So many manufacturers are moving quickly to transition their operations and workforce to digital technology — such as sensors, data, enterprise software — and find efficiencies with the same workforce. Procter & Gamble (P&G) added a digital watermarking solution to a non-primary, flexographic-printed label on Dawn and Fairy branded soap bottles, and the technology produces more supply chain and operational data to be stored within the primary package.

While the primary purpose for this digital watermarking label application is to store enterprise data to be scanned by barcode readers, the white and blue label touting “3X MORE” toward the top of the bottle also provides a clear marketing message in a relatively small amount of real estate.

“Quality is the very reason consumers buy our products. Innovative digital solutions fuel our ability to deliver consumer and customer delight, value and trust with each and every P&G product around the world,” says Pamela Schofield, VP, quality, Procter & Gamble.

Like many packaging design teams, the challenges are numerous. Design teams need to entice consumers with packaging design sophistication while also adding more value to the enterprise’s manufacturing operations.

P&G looked to Digimarc Corp. in Beaverton, Ore., to help add more operational efficiencies with its watermarking technology — which can be used on a range of packaging substrates, including bottles, plastic containers and labels.

At the heart of the technology of the Digimarc Barcode is a hidden or covert code that is printed on a substrate and repeated multiple times. The barcode can host multiple types of enterprise data including serial data or production data that an enterprise can use to help optimize operations. And the company’s software enables a wide range of devices to read the convert code, including machine vision equipment, smartphones or barcode scanners.

“In most cases, the barcode technology can be applied anywhere on the packaging or label with minimal impact to the artwork,” says Scott Wilcox, VP, client services, Digimarc. “We can suggest minor changes to accommodate an overt or covert implementation, where the code might become a design element itself.”

A key feature is data redundancy — repeating the code multiple times on the package or label artwork. For P&G, the data is repeated throughout the white secondary label on the bottle. The digital watermarking technology is produced via flexographic, rotogravure or digital presses and can be used on a range of packaging and label substrates.

For designs with minimal ink coverage or a color that lends itself to hiding the signal, a very light pattern of a light pastel Pantone color can be added, such as 9520, to activate the entire available space while minimizing visibility, according to Digimarc.

The Dawn Ultra bottle label consisted of two colors of line art, and one of the colors was rasterized adding subtle tonal modulations in the bottle art elements as well as extending the pattern into the background for greater detection. The majority of printing can be done without any additional equipment, special plates or unique inks unless there is a lack of ink coverage and existing design colors aren’t suitable for the scanning environment and use-case, according to Digimarc.

P&G initiated the pilot program with Digimarc and Cognex, Natick, Mass., and designed a system that would pull data through these imperceptible barcodes and enabled packaging line inspection systems to verify the product while on the packaging line. For the inspection, Cognex’s Dataman 262 fixed-mount barcode reader integrated Digimarc’s embedded systems software development kit (SDK).

P&G relies on the data capture system to verify product accuracy and the correct labeling via a static code. The Cognex equipment can read the labels like a data matrix label, but the new barcode technology at P&G allows packaging operations to run the line at higher speeds due to the readability of the barcode and its multiple placements within the white label, according to P&G. Without the new barcode technology, the inspection systems have to be positioned just right due to the curvature of the label and the bottle.

The P&G pilot production was done at three facilities — Czech Republic, UK and the U.S. — on the Dawn and Fairy labels, and they were ultimately put into production. Beyond the higher speed lines and greater productivity, P&G also identified the ability to reduce the number of inspection cameras due to the embedded data codes throughout the label.