Systems for identifying objects by means of x-ray fluorescence (XRF) of encased labeling elements have been developed. The XRF spectra of objects so labeled would be analogous to the external bar code labels now used to track objects in everyday commerce. In conjunction with computer-based tracking systems, databases, and labeling conventions, the XRF labels could be used in essentially the same manner as that of bar codes to track inventories and to record and process commercial transactions. In addition, as summarized briefly below, embedded XRF labels could be used to verify the authenticity of products, thereby helping to deter counterfeiting and fraud.

Softball Cores and Covers Would Be Labeled by mixtures of elements having unique XRF spectra. The balls would be tracked through the stages of manufacture and transport by using the spectra to verify their identities.

A system, as described above, is called an “encased core product identification and authentication system” (ECPIAS). The ECPIAS concept is a modified version of that of a related recently initiated commercial development of handheld XRF spectral scanners that would identify alloys or detect labeling elements deposited on the surfaces of objects. In contrast, an ECPIAS would utilize labeling elements encased within the objects of interest.

The basic ECPIAS concept is best illustrated by means of an example of one of several potential applications: labeling of cultured pearls by labeling the seed particles implanted in oysters to grow the pearls. Each pearl farmer would be assigned a unique mixture of labeling elements that could be distinguished from the corresponding mixtures of other farmers. The mixture would be either incorporated into or applied to the surfaces of the seed prior to implantation in the oyster. If necessary, the labeled seed would be further coated to make it nontoxic to the oyster. After implantation, the growth of layers of mother of pearl on the seed would encase the XRF labels, making these labels integral, permanent parts of the pearls that could not be removed without destroying the pearls themselves. The XRF labels would be read by use of XRF scanners, the spectral data outputs of which would be converted to alphanumeric data in a digital equivalent data system (DEDS), which is the subject of the previous article. These alphanumeric data would be used to track the pearls through all stages of commerce, from the farmer to the retail customer.

In another potential application (see figure), an ECPIAS would be used to track softballs. Softball cores and covers are typically manufactured in the United States and shipped offshore where the covers are sewn on. At present, in order to verify the origin of a shipment of assembled softballs returning to the United States, it is necessary to take some balls as samples, cut their covers off, and examine their cores. In contrast, the ECPIAS would make it possible to verify the origin of the balls quickly and nondestructively. The ECPIAS concept could also be applied to other products in which XRF labels could be permanently encased. Examples include balls used in high-profile sports, tires, printed-circuit components, layered clothing items (e.g., shoes), and critical aircraft components.

The ECPIAS is a “next logical step” technology that gives an OEM a new safeguard for product liability. With the bar code inside the part or even mixed with the material of the part, authentication can be attained with a simple scan. For those who have ever tried to put a barcode inside a pearl, ECPIAS may sound like a good alternative.

This work was done by Harry F. Schramm of Marshall Space Flight Center, and Bruce Kaiser of Keymaster Technologies, Inc. For further information, contact Sammy Nabors, MSFC Commercialization Assistance Lead, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Keymaster Technologies, Inc.
415 N. Quay Street, Suite 1
Kennewick, WA 99336

Refer to MFS-31890, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2005 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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