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RFID News Roundup

Purple Deck Media announces NFC system compatible with Apple products; Talkin' Things releases NFC smart packaging for iPhone, Android; Quad Industries, Agfa, Imec, TNO demo plastic 12-bit RFID tag and readout system with screen-printed circuitry; GE Healthcare, Zebra Technologies bring BLE wireless asset-tracking technology to hospitals; Versus Technology offers RTLS for BLE wayfinding.
By Rich Handley

Quad Industries, Agfa, Imec, TNO Demo Plastic 12-bit RFID Tag and Readout System With Screen-Printed Circuitry

Quad Industries, Agfa, imec and TNO have announced that they have demonstrated a plastic 12-bit RFID tag and readout system with screen-printed circuitry. The system integrates a screen-printed antenna and printed touch-based user interface, allowing implementation of the reader on curved surfaces. The demonstrator has been designed for badge security applications, the company reports, but could also be used for other applications, including smart packages, wearables and interactive games.

RFID tags made of plastics electronics offer specific advantages over silicon-based identification devices, according to the company. They can be affixed to curved packaging and incorporated into everyday objects, and can accommodate inexpensive manufacturing. Typical applications include item-level identification, smart food packaging, brand protection and badge security. RFID tags need to be scanned by a dedicated RFID reader that is typically within 2 centimeters of the tag.

Imec, Quad Industries and Agfa have integrated a screen-printed antenna in both the RFID tag and the readout system. This allows for an optimal integration of both devices on a variety of surfaces. The antennas have been screen-printed by Quad Industries, using printing inks from Agfa.

The partners have demonstrated the new technology in a badge security application. The access badge combines the credit-card-sized printed antenna with a plastic 12-bit RFID chip, integrated on a flexible plastic substrate. The RFID tag is manufactured in imec's metal-oxide thin-film transistor (TFT) technology. This technology uses large-area manufacturing processes that allow for inexpensive production in large quantities. The 12-bit RFID developed for this demonstration contains 438 TFTs.

The readout system contains innovative printed functionality at different levels. An RFID readout antenna is screen-printed on a plastic film, allowing optimal integration on flat, curved or 3D-shaped reader surfaces. Between the cover lens and the display, a fully printed touchscreen interface with a numerical keypad allows users without a badge to access the building by entering a numerical code. The touchscreen was printed using highly transparent screen-printed inks.

"Newly developed nanoparticle based Ag inks allow to achieve much lower resistances over conventional Ag-flake based inks enabling to directly integrate new functionalities by screen printing," said Wim Christiaens, Quad Industries' R&D director, in a prepared statement. "Moreover, the antenna is printed at the same level of the printed touch screen, resulting in direct, more cost-effective integration of both the printed antenna and the customized touch screen in the reader device."

"This demonstration is a noteworthy example of hybrid flexible electronics, combining the advantages of plastic electronics with metal-oxide TFT technology developed by imec and TNO," said Kris Myny, a principal member of the technical staff at imec, in the prepared statement. "The technology allows for low-cost screen-printing manufacturing, is easily customizable and eco-friendly, and enables direct chip integration on various substrates including plastics, paper and more. The technology promises applications in smart packaging, smart gaming and smart PCB."

The prototype system is being demonstrated at the SIM User Forum in Antwerp, Belgium. The work on printed conductive structures is carried out as part of the Flemish Met@link project. The work on transparent touch screens is carried out by Quad Industries under the framework of the European INREP project, which received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement #641864. The work on flexible RFID technologies is performed in Holst Centre, an open innovation initiative set up by imec and TNO.

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