we totally nailed the prediction. One is the lowest score, an indicator of, what on earth were we thinking? Ratings in the 2-3 range reflect that we probably had the right intent but events turned out different.
2013 Prediction Six: Supply Chain Organizations Must Either Embrace and Augment Resiliency or Deal with the Consequences of Poor Business Outcomes.
This particular prediction was motivated by the constant volatility in product demand, supply, and other unplanned events impacting industry supply chains. Volatility exposes the vulnerabilities of existing planning, execution or S&OP processes. Throughout 2013, there were increased incidents of supply chain disruption including a major port strike, the threats of port strikes on involving the U.S. west and east coast ports, major factory and warehouse fires along with continued incidents of unprecedented natural disasters. Just this weekend, a fire destroyed the workshop of internal movement parts-making supplier to Swatch Group and other competitive watch suppliers. Swatch supplies roughly 60 percent of movements used in all Swiss watches. As we pen this update, it remains unclear as to the extent of the damage or parts disruption.
Throughout 2013, we observed more and more evidence of manufacturers investing in people, process and technology augmentation that would address resiliency and more predictive decision-making capabilities. This was further reflected in robust software sales from vendors and services providers that concentrated in enabling resiliency, risk-mitigation and more responsive supply chain decision-making capabilities.
We predicted that Supply Chain Control Tower (SCCT) initiatives, beyond those in high tech and consumer electronics supply chains, would come more to the forefront this year. That turned out to be not the case. There were various reasons including the need for further education, organizational readiness to take on such as an initiative and technology vendors themselves who moved away from articulation of SCCT concepts in their product marketing. This area was a missed prediction for us but we continue in our efforts to provide broader market education in this area.
2013 Prediction Seven: Chinese based Manufacturing and Service Firms will Markedly Increase Their Presence and Influence within Industry Supply Chains
The essence of this prediction stemmed from China’s leadership which was encouraging more companies to buy assets overseas and to make strategic investments across targeted industry supply chains. Having in excess of $3 trillion of foreign-exchange reserves helped in the bankrolling of such investments. While natural resource and energy continue to be the predominant strategy our belief was that other industry or geographic penetration strategies would play out in 2013, and that indeed turned out to be the case.
Chinese firms indeed turned their attention toward machinery interests across Europe, making select investments in distressed companies. Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology, a state owned construction equipment producer acquired German equipment maker M-Tec inDecember. Sany Heavy Industries has quietly acquired two German based firms, Putzmeister and Intermix and entered a joint venture with Austria based Palfinger. In the United States, Sany invested in a $60 million office building and adjoining warehouse outside Atlanta in an effort to develop a more significant presence in the U.S. construction equipment market. According to a Wall Street Journal report earlier in the year, Sany has been “scouting for acquisitions and joint ventures to gain a broader product line, more sales and rental outlets.”
Tianjin Pipe has invested in a $1.3 billion manufacturing plant in Texas to produce seamless-steel pipe for the oil and gas industry. That plant is expected to be completed in 2014. Hisense USA, the subsidiary of home-appliance and electronics producer Hisense Electric is branching out to become a stand-alone brand of flat panel TV’s and mobile handsets from a plant in Georgia. A growing number of China based textile producers including Keer Group and JN Fibers have been investing in new production facilities in the U.S. southeast to supply fabric yarn to Central America apparel producers. Energy costs in the U.S. have become far cheaper not to mention transportation cost advantages for shipping yarns and industrial fibers to Central America, an evolving low-cost manufacturing alternative for the Americas market. These strategic investments allow Chinese yarn and fabric producers a means to overcome existing U.S. tariff barriers for fabric composition.
The most visible and noteworthy investment was the acquisition by China’s largest meat producer, Shuanghui Group, of major pork producer Smithfield Foodsfor approximately $4.7 billion. The primary purpose of this acquisition was stated as fostering more export of Smithfield branded pork products towards China’s booming consumer market. The reality however is now the presence of a prominent Chinese based food producer within an important segment of the U.S. pork products supply chain. The deal also won approval from U.S. regulatory bodies. Since the Smithfield acquisition, there has been added speculation about added acquisitions in the dairy sector.
We believe we nailed this prediction and thus provided ourselves a generous rating.
