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Symbol Says PICA Ready in Mid-2006

The company reports that it has retooled the high-speed RFID inlay assembly machine, which should be ready as demand rises.
By Mark Roberti
Jan 02, 2006Back in September 2003, Matrics, a startup company selling Gen 1 Electronic Product Code technology, announced it had developed a new high-speed radio frequency identification tag assembly machine called PICA (Parallel Integrated Chip Assembly), which could produce 70 billion RFID tags a year (see New High-Speed RFID Tag Machine). PICA was meant to compete with rival Alien Technology’s Fluidic Self Assembly technology, which flows microchips into straps that can be quickly attached to antennas.

More than two years later, PICA is still not churning out tags, because the machine failed to provide a high enough yield of tags that functioned properly. However, Symbol Technologies, the company that purchased Matrics in July 2004, says design flaws have been fixed and PICA should be online by the middle of 2006.

Symbol's Larry Blue
“We spent the first quarter of 2005 trying to tune performance of that design,” says Larry Blue, vice president and general manager of Symbol's radio frequency identification tag business. “We got to about 75 percent yield, and that was about as good as we could do. There were some fundamental design problems with the machine.”

Most existing inlay assembly machines attach one chip to one antenna at a time. PICA was designed to assemble a row of inlays simultaneously; with smaller antenna designs, a greater number of inlays per row could be assembled at a time. One of the main problems with the machine was precisely aligning the microchips with preprinted antennas. The root of the dilemma was a component that used a computer and optical sensors to control gears to shift the inlays to the left or right, or slightly forward or backward, to ensure the chip was placed precisely.

In September 2004, Matrics said it had begun using the PICA machine to produce tags (see Matrics Unveils PICA Assembly). However, Blue says its inlay-aligning component was not yet precise enough to enable mass production with a high yield, so it was redesigned. Another issue involved a component that punched the microchips from a release tape down onto the antenna. The chips were not releasing properly, so that component was also changed.

The new configuration was set up in early November, and the initial results were encouraging, according to Blue. “We expect to go into production in the second half of 2006,” he says. “That will let us [meet additional demand] if it picks up in the second half.”

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