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Printed Electronics Start-up Specializes in Low-Volume Tag Production

By focusing on production runs as small as 150 units, Mu-Gahat says it provides companies with greater flexibility for testing and development.
By Beth Bacheldor
May 09, 2008With development underway for the last three years, RFID and printed electronics company Mu-Gahat officially launched in April, claiming it can produce economical RFID tags in volumes as low as 150 units. The Sunnyvale, Calif., start-up says this will give design engineers, label converters and others the opportunity to more easily experiment with new technologies, address businesses' unique needs and test products.

The market for printed electronics is just beginning to emerge, says Baxter Watkins, CEO and founder of Mu-Gahat. "Similar to the early semiconductor market," Watkins says, "there are specific applications that are legitimizing its acceptance and driving its demand. In some cases, the market applications are near-term and dynamic, while others are more long-range and evolving." The fast-growing RFID market is one of the most widespread and immediate applications for printed electronics.

"Previously," Watkins states, "most RFID manufacturers had focused entirely on high-volume production. Mu-Gahat saw a need in this early stage market for a specialist in prototyping and low-volume production of RFID [tags]."

The name Mu-Gahat, which derives from the Native American Washoe tribal word for "bridge," represents the company's mission of building bridges between customers' ideas and their realization. "To the best of our knowledge, we are the only Native American minority business enterprise specializing in this area," says Watkins, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Tribe of Oklahoma.

Watkins and a team of RF professionals formed Mu-Gahat in response to a customer request for a better method of production for printed circuits. Led by Josef Kirmeier, an expert in the fields of optics, electro-mechanical systems and RF design, Mu-Gahat developed its laser ablation technology, which leverages a patent-pending roll-to-roll laser production system, proprietary design software and Mühlbauer's FCM 10000 flip-chip equipment. With such technology, Mu-Gahat can provide up to five simultaneous "variations on a theme" for testing tags. In its production facility, the company can handle economical runs of as little as 150 units, up to 2 million units. For larger runs, Mu-Gahat plans to work with partners.

To produce its in-house tags, Mu-Gahat purchases polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or some other substrate material that is coated with both aluminum and copper in a manner specifically engineered to work with the company's laser ablation process. "The material is manufactured in a roll-to-roll process," Baxter explains, "and we then use our proprietary software and program the laser with the appropriate UHF [ultrahigh-frequency] or HF [high-frequency] design file and ablate away material from the substrate, leaving the dry antenna pattern. The process is finished using Mühlbauer flip-chip technology to accurately place and attach the chip to the antenna."

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