2013 Prediction Eight: The Executive Level Voice and Shared Accountability of Supply Chain will Extend into Three Broader Areas
Rating: 2.0 (see below qualifier)
The basis of this prediction was our belief that evolving needs for product design, customer fulfillment and customer service now umbrella, voluntarily or involuntarily, more accountability for the supply chain leadership executive. Visible incidents of botched new product introductions because of initial quality issues or premature component failures across automotive, aerospace and consumer electronic brands during 2012 led us to this broader prediction. The new era of Service Lifecycle Management where OEM’s or capital equipment manufacturers offer customer pay by use or pay by hour leasing options was yet another motivator for broadening the accountability umbrella of the supply chain organization.
Throughout 2013 there were continued developments of premature quality and component failures among the above mentioned industry groups. While Ford Motor has introduced quite a number of new vehicle models, its quality indicators are slipping precipitously. Business media headlines were consumed with continuous reports of additional component failure incidents involving Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Other incidents that have escaped media visibility continue.
Candidly, our rating of this prediction has been a challenge since we have had difficulty in securing anecdotal or hard evidence of clear increased or broader functional accountabilities among industry supply chain teams. Our intent was to develop a detailed research study to explore this area in 2013 but a lack of time and a specific research sponsor thwarted our efforts. Therefore, we cannot in good conscience provide ourselves an overly positive rating even though our gut belief is that we were on the right track with this prediction. We therefore defer to our readers to add further commentary and perspectives as to whether broader and increased accountability indeed occurred during 2013. Look for flash poll early in the New Year to ascertain if a broader umbrella of accountability is underway.
2013 Prediction Nine: Higher and More Expensive Incidents of Counterfeit Products, Physical and IP Theft or Grey Market Activities Would Motivate Stepped-Up Mitigation Efforts.
The incidents and challenges surrounding the continued existence of counterfeit products, physical and intellectual property theft, and grey market activities unquestionably continued across multiple industry fronts throughout 2013. In 2012, U.S. Customs and Border Protection alone seized over $178 million in counterfeit goods coming into the United States. Among pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chains, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had to once again alert physicians and healthcare providers to yet another batch of the cancer fighting drug Avastin early in 2013. In March, U.S. Customs officials seized $3.6 million in counterfeit Viagra and Cialis in a warehouse in South Carolina. That same raid also uncovered a large quantity of counterfeit golf clubs within the same warehouse. Counterfeit drugs were not just in proprietary but generic versions of drugs as well. Generic manufacturer Teva Pharmaceutical had to step-up quality inspections of its off-patent heartburn drugs across Europe after healthcare providers and patients noticed miss-spellings in the drug labels. The World Health Organization (WHO) disclosed that there is still no accurate estimate of the global scale of counterfeit medicines. Reports by others groups suggest that the size of the global counterfeit drugs industry could run into hundreds of billions of dollars.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime concluded in an April report that counterfeit goods, mainly originating from China, have become as profitable as illegal drug trafficking for Asia based criminal gangs. The UN agency concluded that counterfeit goods traced to China are the direct source of about two-thirds of the world’s counterfeit goods. Many watchdog agencies have concluded that counterfeiters have become far more sophisticated in their methods of production and distribution. China is also the primary area of the most concern regarding intellectual property (IP) protection, and has become a primary motivator for current decisions to near source design and manufacturing to other consuming regions such as the United States.
Despite all the above evidence and incidents, industry supply chains such as the pharmaceutical industry continue to battle a rising tide. While many firms have specific compliance leadership and staff resources, efforts generally were directed at certain controls within current budgetary parameters. They include early detection, audit and product packaging techniques to make it more difficult for counterfeiters to distribute fake goods. Calls from governmental agencies for stricter or mandated tracking, inspections and controls remain muted and subject to political lobbying. Private industry must step-up and come up with enhanced solutions.
Meanwhile, consumers, patients and services providers continue to remain the victims. While we correctly predicted the wide-scale scope of the ongoing problem, stepped-up mitigation efforts apparently lagged.
2013 Prediction Ten: Cloud Computing and Managed Services Options Continue to Gain More Traction Provided that Vendors Resolve Lingering Customer Concerns.
The year 2013 featured the ongoing shift of influence and the ultimate decision in technology buying moving away from IT and towards the business side, with the continued counsel of the CIO and IT teams. The fate of technology investments to enable expected and more timely business outcomes is quickly shifting into the hands of business and supply chain teams. At the same time, huge multi-year technology transformation initiatives were shunned in favor of targeted, tactical business process change initiatives of average 3-6 months duration that phase-in capabilities toward a desired multi-phased end-goal. This fostered a greater attraction toward cloud computing, managed services or best-of-breed selection options that
provided teams managed scope and much quicker time-to-benefit.
