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Laser Structuring Method Embeds RFID Tag Antennas in Goods

German company LPKF says its technology can make tag manufacturing faster, is more versatile by enabling software changes to an antenna design, and is capable of creating small tags embedded in plastic items or parts.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 24, 2013Some RFID label manufacturers, as well as vendors of goods tracked via radio frequency identification, are taking advantage of a new technology developed by LPKF Laser & Electronics AG that enables the laser-printing of an antenna and circuit board for RFID transmission.

LPKF's Laser Direct Structuring (LDS) technology, the German company reports, can reduce the size of RFID tags, thereby making the tag manufacturing process less expensive, while also making it possible for a tag to be incorporated directly onto an item being tracked—even if that product's surface is three-dimensional. Initially, says Stephan Krause, LPKF's LDS strategic product manager, the LDS technology is being employed by Swiss electronics firm Harting Mitronics, as well as by at least one mobile phone manufacturer, to print RFID circuit boards and antennas with laser printers. Krause's company may now move into the Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID market, he adds, as mobile phone manufacturers begin incorporating the technology into their products for contactless payments and other NFC-based applications.

LPKF's Stephan Krause
The LDS process consists of first designing a hard plastic item, such as a hearing aid, automotive part or mobile phone handset; molding that piece of plastic from granulated plastic containing a special additive; and then placing the molded plastic item into a laser machine, which then writes the circuitry onto the part's surface by activating particles of the plastic additive. This can be accomplished on a three-dimensional shape or item, such as a ball, Krause explains. Metalization of the laser-printed structure is performed in a copper or other metal bath, in order to create plating.

LPKF utilizes a variety of RFID chips supplied by NXP Semiconductors. Each chip is laid with the laser-structured antenna, and is then soldered in place, resulting in either a very small RFID tag integrated directly into a product, or a small RFID label.

"The advantage is you can now put circuitry on a three-dimensional part," Krause states, by printing the antenna onto something that may not have a flat surface. "The whole process reduces components, such as screws or glue that would be used to attach a label to a product or asset." Compared with the traditional method of manufacturing RFID tags, he explains, the LDS process eliminates the need to affix a tag to a part, ensuring that tags will not fall off or lose adhesion.

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