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Uniqarta Seeks to Commercialize Solution for Embedding Ultrathin RFID Chips in Paper

The startup says its process is less cumbersome and expensive than other alternatives, and that it is working with a paper manufacturer on a prototype of its first-generation process.
By Claire Swedberg

Kliger has a background in semiconductors as the former general manager of a business unit at Analog Devices. He says he met with Marinov online in 2013 at CoFoundersLab and learned about the technology being developed at NDSU. Together, they launched the company in the fall of 2013 and have spent the past 18 months developing the first-gen version of the solution, in order to get the technology in the hands of end users.

Each installation with a paper product manufacturer will require collaborative effort, Kliger says. "We're not a paper company," he states. Therefore, he expects the firm actually making the paper products to work with Uniqarta on integrating the inlay-embedding process into its own operations.

In addition, Uniqarta expects to release an NFC version of the solution so that passive NFC high-frequency (HF) RFID tags could be embedded in paper products. With NFC, users could then employ their smartphones to read tags in paperwork, packaging or other products.

Once Uniqarta finishes developing the LEAP system and the second-gen process becomes commercially available, the solution will employ a laser beam to transfer each chip onto a paper packaging material or other substrate. With the LEAP method, the entire silicon wafer is bonded to the handle via the same heat-release adhesive. The wafer is diced and mounted on a glass carrier, and is held in place by a dynamic release layer (DRL). The ICs are then held above the proper position over the paper substrate, and an ultraviolet laser pulse directed at the DRL bonding material creates a blister that deposits the chip into position on the paper. This method is faster than the pick-and-place approach, since it does not require the mechanical process of picking up a chip from one location and then moving it to its position above the paper. Because the second-generation process will use chips that are smaller in length and width than the first-gen version, Uniqarta hopes that embedded RFID inlays made via its second-gen process will cost only about 3 cents apiece.

The company hopes to make at least one first-gen application commercially available, in order to demonstrate market adoption for its technology. "We expect second-gen funding to come from strategic investment," Kliger states, from other companies or venture capital firms. "We have several established companies that have expressed interest in providing second-gen funding."

Uniqarta is also applying for a Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, to help finance further development of the technology for use within environments in which a less flexible RFID inlay or other IC could not be used, such as clothing. The U.S. government agency's aim is to bridge the gap between applied research and product development in flexible hybrid electronics, bringing universities, R&D centers and federal agencies together with companies to develop marketable products containing materials that flex.

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