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Mühlbauer's Tag Manufacturing Machines Aim to Be Greener, Lower-Cost

Inlay manufacturers are testing a new flip-chip machine from the German technology company that promises a 40,000-unit-per-hour rate, as well as an antenna cutter to eliminate the need for etching chemicals.
By Claire Swedberg
May 02, 2018

Mühlbauer has developed several new products aimed at making RFID inlay manufacturing faster, greener and more cost-effective. The ACS 100 and 350 antenna cutting system, released this year, allows a fast alternative to etching, the company reports; it also reduces material costs and is more environmentally friendly.

The DDA 40000 is the latest and fastest version of the company's "flip-chip" machine, to provide a simpler and more efficient method of attaching a chip to a substrate, accomplishing 40,000 inlays per hour on a single row. That device, the company says, moves it forward on its roadmap to enable the production of 100,000 inlays per hour by 2020 in a multi-row and Internet-based system (if market growth requires such high-speed machines).

Mühlbauer's DDA 40000 flip-chip machine
Mühlbauer provides the production equipment that companies can use to create smart labels and contactless cards in-house. It provides what it calls the RFID Factory—not only antenna printing, but also the machinery that assembles the inlay itself, including the flip-chip attachments onto each inlay, as well as converting and personalization, according to Thomas Betz, Mühlbauer's managing director.

When it comes to RFID label antennas, most are created by etching conductive layers onto the antennas, which are typically made of copper or aluminum. This, Betz says, is not an environmentally friendly process. It requires the use of corrosive chemicals, as well as chemical-resistant materials, and then a washing procedure to clean the acid off the finished antenna. This process is slow and inefficient, says Gerald Niklas, Mühlbauer's product manager. The multiple processes around the chemical use are time-consuming and create contaminated materials that need to be disposed of.

On the other hand, Betz says, "Ours is a mechanical process." The antennas are cut according to specifications, directly from the aluminum, and the unused metal can then be containerized and recycled, based on the specific requirements in the user's country or state. Because no chemicals are used, there is no concern related to the disposal of toxic liquids, or the metal parts contaminated by them. There is also no need for chemical-resistant material, Niklas adds, and no fumes from the cutting process.

The system consists of a milling wheel that mechanically removes all unnecessary aluminum parts and leaves the desired antenna pattern. A UHF testing system built into the cutter verifies the antennas, while an inkjet printer marks any bad antennas with a black dot during this process so that it can be removed prior to the building of the inlay.

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