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Uniqarta Seeks to Commercialize Solution for Embedding Ultrathin RFID Chips in Paper

The startup says its process is less cumbersome and expensive than other alternatives, and that it is working with a paper manufacturer on a prototype of its first-generation process.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 31, 2015

Uniqarta, a startup based in Cambridge, Mass., is commercializing technology for embedding an ultrathin RFID inlay in standard paper or packaging rather than laminating it between two paper layers. The solution involves EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID chips that are about 0.02 millimeter (20 microns) thick—one-fifth the thickness of most of the smallest existing ICs, according to the company.

The solution will be released in two stages, Uniqarta reports. The company's first-generation process will use a chip that has the same length and width of standard RFID chips—approximately 0.5 millimeter by 0.5 millimeter (0.02 inch by 0.02 inch)—but will be about five times thinner, and will serve as an interim until the firm commercially launches its second-generation process sometime during the next few years. Uniqarta expects its second-gen process to use chips that are about 70 percent the length and width of existing RFID chips—approximately 0.35 millimeter (350 microns) per side. The second-gen process, the company reports, promise to make the embedding of RFID tags into paper less expensive than RFID inlays cost, because they are so small. In addition, the first-gen tag assembly will be accomplished via a modified pick-and-place method, while the second-gen version will use Laser Enabled Advanced Packaging (LEAP) technology, which Uniqarta licensed from North Dakota State University (NDSU).

An RFID inlay made with Uniqarta's prototype first-generation process and a Walki aluminum antenna.
The cost of Uniqarta's first-generation inlay will be similar to that of existing RFID inlays, but will save some money otherwise spent on label conversion, since with the first-gen process, the chip and antenna would be built directly into the paper stock. Both first- and second-gen Uniqarta solutions are intended to bring RFID to items that previously could not be easily tagged, such as small packaging on consumer goods, security documents, money, or paper or plastic cards. Prototype inlays made via the first-gen process are expected to be available at the time of this year's RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition, taking place in San Diego, Calif., on Apr. 15-17. The firm has already provided first-gen prototype inlays to two paper companies and some end users, and is still working with a paper company to provide RFID embedding capabilities to its manufacturing processes.

Researchers at NDSU publicly announced the LEAP method more than two years ago (see NDSU Researchers Develop Method for Embedding RFID in Paper). LEAP development leader and NDSU professor Val Marinov is now Uniqarta's cofounder and CTO. Ronn Kliger, who serves as Uniqarta's CEO, is the other cofounder of the firm, which operates a research and development lab in Fargo, N.D.

"Uniqarta's goal is to expand the reach of RFID technology to applications not yet able to access it due to reasons of cost or form factor," Kliger says. "By embedding RFID functionality within the materials from which many items are made or packaged, we expect to lower the barriers limiting RFID adoption today."

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