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19 July, 2024

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Digital watermarks will ‘revolutionise’ product inspection

01 July, 2024

A US specialist in digital watermarking, Digimarc, has announced an automated product inspection technology that, it claims, out-performs traditional systems such as barcodes, offering benefits in terms of quality assurance, waste reduction, data collection and cost savings. The Digimarc Automate technology, which embeds imperceptible digital watermarks in packaging and products, is designed to enhance accuracy and efficiency in production, fulfilment and distribution applications.

Digimarc has also announced a strategic partnership with Omron that will combine its digital watermarks with Omron’s machine vision technology, resulting in “a transformative new force in industrial automation”.

Digimarc’s digital watermarks can be scanned using standard vision systems, with 360-degree readability, allowing products to be tracked and inspected without needing visible barcodes or labels. The digital watermarks also allow brands to maintain aesthetic integrity and consistency, especially on curved items, products with flexible packaging, and small products with limited space.

“Digimarc Automate is set to transform the way companies approach product inspection,” predicts Digimarc’s chief product officer, Ken Sickles. “Our covert digital watermarking technology provides an incredibly powerful tool for enhancing accuracy, reducing waste, and ensuring quality across the supply chain.

“This technology is not just about improving quality and efficiency,” he adds. “Once applied to products, Digimarc digital watermarks add value throughout the product lifecycle so brands can address evolving consumer expectations and future challenges like recycling, product authentication, and dual-factor customer loyalty programmes.”

The digital watermarks are aimed, in particular, at applications where other technologies have problems. For non-uniform or random pack formats – such as cylindrical, irregular-shaped items or thin flexibles – the watermarks ensure reliable scanning on production lines, regardless of orientation.

In tough environments where products risk physical damage, code occlusion or poor scanning conditions, the digital watermarks offer high redundancy, promising better performance than visible codes. And in high-speed, high-volume manufacturing, the digital watermarks can be used for multi-variant products, reducing the risk and cost of parts-matching errors. In cases where an item’s scarcity contributes to its value – such as limited-run products – digital watermarks can identify unit volumes and help prevent damaging over-production or inaccurate allocation.

Digimarc’s imperceptible digital watermarks are embedded into products, labels and packaging where they can be detected using standard vision systems for automated product inspection

The watermarks can also help to overcome the challenges of manual product inspection. Reliance on humans for product inspections is not only costly, but introduces safety risks and inefficiencies. In high-speed manufacturing, the limitations of manual inspections are more pronounced, often resulting in bottlenecks and inconsistent product quality.

“Studies consistently show that manual inspections are prone to errors, leading to substantial costs associated with product recalls and rework,” says Sickles. “Beyond the cost, consumer safety is a top priority. Labelling mix-ups have caused food products to be shipped without proper disclosure of ingredients. In the case of allergens like peanuts, milk or gluten, this can be life-threatening.”

Digimarc says that its partnership with Omron will help manufacturers to avoid mismatched components and mislabelled products, increase the speed and efficiency of their production processes, and streamline the distribution and fulfilment of packaged goods. It will also facilitate the recovery, sorting and recycling of packaging materials after use.

“Our customers in the consumer goods sector face increasing demands for safety as well as high-quality, sustainable packaging,” explains Fernando Colás, CEO of Omron’s Industrial Automation business in the EMEA region. “By integrating Digimarc’s advanced digital watermarking technology into our machine vision solutions, we provide innovative packaging solutions that reduce unnecessary materials and prevent mislabelled or mispackaged products.”

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