During the year, industry analyst and other published surveys pointed to less resistance for certain supply chain mission critical processes moving toward hybrid or public clouds, provided that vendors could ensure strict security standards, less onerous contract language and quicker implementation methodologies. However, the November-December incident involving the security breach of retailer Target’s point-of-sale systems will most likely significantly re-ignite security concerns again in 2014.
In 2013, many supply chain technology vendors continued their wholesale shifts at providing customers broad cloud-based options in planning, B2B collaboration and execution management. Thus far, customers seem to be comfortable with adopting such options, but again, in managed scope. Tight budgets for technology adoption also contributed to the attractiveness for cloud-based options since technology investments can be funded within business operating budgets.
This concludes our 2013 Predictions scorecard. We trust that you, our readers, secured benefit from these predictions as they transpired this year. While we did not hit a home run on every prediction, we were certainly in the game.
Readers are invited to add their observations in the Comments area regarding our predictions for this year and our self-rating.
Sincere thanks for your continued loyal readership throughout 2013 and we extend our wishes for a productive and rewarding 2014.
Bob Ferrari, Executive Editor and Managing Director
© 2013 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters Blog. All rights reserved.
Supply Chain Matters notes yet another installment in the continued risk of counterfeit drugs and goods within supply chains.
The Financial Times reported that leading generics drug producer Teva Pharmaceutical is stepping-up quality inspections of its products across Europe after discovering a sophisticated counterfeiting operation involving a popular off-patent heartburn treatment medicine. The fake versions of the drug Omeprazole were discovered by Ratiopharm, a subsidiary of Teva after being alerted from a patient in Germany, who noticed spelling mistakes on the label of the packaged drug. Apparently, the drug contained genuine ingredients but was not produced by the manufacturer stated on the label. While the counterfeit version of this drug does not appear to pose a health risk, it has exposed weaknesses in government drug discount reimbursement programs based on the volume of drugs sold. A spokesperson for Teva was quoted as noting that this company was somewhat surprised to discover this counterfeiting scheme involving one of its products. Stepped-up efforts now include random testing of the company’s products that are in distribution, along with other products.
The alert has now triggered other manufacturers of Omeprazole to make further discoveries of fake versions of both the 20 milligram and 40 milligram packs of this drug. One other manufacturer mentioned included Hexal, a subsidiary of Sandoz. Here again, it is noted that while the unit cost of this drug is relatively low, thieves have been able to generate substantial profits through volume distribution of the counterfeit version.
The Wall Street Journal featured a troubling article today, one which adds more credence to the growing problem of quality and conformance lapses that exist in certain industry supply chains. The article, Pratt Discloses Faulty Testing (paid subscription required or free metered view ) reports that United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit has disclosed that it had uncovered an alleged fraudulent-testing scheme by a sister United Technologies business unit, Carmel Forge Ltd..
The scheme is reported to involve previously unreported multi-year efforts to doctor metallurgical tests involving the production of tens of thousands of engine parts used on business jets and turboprop aircraft. The alleged period is from the mid-1990’s to the summer of 2011, when a disgruntled whistleblower employee of the Israeli Carmel Forge unit provided an insider tip to Pratt officials.
The WSJ characterizes this disclosure as one of the aerospace industry’s longest and most –pervasive examples of improper testing. While the report indicates that the parts in question do not pose any safety hazard, Pratt officials acknowledged that the extent and duration of the testing irregularities shocked them, and has prompted a reassessment of quality control and oversight processes among suppliers.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched a formal administrative proceeding after it was informed in September 2011, which is reported to be closing without any imposition of fines or other penalties. The WSJ reports that United Technologies and Pratt officials have worked aggressively to get to the bottom of these reported testing irregularities and has since replaced the top management structure at Carmel Forge.
The obvious question, at least for Supply Chain Matters, was why was this alleged fraudulent testing undiscovered for as long as it was, and why has it taken this long for these details to emerge. The article quotes Pratt officials as indicating “that all the subject parts produced over the years met basic engineering specifications ensuring their safety, though many weren’t properly subjected to Pratt & Whitney’s tougher internal testing requirements.” Perhaps, a statement dictated by a panel of lawyers, and not very comforting. Readers and industry players can certainly draw their own conclusions.
From our perspective, yet more evidence that the notion of lean supply chains seems to include lean or minimal controls on supplier and testing conformance. For the aerospace industry, already dealing with numerous challenges of backlogged supply chains and the ramifications of the ongoing grounding of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, yet another disclosure adds additional stress to supplier relationships.