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French Researchers, Paper Company Release NFC Printing Method on Paper

A doctoral thesis at the University of Grenoble Alpes identifies three methods of printing electronics for Near Field Communication tags directly onto paper; the system is now being offered by French paper company PowerCoat.
By Claire Swedberg

Grenoble Alpes researchers needed the paper to withstand heating of up to 180 degrees Celsius during processing. The team used a sintering process following the application of ink to make the ink material on the paper conductive, without requiring heat above 180 degrees. Researchers used two processes for printing the tags—screen printing and flexography—in each case creating an NFC antenna loop with a four-turn pattern. They then measured the tag's ink geometrical properties, such as thickness, and tested the electrical performance.

In the case of screen printing, the antenna was printed onto PowerCoat paper using an ASM SMT Solutions DEK Horizon 03i printer with a polyester mesh screen. The resulting tags, Reverdy-Bruas says, proved to be the highest quality for micro-particle inks, in terms of electrical performance.

The flexographic roll-to-roll process consisted of an anilox-engraved cylinder with a fluid ink. In this method, the ink was transferred onto a printing plate (photopolymer in relief), and then onto the paper substrate. "One of the advantages of this process," Curtil says, "is that it is widely used for packaging and labelling on paper and plastics."

The flexography version consisted of a reel-to-reel machine with a 30-centimeter-wide reel and two hot-air dryers, as well as infrared and Adphos-NIR drivers at a speed of 8 meters per minute. The quality for this method was the lowest of the three, however. The final result, the found—in terms of electrical performance—was somewhat lower than screen printing using micro-particles.

Sintering worked well on the paper, the researchers determined. The NFC tags didn't respond to interrogation at the sensitivity of a chemical-etched tag; however, Curtil says, it still operated well enough to enable most NFC applications in which a tag would be read via a smartphone's built-in NFC reader.

With this NFC printing method on paper, Reverdy-Bruas says, the resulting tags not only would be less expensive and more renewable than plastic versions, but also could be more easily built into paper products. "It now becomes possible to integrated intelligence in all printed medias," she states.

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