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PolyIC Announces Printed 13.56 MHz RF Tags

At the Organic Electronics Conference, the company claims it has used a roll-to-roll printing process to create a precursor to printed HF RFID tags, consisting of printed polymer electronic components applied to foil-based antennas.
By Rhea Wessel
Sep 28, 2006At the Organic Electronics Conference and Exhibition 2006, PolyIC, a German startup that calls itself the "Chip Printer," announced its success in using a roll-to-roll printing process to create passive 13.56 MHz RF (radio frequency) tags. Although the printed transponders emit an RF signal in response to a signal transmitted by an interrogator, they are not RFID tags because they do not communicate an ID number.

The conference was held Sept. 25-27 in Frankfurt, Germany. Some 300 people attended three days of sessions and workshops focused on organic electronics, also known as plastic electronics. Organic electronics are devices based on conductive polymers, or plastics, containing carbon-based molecules—hence, the name organic—and are not generally expected to challenge the dominance of systems relying on inorganic semiconductors such as silicon. Instead, they are believed to stand on their own for separate applications, such as creating low-cost RFID transponders that can be printed in mass production.

PolyIC uses a roll-to-roll printing process to create a precursor to printed HF RFID tags.

PolyIC's president, Wolfgang Mildner—acting chairman of the Organic Electronics Association—displayed rolls of printed 13.56 MHz RF prototype tags to journalists and conference attendees. Mildner said the prototypes were the first RF tags ever produced worldwide in a roll-to-roll printing process.

The company developed the tags in close cooperation with Leonhard Kurz, a specialist in hot stamping and coating. PolyIC was founded as a joint venture between Kurz and Siemens. Previously, PolyIC had produced the same technology in a clean-room environment. The milestone with this latest announcement is that the tags have now been printed. These tags are made with printed polymer electronic components, including ring oscillators and other logic circuits, applied to foil-based antennas. The company would disclose only one of the materials it is using: polythiophene, necessary to create the semiconductor. The entire tag is produced in a roll-to-roll process that, unlike a batch process, allows for continuous production and high-speed capabilities.

PolyIC is calling the tags RF tags because they work on the same principle as RFID tags but do not communicate an ID number. Instead of containing unique ID numbers, these very simple passive RF tags—just like their silicon cousins used in theft-protection applications—communicate a "unique answer" when interrogated by giving off a different "noise" that the reader detects.

The firm explained that certain customers are testing the RF tags for such applications as brand-forgery protection. PolyIC would not reveal the companies' names. "We are showing that we are, step by step, working toward a printed RFID tag," Mildner said. PolyIC expects to bring the first printed HF RFID tags to market in 2007, but it won’t say if the debut will be at the beginning or end of the year. The company's competitor, Organic ID, also represented at the conference, said it has not yet developed an RF or RFID tag and does not know when it would bring such a product to market.

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