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Tagsys Sows Kernel for Item Tagging

The company is starting a new and different family of UHF item-level inlays designed for integration into consumer products, as well as various other applications.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 22, 2006RFID systems provider Tagsys, headquartered in France with offices in the United States and Hong Kong, is rolling out a new approach to item-level tagging. "What we are doing here is more complex than tags for slap-and-ship applications. The message here is, 'The item becomes the tag,'" says John Jordon, president of U.S. operations for Tagsys. The new Adaptive Kernel (AK) product line consists of a small RFID module, or "kernel" inlay, deployed in conjunction with a secondary, or "adaptive," antenna integrated into packaging.

The kernel inlay, made up of a silicon-based chip joined to an antenna, is very small—8 mm by 12 mm—and is compliant with the EPCglobal UHF Gen 2 protocol. Its small size enables Tagsys to manufacture more of them than it can the larger-sized inlays it also sells. This ability to increase production volume, Jordon says, combined with a format that pairs a single kernel inlay with a range of designs and materials for the secondary antenna for different applications, provides Tagsys with economies of scale. This lowers Tagsys' costs, which, according to the company, enables it to offer the AK products at a lower price than it would otherwise be able to.

Alstair McArthur, Tagsys
The kernel tag can then be integrated into a range of different items, such as baggage labels at airports, packaging for consumer goods or clothing hangtags, Tagsys explains. A secondary antenna amplifies the inlay's read range (30 centimeters, unaided). The amount by which a secondary antenna can boost this range depends on the type of material the antenna is made of, as well as whether the item to which it is attached causes any signal interference. For example, a Tagsys AK inlay with a secondary printed silver antenna on a courier envelope, such as those used by UPS and FedEx to ship documents, has a 4-meter read range, according to Tagsys. The kernel inlay does not need to be physically linked to the adaptive antenna, but must be very close—within millimeters, says Alastair McArthur, Tagsys CTO.

"The second antenna is where you do the customization for the size of the label or product, or for specific frequencies within the UHF range," McArthur says. This antenna could be printed with conductive ink, or made of etched copper or stamped aluminum, depending on the applications and the printing capabilities. The antenna design might also be tuned for optimal performance in specific frequency ranges dictated by various regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) or the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

According to Jordon, product makers will be able to embed the kernel inlay into labels or packaging at the point of manufacture. Then, when packaging, labels or hangtags are being printed, the secondary antenna (assuming it is made of conductive ink) could be printed on top of the kernel inlay.

Tagsys says this new approach has been successfully tested on items such as courier envelopes and boxes, luggage tags, item boxes of various shapes and sizes, and apparel hangtags. Tagsys is partnering with RFID printer-encoder manufacturer Paxar to test the integration process, and with Dow Corning's Advanced Technologies and Ventures business unit to develop printed secondary antennas in various designs.

Tagsys says it is also experimenting with ways of embedding the kernel inlay into CDs, DVDs and other products, then printing or stamping a secondary antenna onto the media.

Unit prices for the kernel inlays could be as low as 5 to 8 cents, Tagsys claims. This would not include the price of integrating them with a secondary antenna. Samples of the complete tag (kernel inlays combined with secondary antennas) are currently available to select clients and partners for testing and deployment, and will be available for large-volume orders during the second half of 2006.

Companies interested in the AK family of inlays have three purchase options: The Warm-Up Kit contains a range of finished inlays for internal testing, integrated into packaging, hangtags and labels. The Business Kit consists of the Warm-Up Kit, plus an interrogator. And the Implementation Kit includes the Business Kit, plus the Tagsys P3 e-Xecute integration service. With the P3 e-Xecute service, a team of Tagsys engineers works with the end user to develop the antenna design and materials the customer will use to create its AK inlay. They'll also work with the company to codevelop the means through which it will integrate the inlays into existing product packaging or labels.

"We're going to help clients deploy this solution," says Jordon. "We're not going to just throw it over the fence and say, 'Here it is.'"
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