Counterfeit Analysis: Which Spectroscopic Method Works Best?

Counterfeit analysis encompasses a broad range of tools used to distinguish adulterated substances from the genuine article. In border control customs and law enforcement applications where the parameters for success and compliance are so stringent, the only truly acceptable method of counterfeit analysis is spectroscopy.

There is a plethora of spectroscopic methods available for quality assurance and control (QA/QC), and counterfeit screening in commercial, forensic, and industrial sectors: inductively-coupled plasma (ICP), Raman spectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence (XRF), etc. Each of these methods uses a light source to probe samples and gain an understanding of their molecular composition and structure. By comparing the observable spectra of molecules, it is possible to discriminate between chemically-similar products that may have been compromised, tampered with, or duplicated using sub-standard materials.

Counterfeit Analysis: Cost of Fraud & Adulteration

The cost of counterfeiting depends upon the product and the market. For instance, adulterated electronics primarily represent a source of lost revenue while counterfeit pharmaceuticals pose a real health risk to consumers. Irrecoverable economic losses and global supply chain risks due to counterfeit electronics are currently estimated at $169 billion every year. The risk of counterfeit pharmaceuticals is much harder to quantify, but they present a significant danger of loss-of-life. There is also range of requirements for anti-counterfeiting analysis in law enforcement: determining forgeries and false instruments to reduce the influx of counterfeits through customs, or to prosecute domestic criminals.

Counterfeit analysis, therefore, is a matter of economical and ethical necessity in many market sectors – but which spectroscopic method is right for your application?

LIBS Counterfeit Analysis

Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) determines the elements present in a sample at the atomic scale, by using a short pulse of laser light to ablate a small volume of surface material. The amount evaporated is usually less than a microgram (μg). This ablated plasma contains ionized atoms and free electrons that recombine and emit characteristic spectral lines. An integrated detector measures the wavelength and intensity of these lines to determine the chemical composition of the sample at an atomic level.

Although incredible precise, LIBS counterfeit analysis is marginally destructive and must be able to interrogate sample surfaces directly. Products subsequently cannot be tested through packaging materials or in solution.

VIS/NIR Counterfeit Analysis

Spectroscopic counterfeit analysis using light in the visible and near-infrared (VIS/NIR) spectrum is a valuable tool for solid-state sample analysis. With a wide wavelength range and non-destructive methodology, it provides one of the most versatile methods of sample screening available and is routinely trusted for counterfeit analysis of pharmaceutical compounds. VIS/NIR spectroscopy can reliably distinguish authentic excipients and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) from adulterated counterparts.

Raman Spectroscopy

Raman spectroscopy sets the benchmark for counterfeit analysis in food and beverages and pharmaceutical sectors. It uses a monochromatic light source to observe the inelastic scattering of photons off molecules, which provides characteristic rotational, vibrational, or other low-frequency emission spectra. This offers robust quantitative insights into the molecular fingerprint of a sample based on the Raman shift between the incident and scattered light.

Counterfeit analysis via Raman spectroscopy has numerous advantages over alternative spectroscopic techniques, including a low sensitivity to water, completely non-destructive testing, and the ability to measure through transparent materials. Consequently, Raman spectroscopy can be employed for some of the most complex forms of counterfeit analysis including adulteration of alcoholic beverages with water and deliberate tampering of prescription drugs.

Counterfeit Analysis with B&W Tek

B&W Tek supplies a range of spectroscopic tools for in-field product screening to ensure batch-to-batch consistency and for complex counterfeit analysis, including handheld LIBS, benchtop VIS/NIR, and portable Raman spectrometers.

If you would like any more information about counterfeit analysis via spectroscopic techniques, simply contact a member of the B&W Tek team today.

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