Customs Innovation Award: Future Opportunities with Mobile Laboratory Capabilities (PCIA-2020-PET-3)


Building on the 2019 legacy of PEN-CP Customs Innovation Awards (PCIA), we are happy to announce the PCIA competition for year 2020 (PCIA-2020). Opposite to 2019, when PEN-CP Customs partners were competing on existing and already implemented customs innovations, the focus of 2020 edition is on “Best Solution Ideas”. This means that “to the best of the knowledge of the individual/ team/ administration preparing a PCIA-2020 submission, the idea is not (yet) in operational use in customs”. Two of the three PEN-CP Expert Teams (PETs) have defined specific topics for their respective PCIA-tracks (see next pages for the details):

  • Data & risks (PET-1): Novel approaches to cope with the growing international e-commerce traffic
  • Laboratory equipment (PET-3): Future opportunities with mobile laboratory capabilities

In the frame (and spirit) of PEN-CP being ‘a Novel Customs Innovation Boosting Network and On-line Platform, offering Valuable Innovation Intermediary Services’, PCIA-2020 has the following objectives:

  • To identify, to share and to learn from promising solution ideas, including out-of-the-box ones, across the two topics listed above.
  • To create new types of ‘innovation pipelines’ or ‘upscaling of innovations’, where raw ideas born with one type of innovation instrument (e.g. innovation award submissions) are taken further with other types of instruments (e.g. challenge competitions), in a step-by-step manner, towards fully operational solutions and services.
  • To introduce and to promote new thinking and novel approaches for increasingly innovative Customs administrations in the future.
  • And, during this process, to have a bit of fun, too.

The calls are published on 27.10.2020, and the deadline for the submissions is 15.12.2020. The maximum number of submissions per PEN-CP Customs partner is 10 per PET-topic, i.e. 2x10 = 20 max submissions per Customs administration. Submissions can be done by (i) individual officers, (ii) teams of officers, (iii) full departments, and/or (iv) the administration itself. Each PEN-CP Customs partner should nominate the PCIA-2020 contact person, who collates all inputs from her/his administration, and makes the final submissions, on PET-level, directly on the PEN-CP online platform (via POP,

Each PET-team discusses and votes to decide the winning submissions, focusing particularly on the novelty value and potential impact of each submitted solution idea. Winners are announced and their submissions presented during PEN-CP Year 2 Annual Event (a web-conference in January 2021). The goal is that each winning solution idea will be followed up by one or more other PEN-CP Innovation Instruments, like hackathons, challenge competitions, prototype grants, etc. We also aim to offer large-scale visibility to the winning submissions - across PEN-CP community, in the EU and globally - via tweets, web-conferences, journal articles etc.

Please note that PCIA-2020 is open for all PEN-CP Customs partners, i.e. the 13 European Customs administrations forming part of the project consortium. In the future (years 2021 to 2023), PEN-CP plans to introduce similar innovation award competitions which are open for all EU27 customs, and/or for all WCO member administrations, to participate.

If you have any questions about the PCIA-2020 activity, please feel free to send an email to: the task leader:  and copy to:


Publicly available information on PET-3 call

Customs administrations benefit from laboratory technologies that can be deployed at borders and that can be used by regular customs officers, as much as possible. Wide scale application of mobile technologies or even a frontline laboratory would allow customs to accelerate the identification of goods, reduce time and cost intensive off-site analysis, and streamline the overall customs control process. Customs may take an even greater advantage by adopting increasingly compact, user-friendly, and accurate laboratory instruments to extend frontline capabilities. Currently, Customs administrations deploy one or more of these technologies:

  • Colorimetric tests
  • RAMAN spectroscopy
  • X-Ray fluorescence (XRF)
  • Infrared spectroscopy (IR)
  • Ion mobility spectrometry (IMS)
  • Mass spectrometry (MS)

At the moment, under certain conditions, the technologies can be deployed on the field to identify a broad range of goods, including the following ones[1]:

  • Alcohol
  • CITES (protected fauna and flora)
  • Consumer products (textiles, toys etc.)
  • Dual-use goods
  • Explosive materials
  • Fuels
  • Narcotics (other than NPSs)
  • NPSs (new psychoactive substances)
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Precious metals
  • Precursors for explosives and weapons
  • Precursors for narcotics
  • Radioactive and nuclear materials
  • Waste
  • Weapons and ammunitions

The PEN-CP Customs Innovation Award 2020 looks for ideas on new mobile laboratory technologies that customs can use to identify goods at the borders or ideas on new applications for existing technology. In your submission, to the extent feasible, provide the name of a mobile technology, describe its operational principles, and explain how it can contribute to frontline customs controls, including which illicit materials it should target/ identify. If you opt to propose a combination of two or more mobile technologies, describe briefly how the full solution/ system works together.

Please note that PCIA-2020 competition is open only for PEN-CP Customs partners.


[1] Adapted from the presentation of: (See page 11)

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