The spread of counterfeit parts and components around the globe seems to know no bounds. Their inadvertent use jeopardizes product performance and reliability, as well as consumer health and safety. And for OEMs, these pirated parts results in lost revenue, costly warranty claims, recalls, and loss of customer confidence.

The consequences are costly: approximately 6.5 billion Euros annually in Germany’s mechanical-engineering sector alone, according to the Frankfurt-based VDMA engineering association.

Engineers at Tailorlux GmbH, Steinfurt, Germany, have developed a new process for effective and economical anti-counterfeit protection. The company’s Tailor-Safe luminescent markers readily distinguish originals from fakes.

The idea behind Tailor-Safe is simple. Combinations of luminescent pigments made from rare-earth elements are manufactured in, or coated or printed on, a product. Though invisible to consumers, they emit a unique light pattern that can be recorded digitally and stored in a dedicated database. A simple, hand-held spectroscopy reader about the size of a mobile phone can read the luminescent signatures in a fraction of a second, identify the product, and verify its authenticity.

With over 300 billion combinations individual markers are virtually impossible to counterfeit, promising an unmatched levels of security, according to company officials. And the materials are non-toxic, so Tailor-Safe can be used for marking toys, textiles, food packaging, and drugs.

The tiny size of pigment particles means they can be added to printer inks and coatings, so markers can be economically applied in high-volume applications. And the reader relies on mature light-spectroscopy technology, with even minute traces of a marker sufficient to authenticate a product, so scanning can also be scaled up to handle thousands of parts per second.

The unique spectral fingerprint of each marker can be documented in internationally accessible databases such as Original One, where stored data is encrypted and available anytime via the Internet. Users can also store additional information, if required, such as production date and location, technical specs, and much more.

Tailor-Safe is already used on precision tools. Future plans include putting the scanning technology into smartphones, someday letting any consumer tell an original from a fake. www.tailorlux.com

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.