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3D printing used to create multi-level anticounterfeiting labels

Thanks to a new microscale 3D printer developed by a Mechanical Engineering team at Hong Kong University

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According to an article published by Hong Kong University (HKU), counterfeiting threatens the global economy and security. According to the report issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2020, the value of global counterfeit and pirated products is estimated to be between US$ 1.7 and 4.5 trillion a year. Despite enormous efforts, conventional anticounterfeiting approaches such as QR codes can be easily fabricated due to limited data encryption capacity on a planar space. Therefore, a potential solution to this challenge is to figure out how to increase the encryption density in a limited space.

3D printing used for multi-level anticounterfeiting labels - thanks to a Mechanical Engineering team at Hong Kong University (HKU).
Dr. Ji Tae Kim (left) and Dr. Jihyuk Yang (right). Source: Hong Kong University.

A team of engineers, led by Dr. Ji Tae Kim from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, at the University of Hong Kong has developed a high-precision 3D printing method that can produce new polarization-encoded 3D anticounterfeiting labels. This new 3D label can encrypt more digital information than a traditional 2D label.

The work has been published in Nano Letters in an article titled “Three-Dimensional Printing of Dipeptides with Spatioselective Programming of Crystallinity for Multilevel Anticounterfeiting”.

Diphenylalanine (FF), a species of dipeptides, was chosen as a material for data encryption due to its unique optical properties. “FF has long attracted great attention to neuroscientists due to its association with Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, FF is emerging as a new electronic and photonic device material due to its unique properties – e.g. piezoelectricity and optical birefringence – arising from crystalline nature,” said Dr. Jihyuk Yang, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, HKU, and first author of the paper.

3D printing used for multi-level anticounterfeiting labels - thanks to a Mechanical Engineering team at Hong Kong University (HKU).
Scheme: 3D printing process of polarization-encoded 3D micro-pixels. Source: Hong Kong University.

“Our new 3D printing method combined with nature-driven molecular self-assembly can print multi-segmented 3D FF micro-pixels with programmed crystallinity for high-density data encryption. By utilizing different responses of the amorphous and crystalline segments to polarised light, a tiny single 3D pixel can encrypt a multi-digit binary code consisting of “0” and “1″. The information capacity can be increased to 211 with a single eleventh-segmented freestanding pixel on a tiny 4µm² area which is 1000 times smaller than a hair strand,” said Dr. Ji Tae Kim, who believes that 3D printing technology can be effectively used to customize security labels on-demand, anywhere and anytime – contributing to strengthening the information security of individuals and companies.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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